Be on point when you’re at a turning point

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A senior leader banker recently shared with me his concerns that the channels of communication within his bank seem to have broken down.

There were structural and reporting changes in his organization over the past year. He said that it seems most of the bank, including him, now report to different people than they did only a few months ago.

I told him that I know it may not be comforting to hear, but his organization is far from alone in this situation. As more banks have begun positioning themselves to compete in an increasingly digital-first industry, decades-old reporting structures and business models are being reshaped.

While branches remain at the center of the banking universe, that universe is expanding fast. Bankers are finding themselves in evolving roles, reporting to different people, as well as having new folks reporting to them as organizations rethink and retool staffing models, branch designs and outbound business development programs.

These changes are usually exciting, yet challenging. I’ve long preached to leaders that they can get their strategies absolutely right, yet still struggle if their teams either don’t understand or fully buy in to the changes.

My friend’s concern about the bank’s communication issues stems from the fact that he now feels “out of the loop.” In his rather senior position, he always felt he had a clear picture of leadership’s thinking and strategies.

But he said his new boss does not communicate as much or in the manner of his previous one, and he fears there may be trust issues. When I asked what he meant, he said, “I just don’t feel like he’s telling me everything that’s in the works. I’m always having to read his mind.”

I suggested to him that he be cautious of a few things. First, it’s possible that the new boss is actually sharing all the information he has been given.

When we are unsure of things, we naturally seek more information. Sometimes, there simply isn’t anything new for leadership to share at any given moment. When folks have their heads down working through issues, “progress reports” can often be bumped down the list of priorities.

When that happens, staff down the organizational charts begin suspecting information is being kept from them when that might not be the case.

Sometimes, it’s beneficial to communicate that there is no news to communicate. Team members welcome the interaction and it defuses the anxiety of feeling “kept in the dark.”

When I asked why this banker had not communicated his concern to the manager, he quipped: “I don’t think the squeaky wheel is going to get the grease these days. I think the squeaky wheel is going to get replaced.”

I laughed and asked if that was something he “mind-read” or was there evidence that was the case. He thought for a second and shared that, well . . . no, he had no examples to support that theory.

Yet, lack of communication frequently leads to employees coming up with their own narratives.

I asked whether he thinks that his own teams might feel a bit out of the loop these days. He said, “Well, I tell them everything I know. But if I feel out of the loop, I suppose they may as well.”

I said, “Well, do you think any of your team members, especially new team members, are feeling about you the way you feel about your boss?”

When he told me that he hopes not, I reminded him that he was the only person who could ensure that wasn’t the case. I further suggested that there is another danger in not regularly and openly communicating with your teams.

Teams that do not feel they are being kept informed often begin holding feedback and information as well. This is a recipe for trouble. Open lines of communication are always important. They are even more critical, however, during times of change.

It is incredibly difficult to gauge the initial positive and negative impacts of management’s decisions on employees and customers, without frequent and open communication throughout the organizational chart.

Too often, leaders operate under a “no news is good news” mindset. Their teams, however, often see a lack of steady communication as a signal they aren’t important enough to be kept in the loop, or to provide feedback.

A vital aspect of leading through change is actively communicating through change. As our industry evolves and organizations attempt to turn the page, it helps if you ensure that your teams are actually on the same page as you.

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