Picture your typical meeting at your bank. How much of that meeting is spent talking about the future rather than the past? Is it an offensive meeting where you are talking about new products, how to gain new customers or new strategies or is a defensive meeting where you are trying to fix problems? While likely your meetings are a combination of both offense and defense, there is always one side that dominates. Identifying when you are playing offense vs. defense is important as most of the gains in your bank comes from offense. More importantly, the more you can play offense, the stronger your culture will become.
When we have to deal with tasks like regulatory fixes or problem resolution, it is unfulfilling. Yes, we get to cross things off our list, but those checkboxes have little overall impact on moving the bank forward. The funny part is that it is most of these defensive tasks that get high priorities because a) they have deadlines, and b) they have clear consequences. Because of these two factors, defensive tasks usually expand to fill most bank manager’s entire existence. When we ask bank executives what they are working on, you can always tell those executives that are playing defense versus those playing offense.
By contrast, an offensive initiative is rarely urgent. You are not doing it now, so what is the big deal if it doesn’t get done? Offensive tasks are harder to get your head around and harder to define because most likely there is no path forward. As such, things like milestones and urgency are harder to formalize. Because of these factors, offensive tasks rarely get done at a bank.
Still not convinced? Take a look at your task or to-do list for today. Most likely it is prioritized by when tasks are due with those items due today right on top. Using this approach, every possible task, no matter how important, takes a top priority at one time or another. If this is you, or someone on your team, then likely the items that can really move the needle get last priority when everything else is done, which means likely never. The best example is strategic planning. Often, strategic planning gets done only because it is becomes an event on the calendar. It gets crammed into a day or two with little preplanning, brainstorming, objective setting or market research. The one effort that can take your bank from a 6% ROE institution to a 30% ROE institution rarely gets the time and priority it should get.
If your management team is looking to really make a difference, try flipping your priorities around and using the 3:1 ratio. Try ranking your tasks by those items that can produce the greatest competitive advantage for your bank AND that align to your strategic priorities. These priorities are based on expected results, not when a task is due. Then, for every offensive priority, you can mix in three defensive items that are most important. The rest of the items on the list can either be put off, delegated or tabled because they are not that important.
Don’t let your day be filled with defensive tasks. Make time to work on strategic initiatives, culture, brand or other items that can really make a difference at your bank. Your time is infinitely in demand so you are already letting a variety of items go. Now, try letting more of those smaller items go in order to make room to tackle opportunities that not only make a big difference, but align to your strategic goals. If you do, productively will be geometrically expanded.
Submitted by Chris Nichols on August 06, 2014