Banking’s Execution Imperative
**This article originally appeared in Jeff4Banks.com on June 19, 2021.**
Announcer: Spain had 85% possession against Sweden and did not score.
The strategy drawn up by the Spanish side played out… mostly. What Spain didn’t do is execute in their attacking third to put one in the net. It doesn’t matter if you had 85% possession. The scoreboard matters.
So it goes with banking. So often management teams put in the work to design a winning strategy. They march out of that planning retreat energized. And when their strategy consultant re-engages next year to see where they are on execution, there is disappointment. The economy, interest rate environment, or their “day job” held them back. And the institution didn’t move forward. They didn’t execute in the attacking third.
I realize the irony about me writing on execution when one segment of my book, Squared Away-How Can Bankers Succeed as Economic First Responders was “No amount of good execution will help a bad strategy.” But if we don’t get serious about executing on the well thought out strategies we worked so hard to develop, the scoreboard will reflect it. And we can’t expect our competition to put up a zero so we stay level at nil-nil.
I’m working this soccer analogy to the fullest.
Here is what I mean. Schmidlap National Bank, our hypothetical community bank, researches their markets, customers, competitors, strengths and weaknesses and determine that they can distinguish themselves as the best business bank for businesses between $1 million – $10 million in their markets. So they set out to make it so.
They debate what success would look like. To be the best business bank, they must baseline what their current business customers think of their bank, its products, and its service. So a strategic initiative is to baseline through survey, and repeat at least semi-annually. To align strategy with culture, they make executive and mid-level performance reviews within the departments that serve businesses dependent on continuous improvement in how your business customers view the bank.
Additionally, the strategy team thinks they should be paid for being the “best” in terms of pricing. As such, they identify top-quartile (among market peers) yield on loans to be their aspirational goal. And again, executive performance reviews and/or bonuses are linked to achieving top quartile yield on loans while achieving market average credit quality metrics. In other words, they can’t deliver yield by chasing poor credits.
But there’s more. In order to align the organization with this strategic aspiration, lender bonus criteria is changed from volume to continuous improvement in the individual lenders’ spread. So now, lenders’ incentives are closely linked with strategy. They demonstrate continuous improvement in customer satisfaction scores, and continuous improvement in their portfolio spreads, and they have a good year.
Each strategic initiative, inextricably tied to strategy, serves to set the table (i.e. culture) for successful strategy execution. And the initiatives are strategic. Not “replace the departing loan assistant” or “upgrade phone system.” These are business as usual “to-do’s”. They are someone’s day job.
But for bank executives, strategy execution is your day job.
Don’t be Spain.