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Love those “change agents”!

Why stable companies need a little uncertainty to stay on their game

Editor & Publisher William Streeter brings his longtime magazine column favorite, "Like It Or Not," to our blog lineup. Read Bill's periodic looks at what's going on in American finance and business in general. Editor & Publisher William Streeter brings his longtime magazine column favorite, "Like It Or Not," to our blog lineup. Read Bill's periodic looks at what's going on in American finance and business in general.

You may have heard about our 20 Under 40 awards for up-and-coming bankers. (Deadline is April 22.)

Sure, everybody loves recognition, but there is another reason why contests like this exist: Because every organization from the smallest to the largest needs to be in a state of flux.

That may seem an odd thing to say, in contrast, say, to seeking stability. Who doesn’t want stable, long-term, predictable growth?

At the personal level, most people say they want stability, but then get bored with it and look for a little excitement, until, exhausted, they decide it’s not worth the trouble. That usually comes with age, and is called experience.

In business, on the other hand, companies—especially banks—do need to be stable, otherwise they will just lurch from crisis to crisis and into oblivion. The real trick comes in being financially and organizationally stable yet also continually in flux.

Call it a paradox, but in today’s climate, even stable businesses won’t do well for long, without the ability to fluidly change.

In other words, banks need to expect, plan for, and indeed instigate change, disruption, call it what you will. And to do that, it needs a certain number of “change agents” in its mix of people.

Talent development is a constant

It is the duty of current leaders to not only replace themselves, but to continually develop the talent base that will disrupt the organization from within—with ideas, energy, improvements in the way things are done, implementation of the latest technology or organizational theory, etc.

It doesn’t matter that some of this ends up in the corporate dumpster. Because some of it will make a difference—occasionally a big difference.

Back to the “under 40” part.

As a broad generalization (hard as it is for me to say this), it is true that younger people more willingly embrace and encourage change. Often they push for it.

Obviously, there are exceptions. Warren Buffet is 87 and seems pretty adaptable and up on things. Clearly a company benefits from having a wide range of experience—both type and length—in its ranks.

The biggest banks have this range by default, or by HR policy. Their challenge is to harness it in an effective way. For smaller banks, it’s harder to achieve that range of talent, but perhaps even more important.

The leaders and innovators to be may already be in your organization, or they may need to be coaxed in. Either way they have to be identified and encouraged. Many banking trade groups—national and state—now have “emerging leader” or “young banker” programs to help with this process.

Our “20 Under 40” awards

For the same reason, we created the inaugural Banking Exchange 20 Under 40 awards.

This is a judged competition, not a popularity contest, and so the 20 people selected will be profiled as being the “best of the best.” Kudos to them for that.

In reality, however, they are (or will be) part of a much larger group of “drivers” pushing banking into its own next generation.

Those bankers currently at or near the top of their organizations may find themselves rankled at times by this “push.”

But the more enlightened ones, far from resisting it, will encourage this emerging talent from the earliest stages, and be comfortable with a state of flux—even if it is occasionally personally uncomfortable!

Read our rotating guest blog by the next generation, "Next Voices"

More in this category: « Lessons from the fast lane
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