Saturday, 24 April 2010

"Without vision, the people perish."

Is it not politically correct to quote the Bible? There, I did it anyway. The title of this post was lifted from the Book of Proverbs. Bankers must not be Bible readers. Clearly, most banks’ vision is to be “just another bank”. Right?

Vision clarifies the kind of bank you want to be. It is a future, hoped-for state. I am not stating something esoteric, you can read it on Wikipedia (see link). Yet when vision is brought up to most bankers, they roll their eyes and look at me like I have two heads. Marsico must be from the Marketing Department!

Today my 11 year old had a soccer game 90 miles away from home. To determine how to get there, my wife looked up the address of the field, we plugged it into our GPS, and set out to get there. But we in banking have different ideas. We don’t determine our destination. Instead, we get in the car, drive, and hope we happen upon a soccer field where, coincidentally, the rest of the team stumbles upon. We don’t identify our destination, yet we set about a strategy to get somewhere.

Where, I’m not sure. My guess is to the holy grail of banking, the “General Bank”. Don’t laugh, there once was a bank named General Bank in Los Angeles. At least they were honest. Should your bank’s name be General Bank?

Erika Anderson, the founding partner of Proteus International, a personal and business strategy firm, identified strategy steps in her book, Being Strategic, as follows:

Define the challenge; then

Clarify what is;

Envision the hoped-for future;

Face what’s in the way; and

Determine the path.

Bankers embrace all facets of the above in most strategic planning sessions I have attended or facilitated, except for that pesky “envision” part. But if we skip this step that Erika has so aptly identified, how in the world do we face what is in the way or determine the path. Determine the path to what? These steps are interdependent and if we are to evolve the community banking industry to be more relevant to customers and communities, we have to develop a long-term vision for our bank.

One method to create a vision was done by Xerox in 2000, under then-new CEO Anne Mulcahy. She assembled her senior management team and asked them to write a press release describing how various constituencies (i.e. customers, employees, shareholders) talked about the company, and date it five years forward. From this exercise, Xerox mapped their way from a death spiral to a return to relevancy.

One thing to avoid in clarifying your vision is a satisfy-all-constituency statement. Your vision statement should not only identify your future, hoped-for state, but bring clarity to decisions made every day by your employees. Stating you want to be the “best of class” community bank without specifically identifying what that means is, well, meaningless. I suppose this is why eyes roll when I discuss vision. Just because it has been done badly in the past, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. A strategic plan should be your GPS. Your GPS is worthless without telling it where you want to go. Your vision is the address. Are you navigating without a destination?

- Jeff

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