You may not agree with the title. But this is about how a bank thinks out of the box with a cook !

When you think of “cooking the books”, your first thought may go in the direction of crooks, criminals, and occasionally politicians. For sure you would hope that this has nothing to do with your bank ! When I was at a leadership development program for a leading bank – which also happened to be my bank – I was a bit rattled when one of the bank managers shared with the whole group that he had recently started to cook the books !

You will understand I was listening closely to his explanation …

It turned out that the bank had for years tried different approaches to improving efficiency and operating routines. Consultants, experts, team brainstorming and many more ways had looked at improving operations, with some but limited success. Hiring an experienced person from another bank or financial institution was a common way to find out how others in the same field were doing. The bank manager reasoned that if he were to repeat this way of improving the bank’s performance, he would be going around in circles with limited breakthrough.

So he came up with the idea to hire a cook. Yes, a cook. A real cook (not a home cook). He had been impressed how cooks in professional kitchens manage a team, deal with complexity, high time pressure, low predictability and changing demands. Exactly what he was facing at the bank. Hiring a cook to be a member of the bank’s improvement team (not for some weeks but permanently – he was lucky that he met a cook who wanted to work in a bank !) was a bold way to break out of the traditional box. The experience was quite recent, but he did share that the cook had come upon new ways of working that the most experienced bank staff would never have thought about.

Not really in a position to hire a cook for non-cook activities ? There are alternatives ! In Action Learning, a team works on a complex and important problem through a process of asking questions. Action Learning teams often invite a pizza person (close to a cook !). The pizza person is someone from another department, with no knowledge, experience or assumptions about the problem or the department’s way of working. The role of the pizza person is just to ask questions when something is not clear or obvious. “Why do you include this step in the process ?” or “What would happen if this report did not exist ?” are the kind of questions that help the team think out of their usual box. Very often, this leads to completely new insights and breakthrough solutions.

Tired of dealing with the same problems over and over ? Hire a cook. Or find a pizza person. They just might bring more to the table than you would think.