Contrary to the stereotypes some still try to place on the banking industry, no one is in denial that times are changing.
My observations have been that banks have absolutely been addressing and adapting to changing consumer dynamics. Consumers still prefer face-to-face access to a banker for complex transactions, problem resolution, new account openings, and financial advice. Yet widespread acceptance and adoption of mobile banking is changing the way customers rely on branches. The reduced need for the most basic (and numerous) teller-transactions to be conducted within branches has brought about smaller physical facilities, leaner staffing models, and “universal banker” positions.
However, bankers are not building their banks from the ground up. They aren’t dealing with blank whiteboards in conference rooms and hypothetical businesses. They have existing (usually successful) businesses to manage, with proven-successful practices that have driven them.
Making changes to strategies and processes that have brought success in the past may be necessary. That does not make those changes patently obvious or especially easy.
Banking critics tend to snipe at banks for seeming to have a slower pace of change than they’d like to see. And yes, banks may be taking a more measured approach to transformation than some in other industries. However, I do not see an “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” mentality with most banks. I see more of a “try not to break it while you are fixing it” mindset.
That said, significant changes to technology, branch design and functions, staffing models and job descriptions are taking place across the industry. Some institutions are being more aggressive than others on the bets they are making on change. We will find out soon enough which organizations are taking the right pace, which have moved too quickly, and which have lagged behind.
All the while, I’ve observed something in organizations of all sizes and configurations for leaders to watch: It is often a bank’s most experienced and productive team members who have the hardest times embracing change. These people also run a higher risk of becoming discouraged and frustrated with changes to business practices.
This may seem counterintuitive at first. Obviously, our most productive team members tend to be our most productive for good reasons: They are conscientious, they work hard, they behave professionally and they are efficient.
Yet these are also the same people who have been doing well and advancing their careers doing things the way they do them. They have become experienced and efficient with a bank’s business models and business practices as they have been previously executed. They have more reason to be skeptical of changes—and they have more to lose.
It can be especially frustrating to leadership when it appears that some of their best and most productive employees seem to show more resistance to change than others. It is worse when communication is poor and some of these more productive employees begin looking for opportunities elsewhere.
If not communicated clearly and frequently otherwise, asking people to change job functions, responsibilities, or even small tasks can often be perceived as a negative review of their performance.
We must remind our teams that modifying our strategies is not an indictment of past business models or the way they have performed their jobs. Successful companies respond and react to their industries’ demands. When demands change, so do they.
Top performers adjust in order to remain top performers. I stress my mantra to bankers: Evolution does not mean elimination, but failing to evolve guarantees elimination.
Most organizations are good at explaining to their teams the “what and how” of the changes they are implementing. Too few seem as good or committed to communicating the “whys” behind those changes. However, when our top performers understand why changes are needed and the vital roles they play in those changes, they are more likely to feel like drivers of change, instead of victims of change. They see change happening "for them" and not "to them." They then tend to be more personally committed to making changes work, and remaining on to be top performers in what they have had a hand in creating.
I often joke that employees who are already thinking about retirement know changes will not affect them for very long. Poor performers tend to not care when practices change. Heck, they weren’t all that committed to getting the previous ones right. And our new employees love that changes are occurring. They didn’t know much about how things were done before, anyway.
It’s our top producers who often feel like they are attempting to square the circle of keeping everyone happy—customers, team members, management—while we are changing what their days, teams, work environments and duties look like.
I continue to be convinced that the banks who best adapt and adjust to an evolving industry will not do so simply because their strategies are appreciably smarter. Those whose companies survive and thrive will have leaders with the communication skills to both foster understanding and create urgency. However, they will also have the wisdom to be especially supportive and have (just a little) patience with their more experienced, top performers as they adjust.