Confusion among banking teams in the field about strategic changes a financial institution is implementing can act like sand in the gears of an engine. Friction builds and performance suffers.

I was reminded of this recently when a banker friend joked with me that his bank’s “spaghetti” was still sticking to the wall. Years ago, when speaking to his management team, I had used the metaphor that I often feel like I’m throwing spaghetti against the wall to see which suggestions stick with different groups. A suggestion that truly resonates with one group might be of little interest to another.

We sometimes forget that organizations — even those perceived to be homogeneous, like banks — are made up of individuals and have distinct cultures. An idea or concept embraced by one management group may not make sense to another.

The spaghetti that stuck to the wall with my friend’s team was a pretty basic suggestion: The bank’s marketing campaigns and promotions needed to be more actively rolled out internally — and clearly understood by staff — before getting launched publicly. Far too often, the bank’s field personnel were hearing about offers and promotions at the same time as the public. More troubling was how often customers or potential customers were actually the first to bring new information to staff’s attention.

That is not a problem specific to the banking industry. However, banks tend to rely more than most on customers trusting the knowledge and competence of the personnel with whom they interact. The perception of poorly informed personnel does little to help the cause.

I believe the “internal communications” subject resonates as much today as ever.

Over the last few years of accelerating change in the banking industry, the need to close the communication gap between management and their teams in the field has only become more acute. The stakes of the changes are increasing.

It is one thing if a customer-facing employee is not up to speed on a new mortgage promotion or rewards program that his or her bank rolls out. It’s an entirely different matter if that employee is not up to speed on fundamental changes his or her bank is making to how it serves customers.

Despite easier ways of distributing information than at any time in history, we still frequently fail to communicate.

I remind leaders that folks in the field are not privy to the research, discussions, debates, etc., that go into new or modified strategies. Management too often seems to believe that the benefits of better ideas and improved processes will be self-evident.

However, if employees do not fully understand the whys behind changes, they are likely to feel like the victims of change rather than the drivers and benefactors of change. That has serious implications on how engaged and committed they will be in helping strategies succeed.

It has been an observation of mine that people down the chain of command who understand the reasoning behind decisions are more willing to support those decisions. They do so even when their initial instinct is to resist or disagree.

On another level, communicating clearly and continuously with teams in the field not just “what” and “how,” but why changes are being made is one of the most effective ways of showing them respect. It shows respect for their intelligence, as well as the importance of their roles in the success of their bank’s future.

I acknowledge that continuously and comprehensively explaining the reasoning behind the changes management implements can seem like more work than the changes themselves. But I would respectfully suggest that it is one of the driving factors in why some banks’ otherwise great plans fall flat.

Changes and tweaks tend to fail not because they are poorly contemplated. They make total sense and achieve buy-in in the strategy rooms and on senior management conference calls.

Changes often fail to achieve desired results because they are ineffectively communicated to the front-line folks tasked with making new plans work.

Resistance to change does not mean our employees — or our customers — are difficult people. It simply means they are people. It is human nature and a survival instinct to cling to the status quo.

Focus obsessively on ensuring your teams know why you make changes, and they will be far more likely to make those changes work for you.

Dave Martin

Dave Martin

Dave Martin is the founder of the retail bank performance company bankmechanics.

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