Saturday, February 01, 2014

Flawless Execution: Plan, Brief, Execute, Debrief

How do we connect our strategy to our vision? Can bankers identify, in high definition detail, the bank they want to become to remain relevant to their constituencies, and translate this future bank vision into action?

Regular readers of Jeff For Banks know I recently read Flawless Execution by former Air Force pilot Jim "Murph" Murphy by my post about defining your High Definition Destination. Far be it from me to send multiple shout-outs to an Air Force guy. The Navy has more planes (GO NAVY!). But, as the book's title suggests, Murph has some interesting thoughts on execution that I think can help banks bring vision to the ground floor.

Murph outlines how pilots plan for missions in a model represented in the accompanying picture. Could this work for community financial institutions? Let's walk through an example.

Suppose the FIs vision, or "high definition destination" is to be the number one business bank in the counties served for businesses with less than $10 million in revenue. The strategy team identifies a few Strategic Objectives that are critical to achieving the vision. For example, one Strategic Objective could be to develop a robust, yet simple suite of products designed to make the business persons' lives easier.

In the Flawless Execution model, a team would be assembled with all functions critical to the execution of the Strategic Objective present... commercial and retail banking, IT, compliance, marketing, etc. A plan is developed with responsibilities and timing. The team completes the game plan, and disperses to execute, re-assembling for regular updates and inter-dependencies.

After the product suite is developed and launched, per the plan, the team comes back together for a debrief to dispassionately discuss surprises, hurdles, miscues, and successes. This debrief is critical to organizational learning, ensuring the next Strategic Objective is executed better than the last. Yet, in my experience, the debrief rarely happens. 

Part of the reason is the increasing lack of candor in banking, and our society as a whole. I dedicated a blog post to this subject over three years ago, and I haven't noticed much improvement. How do we construct a culture of continuous improvement if we do not recognize execution flaws and impediments through a candid, yet dispassionate and impersonal debrief process?

Fighter pilots debrief this way because flaws in plan execution could end up in tragedy. Get better or risk death tends to add greater urgency than get better or have your FI relegated to the dust heap of irrelevance. 

But, as the numbers bear out, FIs need to get better at execution or risk irrelevance.  

How do you execute and do you debrief?

~ Jeff

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