Look around the room during your next meeting with the board of directors or executive management. How many gray-haired men and women do you see? (The fact that most are likely to be men is worthy of a separate article.)
If yours is a typical community bank, you probably can count quite a few senior citizens. While I don't dispute the adage that "with age comes wisdom," an overwhelmingly older board and management team can be detrimental to a bank's ability to engage in true strategic planning.
True strategic planningversus operational business planningrequires taking a long-term view that looks five, 10 or even 20 years ahead. It requires people to think outside their comfort zones and the here-and-now to explore new ideas. As Roger Martin of the University of Torontos Rotman School of Management points out in the January/February 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review, If you are entirely comfortable with your strategy, theres a strong chance it isnt very good.
If the majority of your board and senior leadership team are only a few years from retirement, the group as a whole is unlikely to muster the energy or enthusiasm to undertake the really difficult (and risky) work of strategic planning. Bank leadership teams with age diversity can help move their institutions from reactive, short-term planning to more visionary, long-term thinking.
Of course, bringing on fresh young talent can be harder than it sounds. Many potential board members are unwilling to take on the liability and personal risk of assuming such positions. Banks can also encounter problems when they try to promote their current crop of middle managers into senior roles. The majority of these middle managers frequently rose up through the banks of the rank, giving them a sound understanding of bank culture. But if their only experience in financial services has been with a single bank, they may lack the breadth of knowledge to recognize areas for improvement. They are more likely to opt for the status quo.
Sometimes the best response is to hire senior-level management from the outside. Its scary, and if done without much due diligence, can be a dismal failure. But many banks find that bringing in outside talent from another bank or even another industry can provide the impetus for real change.
Instituting mandatory board retirement ages can also help banks build greater age diversity. Unseating longtime board membersmany of whom are among the bank's investorscan be fraught with political and social minefields. A firm retirement policy can help banks avoid unnecessary tension while appointing talented younger people with a solid understanding of risk management, credit and compliance.
The good news is that a bank only needs a single visionary leader to start shifting the dynamic. That person may be an internal or external hire, a member of the existing board or a newly appointed director. As long as he or she is willing to seriously consider the future of the bank, that person can help the rest of the leadership team understand the importance of working alongside others who understand the realities of a changing marketplace.
If you are part of the aging demographic of bank boards and executives, I encourage you to look around your institution. Do you see the leaders of the future? If you dont, find them and get started with true strategic planning.
Paul Schaus is president of CCG Catalyst, a bank consulting firm providing strategic direction and focused guidance for banks in the United States and North America.