Editor's Note: This article was submitted by a mid-level officer of a regional bank who, for obvious reasons, asked to remain anonymous.
I am not, by nature, adapted to the executive suite. I have a tendency to begin laughing derisively when encountering ideas that are, shall we say, stupid. This, I have come to understand, is frowned upon by most senior managers, particularly those whose ideas elicit such reactions.
Fortunately, I have kept this tendency in check, and thus stay employed. However, in recent years, amid a storm of buzzwords and cliches related to change, reengineering, paradigm shifts, and mission statements, I've found it increasingly difficult to restrain myself.
I'm not sure if this is because I'm growing more cynical with age, or if, indeed, the notion that change is driven by words is worthy of derision, if not contempt. In either case, the strains on my inhibitions bode ill, particularly with a houseful of kids approaching college age and not enough home equity to cover application fees, never mind tuition.
The idea that a bank must adapt to change is, of course, sound. But such change cannot be achieved by embracing it as a concept. It must be implemented. And change cannot be implemented by individuals welded, or rusted, to the status quo.
It stands to reason that top managers who have been working together prosperously for decades will find it difficult to break past patterns. But this does not stop them from speaking boldly about the need to change.
Enter the consultant, who draws the map, plots a new direction, and assists in redrafting the mission to reflect new realities. Leaving the consultant with their thanks - and a fee that will likely make an impact on yearend noninterest expenses - senior management then unveils the map and proclaims the new direction.
Senior management then prevails upon middle managers to embrace change as they have, and they in turn pass the word to the rank and file. Reengineering and the need for new thinking become subjects of newsletter articles and elevator conversations. ("Busy, Al?" "You bet - changing a lot of things down in the trust department.")
After months breathing the vapors of reengineering, everyone seems to overlook the fact that very little has changed. A careful examination might reveal that the grandest innovation of the reengineering period was the decision not to invite McGruff the Crime Dog to the latest ATM opening.
So, when reengineering rhetoric begins to fly, I find myself biting my cheek and remembering the words of Ross Perot: "You wanna talk about it or you wanna fix it?"
I'm beginning to believe that what many bankers want and what their people are capable of achieving are two very different things. And that's no laughing matter.