Executive managers running retail financial institutions need to avoid these leadership mistakes that could bring their entire organization crashing to the ground.
By Tom Glatt, Jr., Founder of Glatt Consulting
The world is chock full of instructive guides on how to drive your company to new and better heights. Moving cheese, throwing fish, building to last — all of these are frameworks defining paths to organizational excellence. But what about the framework for poor performance, for wasting resources, for disenfranchising employees? If you want to annihilate your bank or credit union for good, here are three sure-fire steps that will do the trick.
Step 1: Never Commit
Strong financial institutions have a clear end-result in mind with regard to the strategies they implement. The leaders know what they are trying to accomplish and waste few resources in pursuit of strategies that don’t relate. Furthermore, they are capable of ignoring the “noise” of their industry — commentary from industry experts and fellow leaders that breathlessly extoll the next big thing every entity “must adopt for survival.”
If you want to thrive as a company, then be clear about where you are headed. Be clear about the context within which your operating environment must stay. Be firm and resolute in your decision-making, and ignore the naysayers and pundits sharing their expertise with anyone who will listen.
Of course, if you are trying to wreck your company then by all means avoid commitment. Never commit to any particular strategy or course of action. Try anything and everything, and more importantly change your strategy often. Point to the latest industry hype as evidence you need to scrap yesterday’s decisions in favor of a new direction today. Change the responsibilities of staff to follow suit, and keep your org chart is written in pencil.
The “never commit” strategy will ensure you eliminate resources that could be allocated for growth. It will also ensure a staff that never knows for sure what it should focus on from one day to the next. This lack of clarity will seep into the exchange between employees and customer, with customers expecting one thing and employees delivering something else entirely. Customer dissatisfaction will lead to customer exodus, customer exodus to falling profits, falling profits to the brink of death.
Case in point… the chart below. This is the health chart of a financial institution based in the midwest, as defined by Glatt Consulting’s proprietary scoring system. The system score range is 0-5, with 5 being very healthy and 0 being dead. This chart covers the institution’s performance from 2000 to 2008 when they ceased to exist. They masterfully executed the “Never Commit” strategy, which for them resulted not only in their demise, but in exorbitant operating expenses and only 3 quarters out of 24 of positive member/customer growth.
This institution would routinely talk themselves out of sound strategic initiatives because they had “tried something like it before and it didn’t work” (not really … but that is what they thought). They would also launch a strategy without any real consideration for the long-term, make snap decisions that something about the strategy wasn’t working, and then abandon it without analysis or reflection. Hence the up-and-down nature of their score trends.
( Read More: 5 Things HR Must Do to Build Your Brand )
Step 2: Drop Nasty F-Bombs
Strong financial institutions enjoy a sound relationship between line staff and management. Information flows on a two-way street, discourse on company performance is respectful, staff is challenged through the establishment of mutually-understood and agreed-upon goals.
If you want to drive solid company performance, make sure you are an excellent communicator. Know how to communicate corporate direction to every level of staff, and be ready to obtain and respond to feedback regarding the problems and roadblocks on the path to success. When interacting with staff, listen first, process, then respond. In responding, make it clear what needs to be done, whether you are presenting a solution or challenging staff to come up with their own.
Wrecking the company, however requires a different approach to staff engagement and communication. Screaming and yelling, regardless of the reason, is absolutely essential. Never miss an opportunity for any staff miscue to become an opportunity for a profanity-laden, demeaning beat-down. And as for mistakes, no mistake is too small. Got an employee leaving a dish in the corporate kitchen sink? What better chance for a biting sarcastic diatribe about sloppy people equaling a sloppy company, interspersed with an F-bomb or two.
Properly executed, the F-Bomb communication strategy will give employees the thousand-yard stare, living in their little shell-shocked worlds, incapable of thinking clearly about anything. When combined with the “no commitment” approach, even when they do try to accomplish something they will likely be off on the wrong path. They live in constant fear that no matter what they do they’ll be subjected to management tirades: “What the *&#$*@!!* were you thinking?”
