“Do as I say, not as I do.”
That familiar expression popped into my head while attending a recent workforce analytics conference. The speaker, the Head of HR Analytics for a major U.S. financial institution, was giving a talk on experience diversity, a concept that predicts better business results through diversifying the work experience of your leadership group. He endeavored to convey the benefits of hiring people from outside the banking industry into roles previously reserved for insider experts.
As the speaker rightly said, banking is at a crossroads. With customer loyalty declining, little product differentiation, and increased completion from slick, technology-powered microfinance startups, big banks need to innovate to remain viable. Given the current environment, it makes sense banks would want to bring in people from other industries to drive innovation through perspective.
As he spoke, I thought, “This is great!” Sure, I agreed with him philosophically, but my enthusiasm arose from a more pragmatic place: I work for a firm that measures the potential, strengths, and motivations of people through pre-employment assessments and other talent-management tools. Business is going to boom!
Then I checked out these job listings at the speaker’s bank:
Home Equity – Underwriting Manager
Basic Qualifications – At least 3 years of underwriting experience working on Home Equity/Mortgage programs and guidelines.
Head of Commercial Card Sales
Basic Qualifications – At least 5 years of Commercial Card sales experience.
Perhaps the anticipated business boom won’t come so easily after all. To my chagrin, the speaker’s unintentional message was, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Big ideas are great, but they remain ideas if you are unwilling to act on them. I’m sure we’ve all had moments in our lives when we made declarations of bold action yet played it safe in the end. With the speed at which business changes nowadays, however, playing it safe may be risking irrelevance, especially for aging institutions less agile than those built on technology innovation.
Hiring banking-industry insiders might make life a little easier at first, and no one is saying industry experience has no advantages. But, ultimately, an echo chamber is not the place where fresh ideas arise, innovation occurs, and better business models emerge. If we’ve learned anything in the internet age, it’s that industries change from the outside.