“We know that communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with the employees.”
-AT&T Supervisor in a memo
Recently, I spent some time with one of my neighbors who, over the last 10 years, served several tours as an army intelligence officer in Iraq and Afghanistan. He described some of the steps he took to create and distribute “intelligence”:
One thing he said was that much of what he distributed was reviewed and determined by front-line personnel to be interesting but not needing immediate action (although they very much valued it). However, every now and again there would be a “nugget” (as he described it) that would make a huge amount of difference, enough to change the plans in place, and justified all of his work and effort. Another point he made was that there was simply far too much information needing analysis for front-line people to even try and do what he did. His was a skill unto itself.
The first thing that struck me was the enormity of his dedication and the sacrifice he and his family made to do this for 10 years (that alone is worth more than one article). The second thing, though, was this: how does an institution create intelligence at a time when there are announcements made every day that could have big short- or long-term impacts?
One reason this question may be timely is the sheer pace of change and innovation occurring in the banking and payments space. Think about what was announced just in the month of February:
Man, that’s a huge amount of news. What’s more, that’s just half what I put together in about 30 minutes of looking around (well, maybe I guessed about your local acquisition). Imagine what we could be looking at if somebody was doing this with focus, purpose and some chops.
Sure, some of these bits of intel are yawners. Some may be interesting but have no short-term impact. But what if one is a “nugget”?
A more forward-thinking question: how is the management team kept current on new developments, and how should they be? Where does the responsibility for intelligence lie within the organization?
One answer is that this is the job of every line of business manager. The challenge to them is that their daily management responsibilities, and those of their staff, are so heavy that they just don’t have the time to devote to this on a regular basis with the effort required. Another challenge is that market trends and information may not obviously be in any group’s purview. Who should be analyzing Facebook stored value cards – marketing, the social media expert, retail, or cards/debit?
There is enough change going on and enough impact as a result that it might be time to assign the “intelligence” role to a specific person or group. However it is assigned in the organization, somebody needs to be looking at what’s going on and provide management briefs (yes, I’m still in military mode/jargon) that answer the questions that are bound come up. As an example:
There are several topics that are big enough every month for a management briefing, and probably hundreds that warrant a briefer look and alert to the team. Aside from finding the “nugget,” this discipline would also have the side benefit of simply raising the collective awareness levels of very busy managers who don’t have the time to do it themselves.Whoever is responsible for this needs to combine several key traits – the curiosity and “digger” mentality to get to the heart of the story and the detail behind it, very strong research skills (especially online), deep enough knowledge of banking to understand and analyze business impact, the ability to articulate a unique and interesting spin, and the credibility to discuss it at the highest levels of the organization.
This will be a very important job and role going forward.
Sounds fun, too.
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