Building A High Performance Banking Team

High Performance Bank Teams - Graphics of bankers around a conference table

Like a sublime sports performance, you can tell a banker that is in the zone. They hustle, are organized, are focused and they understand the business of banking. They are also authentic and work well alone, as part of a small strike team or as part of a large organization. They are adaptable, positive and designed to please both the customer and the shareholder. Everyone wants these bankers on their side. The problem is - there is just not enough of them. 


Just as a Super Bowl winning coach brings out the best in their players, a championship bank manager leads their team in the right direction and motivates the entire bank towards superior performance. A strong and motivational compensation plan is, of course, important, but incentives tend to put the “Me” before the mission. Championship bank managers focus on building a cohesive culture that is focused on a singular and higher order vision. Skilled people in a healthy, intrinsically motivating culture combined with a good process are the equation for a high-performance bank.


We have spent the past two years with one of the top bank executive coaches, the Unitigroup, in addition to speaking with almost half of the industry’s top 500 banks over the years and have distilled 6 of the top lessons that these banks have used to build a high-performance organization. Some of these lessons are not so obvious.   


Align Values Within A Process And Praise It


Make sure everyone understand the bank’s values. While most bankers are clear on “trust,” “ethics” and “community,” trademark values of top performing banks include authenticity, openness, risk-taking and adaptability. These values may not be written, but are likely equally important. Once these are understood by all, look for ways to celebrate the process instead of an outcome. It doesn’t matter if you won or lost that customer, what matters is that you have the right process in place. Fix things that are wrong with your process and praise those attributes and tactics that are right and success will follow.


Build Trust


Trust is underrated in banking. It is taken for granted. If there is a single lesson the Unitigroup taught us it is that spending time and investing in understanding motivations of other bankers around you is the key to top performance. It is hard to build rapport and operate at top efficiency if you think everyone is out to get you. Only by building trust will bankers be open, authentic and willing to be held accountable for their actions. Once each member is held accountable for their actions, the process will correct itself. With trust, work flows like water. Without trust, work flows like cement. Build trust and no one will want to let you down.


Break It Down


The key to mastering banking is breaking down each endeavor into small steps. Booking 20 profitable loans, introducing an updated mobile platform or growing non-maturity deposits by 2% for the quarter are all small wins that if replicated will likely lead to a top performing bank. Send a daily email to the whole department or bank with just one very small improvement you want to see and you would have made some 250 improvements by the end of the year. There are a variety of daunting challenges in banking that can serve to be anti-motivational. Help your management and your staff to reframe those challenges into smaller chunks and you are more than three times more likely to achieve those audacious goals.


Build A Network


While most all bank leaders understand building rapport with employees, regulators, government officials and customers, many overlook the power of building relationships with other banks, leaders outside of banking, vendors and other “teachers” that can inspire or help you with a skill. While many bankers cringe that their employees spend some work time on social media, it may be the best thing for everyone. Social media can be a very efficient way to stay in contact with a large number of supporters and stakeholders. Help employees build their network and it will pay off as those connections can result in geometric leverage when it comes to accomplishing a task.


Build Team Skills


Every employee should have a development plan, at least an informal one. Every banker wants to be challenged and top performing banks acknowledge and support that. There are so many great skill building opportunities in banking – blogs, conferences, banking schools, online classes and traditional education – that it is easier than ever to build the experience of your bank. As bankers notice their skills building, their motivation will grow and they will work harder.


A Purposeful and Engaged Life


It is no surprise that the most long-term productive bank teams are also the most fulfilled and are the happiest. Consider a 2009 University of Warwick (Germany) study that looked at the correlation of happiness on productivity. The study not surprisingly found that a positive outlook can improve performance. In one exercise, subjects were shown either or a comedy or a non-funny.  Those shown a comedy routine were 12% more productive than those who saw the less funny video.


Banks that support employees with charity work, non-work-related education and an overarching vision that goes beyond a profitable bank have consistently found that the extra investment makes for happier workers, increases longevity and decreases long-term employee costs.


If you are looking to build a more profitable bank, concentrate on creating a grander strategy, built on noble values and integrated with a superior set of processes will serve to set the framework to adding motivated employees that you can invest in to upgrade their skills and help support their purpose. Those bank leaders that can create internal and external motivation will find that they will have created a high-performance team that will have profit as a byproduct.