This strategy has a nasty impact on customers/members. When Glatt Consulting was called upon to conduct a mystery shop of an east-coast credit union, we quickly realized staff had a black-belt in snide, belittling commentary. While mystery shopping one of their branches, a woman who needed to change a card PIN was apparently confused, and while she insisted that she had changed her PIN in the branch before, a few minutes of employee denials coupled with sighing and eye-rolling convinced her otherwise. She left, and everyone in earshot witnessed a lengthy discussion between employees about how stupid and idiotic “that lady” was.
Unsurprisingly, the credit union’s performance hasn’t been stellar, as evidenced by its health chart. Definitely an underperformer not to mention the proud owner of 13 straight quarters of negative membership growth. That seems to happen when a negative F-Bomb attitude pervades the culture.
And to further illustrate the point, consider the next chart. The leader of this organization was so good at F-bomb strategy execution that he was sent to anger management school. It didn’t help, and the CEO was removed from his duties – but not without imparting a lasting and hard-to-shake legacy of poor organizational health.
Step 3: Build a Secret Club
Strong financial institutions build loyalty to the organization and the team. Silos are nowhere to be found, departments share freely, and people know where they stand with their peers and corporate leaders. Furthermore, while the company may have a star employee or two and reward their exceptional performance, such stars are great team players that work to elevate the performance of others around them; they are people everyone values for their contributions.
If you want to fire on all cylinders as a corporate entity, make sure you embrace a spirit of transparent leadership devoid of paranoia-spreading secrecy. Lay it all out for employees — corporate goals, corporate expectations, even the goal expectations for individual employees. Let the sun shine on the employee performance appraisal process and outcome so that all know where team members stand in relation to one another, so that they can work together to improve performance for all.
But, to really wreck a company, cast all that aside. Foster internal suspicion. Reward some employees with verbal recognition and a raise while completely ignoring the existence of others. Smile at your favorites when passing in the hall, turn around and walk the other way for everyone else. Share critical, helpful bits of information with your crew, but provide misleading,vague or useless information with everyone else.
Lousy leaders go easy on members inside their “special club.” If a special bootlicker needs a day off, no problem — any time. If they call in sick? Circulate a get well card and require everyone to sign it, but never do that for the “others.”
The Secret Club strategy creates schoolyard-style cliques. Critical meetings where important decisions might be made will turn into an exchange of audience of sighs, private eye-rolls, and quiet sneers. Ideas — good ideas — will be tarnished because of association with the person and group bringing them up. Meetings become terse, meaningless exchanges of irrelevant content all while critical performance measurements are overlooked and the company tanks.
Consider the health chart of the west-coast financial institution shown below (Exhibit 4). Their health has been in steady decline for years in part because their CEO warmly embraced this divide and kill strategy. Employees never felt comfortable in their jobs, and people started hated each other. Good employees left and never looked back. While the board wised up and finally got rid of this divisive CEO not too long ago, the cultural problems left behind have been hard to shake and solid performance hard to sustain.
( Read More: For Credit Unions, the Problems Start at Home… Or Maybe Not? )
The situations described above happen at banks and credit unions all across the US. As a matter of fact, I usually find one or two examples of the “Wreck Your Company” strategies at just about every financial institution I visit. But not doing those things really does make a big difference in your ability to succeed (grow, survive, deliver service, etc.).
At my firm, Glatt Consulting, we calculate a health score. That score makes it easy to identify those institutions with company-killing strategic behaviors, but also the industry’s best, most healthy organizations. Entities at the top of our list are remarkably healthier than their peers. Here is one example… take a look at that picture of health!
What sets them apart?
- They commit to strategy and execution.
- They communicate, a lot, and do so in a courteous and professional manner.
- They see and treat every staffer as a team player and vital to overall team strength.
But, you’re reading this because the title hooked you. You want to know how to wreck a company, right? Well, you now have a playbook. Go forth. Confuse, scream, divide and kill.
Tom Glatt, Jr. is the founder of Glatt Consulting, a credit union consulting firm specializing in distinctive strategy consulting for credit union boards and management teams. Tom has over 18 years of strategy consulting experience in the credit union community. His primary consulting focus is working with clients to develop corporate and associated execution and budgeting strategies.