Sunday, January 31, 2010

Banks and Old Time Hockey

I went to see an AHL hockey game last night, the Hershey Bears versus the Albany River Rats. You are probably already thinking of how I'm going to build a bridge between hockey and banking, but bear with me.

You, like me, probably think of hockey players as some version of the 1970's movie Slap Shot. Tough guys. Not somebody you would find sipping single cask scotch discussing finances.

But the Bears were winning 5-1 at the time, and I started watching the gracefullness in how the players skate. I watched how they focused on the opposing player more than where the puck was, and how they instinctively knew where their teammates would be to receive a pass, or defend. Here is a sport that takes not only physical preparation, but a fair dose of mental preparation too. These guys, up and down the lineup, flat-out knew hockey.

I'm not sure we have that level of preparation or depth in banking. Do banks' employees, their players, understand banking, their bank's strategy and the role they play, up and down their lineup?

In my experience, bank employees know their jobs pretty well. But I'm not so sure that many on the team understand how all players move together to execute on a strategy (where the "other players" are going to be on the ice).

This type of tunnel vision makes teams less effective. It creates tension when departments that are walled off have to interact with other departments that are in similar cocoons. Each may be doing their job effectively, but the efficiency of work moving between departments, that's another story.

It reminds me of my early days, many years ago, as a branch manager. I focused a high percentage of my efforts generating consumer loans. My faulty thinking was it is better to generate assets than liabilities.

Seriously, that was my logic.

Nobody bothered to tell me that my branch's primary responsibility was to generate funding for the commercial lending department, which was the overall strategy.

Strange piece of information to leave out.

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