On expectations, gardening and promises kept: banking edition
One of my early and loyal readers (and I have a feeling, once we eventually meet, friends) recently made a flippant remark about how having no expectations saves you from disappointment. Only she wasn’t flippant. The flippancy felt all pretend. Like the shield of a person who keeps their own promises and feels it deeply when the world doesn’t meet them halfway. So best expect nothing and protect yourself from disappointment.
I totally see the point.
And I disagree with her. And I think she disagrees with herself a tiny bit too, in a certain light. Not least because when I told her I would dedicate a #LedaWrites to changing her mind, she fully expected me to keep that promise. Or deliver on the threat. Either way, one-nil.
Murphy’s law and its perpetrators
Expectations are not always positive.
In banking we expect projects to run late.
We expect to have to produce endless PowerPoint nobody will ever read.
We expect that the CARL functions (compliance, audit, risk and legal) will act like the business prevention brigade exactly at the moment when you think you are done with all approvals.
We expect people to spend longer preparing for internal meetings than they do to meet clients (my boss many years ago would clear his diary for two days to prepare for meeting the ExCo, but would discuss client accounts and in-progress pilots en route to the meeting itself. If it was a flight to Madrid then at least you had some time. If, on the other hand, you haven’t tried to brief an executive on the Central Line, you haven’t lived).
We expect people to go back on delivery related promises. That’s why we email them straight after we leave their office. “Further to today’s very fruitful meeting.”
We expect hierarchy to have greater clout than sense. That’s why we cc our boss.
We expect resistance. We brace ourselves for our colleagues, executives and stakeholders to point fingers, challenge assumptions after the fact and make snide remarks that they don’t need our department, function, effort.
That the oxygen we breathe could have better uses.
We expect all that.
And expecting it sucks but it also perversely saves us from despair, because we brace ourselves, we toughen up. And we learn to recognise the process so that we can conserve strength for the battles that matter. We also learn to recognise that bracing effect. It is like a secret signal that helps us find others like us, people who expect the fight to be brutal and often pointless but stay the course anyway. People like us to join the journey.
None of us truly expect to find them until, by some miracle, we do. And then we learn that expectations are not always bracing affairs. Some times they are promises kept against the odds.
Banks expect to survive
Expectations are often implicit. And pervasive.
Any of you working in banks or with banks (i.e. all of you – if I have a reader who is not in finance hello and welcome. I shall call you Marvin and wait to hear why on earth this column is of interest at your earliest convenience. Unless you are an anthropologist in which case enjoy hanging with the natives. Yes it is all rather weird).
So. All of you working with banks (and Marvin) will know that banks talk a good game about disintermediation and disruption, we spend time and money and effort in finding pathways of profitability into the future. We stress but fundamentally, we expect to survive. Not intact, maybe not as big or not as profitable, but we fundamentally expect to still be there and mostly still identifiably ourselves at the end of the journey. The view from our desk is too compelling, the reality we breathe in too real, the disrupters not yet disruptive enough.
And that expectation, irrespective of whether you and I share it or not, shapes the reality we work in, informs our choices, enriches our efforts. We know complacency is the hardest thing to eradicate. And we know it’s the enemy we fight, when all else is done.
Banks expect to survive and those of us trying to help them survive know that their expectation is their weakness and the biggest obstacle, perversely, to us doing our job. We expect it. And expectation helps us prepare for the long fight ahead. Expectation of a long fight, in turn, teaches us to recognise fatigue, and know to rest when the temptation to give up flares. And to find friends for the journey. Because it takes a village. Villages are small, we expect that. We are outnumbered, we expect that too. But we are not alone. Learning to expect that is a novelty and a victory and part of what you build the future with. Connected economies and all.
Things every gardener knows
There is of course that moment, and you inevitably expect it, when you have seen enough and done enough to expect resistance; to also expect the support of your small and mighty tribe (wherever you may have found them); to even expect the future to come irrespective of your organisation’s expectation to outlive and outlast it. You know that they may indeed be right but that is both unhelpful and irrelevant and you just want to get a lot more stuck in damn it.
And the temptation to cross the fence is huge.
Cross the fence to the other department that seems to have greater business sponsorship and a bigger budget.
Cross the fence to the regulator, at least affect the tenor of change. Cross the fence to a startup, exchange corporate opulence for agility and a sense of purpose.
You expect the grass to be greener on the other side as surely as you expect to feel this way at some point in your career and to soon discover the grass was mostly the same. The greenness a trick of the light. You expect all that. Willing yourself to not expect it is understandable. But futile. You are human. Expect and embrace.
Plus in reality you and I and everyone in our village know that the grass may seem greener on the other side for a while (a change of scenery works wonders for a spell) but the grass is greenest where tended. So when crossing fences, carry water.
When powering up your PC every morning, expect resistance. When facing the future, expect uncertainty and fatigue. Expect a siege from feelings of despair, helplessness and nihilism.
Expect it and brace yourself.
By remembering to rest before giving up.
By remembering expectations are there to sober us, not motivate us: it’s hope, curiosity and relentless geekery that drives us.
And by remembering it takes a village, and if it’s not the village you happen to inhabit then go out there and find your village. Cross fences, walk on the grass till you find your tribe. You can expect to know them on sight. They carry water.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
Leda is a lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem, inhabiting both start-ups and banks over the years. She is a roaming banker and all-weather geek.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!