For a recent home project, my wife and I hired a contractor, Mark, and his interactions with us had me seeing parallels between our two industries. He explained that when he's hired for a job his biggest challenge is often explaining to the homeowner the problems he's found and needs to address before he begins his work. He finds mistakes made at initial construction, what has rotted or shifted in the time being, and what shortcuts other contractors have taken along the way. Mark says homeowners often direct their frustration at him over problems he didn't create.
Hearing him speak I've thought about the many middle and senior bank managers I've worked with who were hired or promoted to replace previous managers, tasked with running programs they did not build and managing employees they did not hire.
Whether the inherited role involves managing one branch or a business line or an entire bank, the challenge of keeping what is working while eliminating or improving what's failing is often more difficult than starting from scratch with a new position and a new team that you yourself have hired.
One can be tempted to blame whoever created the problems you have to address. And many managers do play the blame game. However, when I find myself in conversations with people irritated about the seeming messes they inherited, I often joke: "That's why you have the job now. You should send a thank you note to the person who created this mess."
Oddly enough, stepping in to run what has been a successful operation can be every bit as challenging as taking over a floundering one, especially in recent years. A less-than-robust economy in the midst of vast technological disruption has made jobs that were already challenging even more so. People have been promoted and hired into positions with the same titles as the people they replaced. But those familiar titles come with different and ever-evolving duties.
An industry that is transforming, rethinking delivery channels and rightsizing branch networks operates differently than the one of relatively recent memory. Some of the tried-and-true strategies that led to successful businesses and prosperous careers are no longer ideal.
In order to continue creating successful businesses and careers, the folks responsible for running our businesses are now implementing necessary changes.
That doesn't mean past strategies were wrong. They were right at the time. But when competitive factors and customer expectations change, managers need to make corresponding adjustments.
Meanwhile, members of the rank and file have a tendency to resent the fact that new managers come in and change things. Sure, folks who seemingly set out to put their thumbprints on stuff just for the sake of doing it can be frustrating. But I often remind bankers that if they are working for an organization that is not asking them to find ways to improve business, they should worry. When an industry evolves and a business chooses not to, it does not end well for anyone. Well, other than the competition.
Even the most talented and driven of new leaders need a period of adjusting to new roles, which includes operation assessments, in order to make educated decisions. Like the contractor who takes on a project that involves an existing structure, you need to be clear about what exists — not what should be there, or what used to be there, or what you wish were there. When they begin making changes, it is usually to address the new realities of their business environments.
Most operations are still profitable, but that doesn't necessarily mean the status quo is a viable option going forward. And like the contractor working to improve an existing structure, we should not blame the person making the changes for the fact that changes are needed.
Conversely, folks who step in to lead an existing operation need to remember that initial hesitancy or resistance to new directives does not necessarily mean employees are defiant. It is human nature to be at least a little wary of change.
Clearly communicating to our teams not only what changes are necessary, but why and how they will be made, can make the difference between successful renovations and disappointing ones.