Banker’s Intent and a Better Leadership Communication Model

Improving Bank Leadership

When it comes to most missions, initial communication is one of the major factors of success. If there is one common flaw in execution, it most likely stems that the initial mission and its objectives were not clearly communicated, and understood by a group’s members. The “Banker’s Intent” model is a derivation on fire service’s “Leader’s Intent Model” and is a communication framework that is being used to currently fight some of the largest wildfires in the history of the United States. We break down the model how we use it at CenterState in hopes to improve communication, and execution, at your bank.

 

The Problem

 

Leaders often communicate in vague and uncertain terms. “Reducing risk,” “Growing revenue,” or introducing a new product all seem like clear directives but they are usually not. Most banks, for example, lack a clear definition of risk and so when the board or management says they “want to reduce risk” it is unclear when this is to take place, how much to reduce risk by, what the starting point is and what is the targeted endpoint.

Because of this vagueness, bankers are left interpreting the directive on their own, which may or may not be what the leader intended or worse (and more common), they ignore the objective hoping they either get there by luck or letting someone else manage the issue.

 

The Solution - Banker’s Intent Defined

 

The solution is to train the bank how to utilize this, or a similar framework, so everyone has the tools to give and receive direction. This is where the Banker’s Intent model comes in.

The model starts with an understanding of what is the leader trying to get accomplished. To help with this, we use the acronym of “TEPPRRA” or Task => End State => Purpose => Priorities => Resources => Risk => Acceptance.

 

Leader's Intent Communication Model

 

Task: The task is a clear statement of what the leader wants to be done and by when. “I want to introduce mobile account opening in six months and have 20% of new customers using it by the end of next year” is a clearly articulated task. Similarly, instead of telling relationship managers to “grow business by 10% next year” it would be better to be specific as in, “We need to grow new customer revenue in loans, deposits, and fees by 10% next year while retaining 95% of our current customers.”

 

End State: While bankers usually do OK at tasking their team, few take the time to describe the “end state.” For a seasoned team that is all on the same page, this may not matter much as everyone may know what the leader is talking about as what the final result of the task might be. However, for new teams, difficult tasks or new leaders, describing what the final work product is going to be or what the post-task state of reality looks like can dramatically increase your efficiency and probability of success.

 

If your task is “Come up with a plan to gain 300 new deposit customers next year with deposits greater than $1,000,” then you want to describe what that plan will contain and what level of detail is expected. Giving your team a clear picture of what is expected will help them fill in the details of the task.

 

Purpose: Explaining the purpose behind the task provides the context or the reason that an action is to be undertaken. This answers the important question of "why" and gives the leader a clear way to link the given task to the strategic objectives. If your strategic objective is to increase shareholder value by 10%, then giving your team an understanding of how gaining 300 new deposit customers to help create a portion of that 10% value increase will help everyone be clear on why they are doing what they are doing.

 

Priorities: Since multiple tasks are often given, or tasks are complex, it is critical that everyone on the team has a clear picture of priorities that could be impacted by the tasks. In this manner, when two material objectives come in conflict, the team knows how to resolve the issue. A team may have a set of tasks that includes both increasing revenue and customer satisfaction. If that is the case, it is important to know which tasks take precedence.

 

Resources: Any task requires resources. Some of these resources, like time, are obvious while some resources are less obvious. While a leader doesn’t need to highlight every resource, it is important to let the team know the extent or amount of resources that are available and any unusual resources that could be available.

 

One common classic example is the development of new products. Many bankers fail to highlight the amount of budget available for the effort. As such, subtasks like focus group testing, pilot tests, marketing, and training often don’t get done to the extent they should to ensure the success of the project. Sometimes it is because a budget isn’t available, but often it is not done because no one on the team assumed a budget was available. This miscommunication can be eliminated by making sure leaders have a discussion with their team about resources with the specific intent of letting the team know the extent of their scope of operations. 

Risk: Similar to communicating what resources are available, a leader needs to highlight what risk the bank is willing to take to accomplish the task. Credit, market, liquidity, reputational risk, additional required personal time and other aspects of the task should be highlighted where material so all team members understand the trade-off of the task’s opportunity.  The goal here is to increase transparency so when a team member runs into a new risk that wasn’t already discussed they can highlight it for the benefit of the group. If risks are not discussed, that team member that uncovers that new risk may assume that it was already taken into account.

 

Acceptance: If there is one area where this methodology excels it is a result of this acceptance phase. At the end of the explanation of all the above, the leader now passes ownership of the task to the team. It is critical during this phase that the leader openly and honestly listens to all concerns and address them highlighting the true risks and what risks are mitigated.  At the end of this discussion, the team now must formally accept this task.

 

This single point of methodology forces all team members to make sure they are clear on what they are being asked to do and creates a mechanism for them to get on board. This eliminates any second-guessing at a later date and helps bind the team to a single focus.

 

Putting This Into Action

 

Derivations of this methodology have been battled tested by elite military, fire and law enforcement teams over the last decade and have been proven to help with communication. By taking the time to explain each of the TEPPRRA steps, the leader has now given the team all the information for them to not only take ownership but operate in a flexible and autonomous format.

In similar fashion, the model also places responsibility on each of the team members to make sure they have the tools to make informed decisions. When an aspect of the task cannot be completed, or the planned course of action has to be altered, team members are required to communicate the change. Further, it is also the responsibility of each team member to communicate when the Banker’s intent or any aspect of the model is not clear.

 

The TEPPRRA model helps reduce the number of unspoken assumptions and aids in solving problems in insufficient communication that often gets teams in trouble. The model also has the byproduct of increasing the situational awareness of all bankers resulting in more fulfilling work. Through this methodology, team members can better understand how their effort is contributing to the larger strategic objective.

 

By putting this extra work in explaining the task, the leader saves time by requiring fewer meetings and less involvement later. Team members, in contrast, now gain greater responsibility and freedom to operate. The result is a higher performing team for the organization.