Using The Flawless Execution Model in Banking

Continuous Improvement

Recently, at the Graduate School of Banking at LSU, we had the team from Afterburner, Inc. in to discuss their Flawless Execution and Stealth Debrief Model. Since it was such a hit, we wanted to provide a 30-minute excerpt from the class. In this article, you can also find Afterburner's “6 Steps To Mission Planning” checklist and a debrief scorecard to gauge your effectiveness. At the end of the article there is a video and what it lacks in production values (our fault), David “Finch” Guenthner, a partner at Afterburner, makes up for in easy to understand tips for bankers on how to get better at execution.  


Flawless Execution


Flawless Execution is a methodology born in the zero-tolerance world of combat aviation and was designed to provide a framework for superior performance.  Starting with a High Definition Destination, or the vision, you add strategy and the leader’s intent to hone your purpose. These top three elements of the Flawless Execution pyramid makes sure the whole bank not only has a workable plan for the future but that everyone is aligned. 


Flawless Execution Cycle


At the base of the model is your bank’s foundation. The right human capital combined with the right training that supports achieving your clear and high standards will get your bank a foundation like few others. Luckily, banks either do a good job in this area or at least know what they have to do.


Where banks can improve is in the middle of the model. This area is the process cycle and includes the collaboratively constructed mission plan plus the brief where people can poke holes in the plan. Poking holes in the plan are sometimes accomplished by assigning a “devil’s advocate” or a “red team.”


Assigning this red team position overcomes the pressure on staff to keep quiet about concerns. The job of the red team is to come up with ways the plan is going to fail, regardless of their belief. The thinking is that if the plan has thought through all the risks, it is one more step towards being battle-tested and then has a higher probability of success. A survey of approximately 180 bankers at banking school revealed that only one instituted the devil’s advocate concept into their planning.


During the brief, it is important to have a clear understanding of the tasks of each member and who is responsible for each section of the plan. It is also necessary to have an understanding of your communication plan – what channels and how often. By the end of the brief, everyone on the team should be aligned and ready to execute. 


In the video, Finch goes on to elaborate on the Six Steps of Mission Planning, the summary of which can be found below. 


Six Steps To Planning


Unfortunately, most banks are trapped in the execution portion of the model and are “task saturated.” Task saturation is the perception or reality of having too much to do and not enough time and resources to get the job done. Sound familiar?


Ironically, as Finch explains, most bankers wear their busyness as a badge of honor. We all have too much to do and leave little room for planning, creative thinking and debrief. As a result, as task saturation increases so do operational errors and inefficiencies.


Perfecting the debrief is one way to help break out of the execution trap. Few banks take the time to debrief after a sales call, client event, product launch or meeting. Not debriefing allows errors to continually creep in and prevents continuous improvement at a fast pace.


The Stealth Debrief


Debriefing is a competitive advantage that your bank needs. After every major training, client meeting, new product introduction, or event bank team members should get together to objectively criticize each other and their process. Titles are left at the door, and everyone is equal.


Bankers should specifically look at what they could have done better, what they did well and how to improve. The level of trust should be high as team members need to allow for non-judgmental critiques with the only goal being the improvement of the whole team. Egos are in check, and team members should learn the skill of both giving and receiving criticism.


Team members also need to practice the art of tracing back a bad decision or poor action. Questions were often asked, “Why did you make that decision?” Or, “Why were you in that position?” Team failure is usually not the result of one bad action but a series of bad decisions. It is important to get to the root cause and figure out where the process, from training to planning to execution, could be improved. That all said, good teams are quick to ascertain when good decisions were made in bad situations. Good luck and bad luck both have a role to play and sometimes there is no overcoming a tough position in the market.


Debriefing in Banking


Of course, at the end of any debrief, or after action review, it is critical that the team agrees on what the actionable items that came out of the debrief and that everyone knows who is accountable and the time frame to making sure those action items make it into the execution cycle.


The Video


Here at CenterState, we are big fans of the Afterburner Flawless Execution model and try to use it whenever appropriate. When banks are small, it is the leader that is responsible for maintaining a cohesive team that can execute. However, when banks grow, it is the process that ensures execution.


Check out the video below as Finch goes more into the details and nails some of the common threats we face every day as bankers. He also further elaborates on the planning phase as well. In addition, to help you objectively judge your debrief effectiveness, Afterburner has provided a scorecard that can be downloaded for free HERE.