I recently had the opportunity of participating in a luncheon panel at one of my favorite banking conferences. Our panel convened midway through the second day of the conference.
When I got my first opportunity to speak, I explained that with what I had heard so far, I couldn’t help think of a classic scene from an old episode of The Tonight Show.
The comedian, George Gobel, was the last guest on the show and seated on the couch with Bob Hope and Dean Martin. He quipped to Johnny Carson, “Did you ever get the feeling that the world is a tuxedo… and you’re a pair of brown shoes?”
In our case, the panel was put together to talk about why and how our branch workforces are the growth engines for our banks. Up to that point in the conference, it seemed that every presentation focused almost entirely on mobile banking and suggested the future of the bank branch is in doubt.
Our session went well, with lots of smiles and head nods. It was a little later out in the hallway that I got responses that made impressions on me.
One executive from a large community bank walked up and said, “Thank you for that.” I asked, “For what?” and she told me that she appreciated that the people on stage understood that banking is, and will continue to be, a people business.
I shared with her that I was surprised and a little concerned that some want to ignore that fact. I also kidded that it seems too many folks seem more concerned about predicting what the banking world will look like in 10 years and not nearly as worried about the next 10 months… or even 10 weeks.
In my opinion, the idea that the key to competing in the future involves removing face-to-face touchpoints with customers is, well…not very well thought out. Sure, there may well be institutions who bet their existence on purely online “relationships” with customers.
I would humbly suggest that not many are going to win those bets.
Technology may transform how we deliver products and services. Humans enjoy technology, but we form actual relationships with other humans.
We are drawn to people and places that make us feel welcomed and appreciated. The design and locations of the physical structures that house our people will surely evolve, but our people’s rolls in initiating and building customer relationships remain essential.
People will matter more, not less.
A chapter in the new book Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg discusses the role that “psychological safety” has on team success. He suggests that success is driven as much by the social dynamics of a work place as by the skill levels of team members.
I found myself mostly agreeing.
That is not to minimize the importance of individual talent. A “Kumbaya team” of incompetents is not likely to be a top performer.
But in instances in which the skills, experiences, and even competitive drives of teams are similar, those who feel higher levels of trust and inclusion tend to perform better.
I have joked in presentations for almost 20 years about a similar dynamic. I tell bankers that I can usually tell how well people get along in a branch or similar workplace by how much they joke with, and even about, each other.
I always make a point to clarify what I mean by that. I am not talking about people who talk about other people when they are not around or say mean or inappropriate things.
That is the antithesis of what a healthy work culture looks like.
However, people who get along and spend large portions of their days working side-by-side with one another tend to kid with each other. They can do this when they are comfortable enough to laugh in each other’s presence and at themselves, as well.
I have long told bankers that whenever I have spent time in a branch where everyone was very formal and stiff, I figured they could not stand each other.
Okay, that may be an overstatement. Then again, maybe it isn’t.
Tense cultures are ones in which people feel they cannot let down their guard. Coworkers look at each other more as competitors than as team members working toward shared goals.
That does not mean that a team of super-talented people who do not get along can never find success. (Think the Shaq/Kobe Lakers). However, untrusting work environments tend to wear people down, sap emotional energy, and become toxic.
Managers of teams typically play dominant roles in their work cultures and their teams’ levels of engagement. Teams who feel their inputs are respected (even when there is disagreement) and their individual efforts are recognized and appreciated by their leaders tend to be more stable and productive over time.
That’s the safe (and smart) play.