The Why of the ‘Why’


Training sticks when people know the reasons for rules and practices

By Lindsay LaNore

The concept is not revolutionary. The purpose is fairly simple to understand. However, the act is often forgotten. Teach the Why.

Today’s modern learner has a fraction of his or her typical workweek to focus on professional development and training. Yet community bankers are expected to be at the top of their game when it comes to production, customer service and performance results. By teaching bank team members the Why behind what and how something should be done, the roots of these requirements grow deeper within them.

Three steps lead to greater teaching and smarter employees: 1) outline the What, 2) explain the How, and 3) teach the Why. Simon Sinek addresses these concepts in his book, “Start with Why,” to explain how great leaders inspire others toward effective action. The concepts hold true in training a bank team.

Outline the ‘What’

To understand this notion better, let’s consider a specific regulatory compliance requirement: the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act and its implementing Regulation C. HMDA mandates that certain banks report data to the appropriate federal agency about their home purchase loans, home improvement loans and refinancings they originate or purchase, or for which they receive applications.

This specific regulatory requirement outlines what certain banks must do to stay compliant with HMDA. The act of communicating a specific rule to others is fairly straightforward.

In the highly regulated community banking world, communicating the What is easier than in other industries. Bankers generally expect their institutions to be subject to numerous rules, and often banks simply approve a policy that states they will adhere to a requirement. When a formal policy is not necessary, communicating the rule might occur by sending a staff memo or holding a staff meeting. In any event, a critical step in the training process at the outset is sharing with trainees the rule or requirement that must be followed.

Explain the ‘How’

When considering a new rule with which a bank must comply, a common deliberation is how in fact the bank’s team will ensure compliance. This may occur through the action of a bank officer, working group or task force to determine how the bank will comply. Often, a written procedure is the result of this discussion.

Question to Ponder?

How often do your employees ask themselves, “Why do I have to follow this procedure, fill out this form or disclose this information?” It might be more often than you think.

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In considering the HMDA example, community banks often appoint an employee responsible for overall HMDA compliance. Then they support that responsibility by requiring lenders to complete HMDA work sheets, loan processors to validate HMDA reporting and input, and reporting specialists to enter all HMDA data into a software program.

Understanding how banks will adhere to a certain rule is a key training step. Because it is so vital to their infrastructure, many banks spend the majority of their time on this step. Multiple training sessions or committee meetings discuss how the rule will impact operations. Often, a timeline with key dates is published so all employees are aware of process expectations.

It should be noted that employees can operate, and the bank may stay in full compliance, by simply teaching the What and the How.

For some banks, this remains sufficient and keeps peace with examiners. But does this go far enough for your community bank? Are desired results achieved? Is your bank investing as much as it can in helping employees expand their knowledge?

Teach the ‘Why’

By teaching the Why, community banks can build better community bankers. Banks may not entirely agree with the reasons behind why a rule has been established. However, employees will become more strongly invested in a regulation if they understand the rationale behind it.

Consider this: Teaching the details, which serve as a catalyst for the rule, triggers a person’s emotions. In turn, this elicits the limbic part of the brain and generates an emotional connection. A robust emotional connection results in forming memories, which provides for clearer understanding. Greater outcomes result for both the banker and the bank.

If bank trainers and officers not only explain the What along with the facts behind the rule, adherence will likely be stronger.

Remember the HMDA reporting requirement example? If bank trainers and officers not only explain the What and the How but also outline the facts behind the rule, adherence will likely be stronger. Teaching that HMDA was established to determine whether banks are serving the housing needs of their communities and whether additional public or private investment is needed in the housing sector may help trigger a key emotional memory for employees.

Explaining the Why may take more time, but it will result in smarter, more engaged employees. It will help them connect their training to their behavior and motivate them to adhere to the rules. It also will allow employees to question the Why and let banks affirm the Why.

Community banks have the opportunity to maximize how their employees learn and perform. Teach the Why.

Lindsay LaNore ( is ICBA’s executive vice president, Community Banker University.