I recently had the privilege of participating in the SourceMedia Retail Banking Conference, which afforded me the opportunity to attend interesting speeches and reconnect with friends and banking colleagues.

At these conferences, I always find myself a little more tuned in to speakers who mention some of the setbacks they faced or lessons they learned along the way than speakers who focus only on their successes.

One of my more acerbic banker friends, who also attended, joked that he would pay good money to listen to senior execs talk about their worst career decisions, failed business strategies and awful hires they made along the way. I agreed.

This reminded me of a team-building suggestion I have offered to middle and senior bank managers. I tell them to have some of their top performers share their stories with their peers. The only catch is that for every one or two success stories, they should share a good failure story as well.

Stories of successes are important; they offer relevant lessons. However, stories of setbacks often resonate as much or more. For one thing, there is power in being reminded that the current “winners” around us did not (or do not) always win.

There is a tendency for some when faced with difficulties and setbacks to begin feeling uniquely challenged. We feel that others must simply be having an easier go of it. But over time, you will almost always see that the industry's top performers don’t succeed because they have fewer setbacks. On the contrary, they usually have more.

They recognize setbacks, difficulties, stretches of bad luck, etc., for what they are. They are the price paid to reach eventual success.

A humorous “motivational exercise” I have suggested to senior managers is sharing with their teams of the worst jobs they have had or biggest goof-ups they have made or most disappointing results they have experienced during their careers. I have found few subjects of conversation better at bringing folks of all seniority levels and job ranks together.

The stories are almost always funny (in retrospect) and tend to be effective in connecting folks of all backgrounds. Beyond that the exercise can make otherwise intimidating people more accessible and personal. Teams are able to relate better to them.

These stories frequently deliver relevant training information as well as motivational material. They point not just to success but the resilience that successful people displayed, and the lessons they learned on their way to their results.

There are several examples from the business world and elsewhere of huge success stories that were preceded by huge failures. Take Apple's iPhone, for instance.

You likely do not remember the previous attempt by Apple to link its successful iTunes model with a cellphone. If that phone, the ROKR E1 (which was a collaboration with Motorola), had been a hit, history may have been quite different. Instead, that public failure informed Steve Jobs and his team to be bold and different in their next effort. The iPhone began changing the world just two years later.

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, introduces the Motorola ROKR in 2005.
Were it not for failures like the ROKR, history may have been quite different. Instead, the flops informed Steve Jobs and his team to be bold and different in their next efforts. Bloomberg News

In the sports world, former basketball star Reggie Miller began developing one of the most accurate long-range shots the NBA has ever seen because of repeated failure. He credits the honing of his skill to the beatdowns he endured as a youngster in his driveway. At that time, his sister, Cheryl Miller — a future Hall of Famer herself — was taller, and she swatted everything he shot within normal range. He had to develop a longer-range shot to compete.

Rejections and failures are not the enemy of success.

With the proper perspective, setbacks can show bankers where they can and must improve. The industry will continue to undergo significant evolution in the coming years. Financial institutions will transform the roles of various teams, utilize new and improving technology, and deal with fluctuating regulatory demands. There will be success stories along the way. There will undoubtedly be setbacks, readjustments and lessons learned as well.

The success or failure of whatever transformations a company attempts will rely as much on the talents, adaptability and resilience of the team members executing their strategies as on the strategies themselves.

Setbacks are simply part of the success process.

Dave Martin

Dave Martin

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

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