September 17, 2022 / VOLUME NO. 227

Celebrating Small Wins

True organizational change doesn’t happen overnight. Often, it’s the result of small steps. 

Laura Merling knows this well. She formerly worked for Google, and is now chief transformation and operations officer for $26.6 billion Arvest Bank Group, based in Bentonville, Arkansas. “I don't ever want a big aha at the end; I want to see incremental progress,” she says. “Figure out what you can roll out in 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, so that you have consistent progress.” 

And Merling wants to share that progress so everyone can get excited about change. “If you don't show success, people won't believe you can do it,” she says. 

One recent automation upgrade helped customers with password inquiries and resets. The project reduced calls into the bank’s contact center by 1,000 a day, a result that Arvest can measure and communicate to staff. “As long as we can continue to show metrics like that, and outcomes from the work we're doing, [we’ll] definitely bring everybody along for the ride,” says Merling. 

Another former Google executive, Kim Scott, advocated creating a “culture of listening” where employees can suggest ideas and voice complaints, with management quickly providing feedback. In her book, “Radical Candor,” she described a simple idea from a young employee to purchase programmable keyboards for Scott’s AdSense team, which allowed them to create shortcuts for frequently-used messages. Efficiency went up 133% as a result, and Scott stressed to her team that this would help them spend more time on work that mattered. 

“The use of programmable keypads by itself was hardly revolutionary, but when people saw the cumulative effect of that idea and others like it over time, [the employee’s] innovation felt a lot bigger,” Scott wrote. “It’s so easy to lose ‘small’ ideas in big organizations, and if you do you kill incremental innovation.”

Scott cited work from two academics — Alan Robinson of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Dean Schroeder of Valparaiso University — as inspiration for this focus on small wins. 

“In many important aspects of business — customer service, quality, and managing costs — you just can’t achieve excellence without getting the little things right,” Robinson told the Harvard Business Review in 2008. “Many small ideas are the germs of bigger ideas.”

• Emily McCormick, vice president of research for Bank Director

Tales From Bank Boardrooms

Corporate governance guru Jim McAlpin says a strong board culture permeates the room, and it’s easy to spot the indicators of a dysfunctional one. He shares his experiences from almost four decades spent working with banks — including the time he broke up a fistfight between directors. 

"I've gone to hundreds of meetings, and each board is different. You can have the same set of circumstances more or less, be doing the same kind of deal, facing the same type of issue or regulatory situation, but each set of people approaches it differently. And that fascinates me." — Jim McAlpin, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner

• Emily McCormick, vice president of research for Bank Director

Banking is Changing: Here’s What Directors Should Ask

Incisive and regular questioning from directors helps banks implement their strategy and orient themselves for the future.

Managing Risk When Buying Technology for Engagement

Engagement platforms that don’t provide quality digital experiences can not only fail in their objectives, they can also threaten a bank’s growth.

Enhancing Customer Experience Through Micro-improvements & Digitization

Introducing Reinventing Banking, a special series of The Slant Podcast brought to you by Bank Director and Microsoft.

The Future of Commercial Banking

Banks can use business insights to boost their business customers’ growth and increase their loyalty.