Lean gives banking veteran fresh perspective

December 17, 2012
in Lean

With nearly three and a half decades in the financial services industry, Jim Lamond could have folded his arms and raised an eyebrow when Lean came to First West. What could Lean possibly give that 34 years of experience hadn’t already taught him?

Tempting as it may have been to take a wait-and-see attitude, or simply go through the motions, this VP of Credit for First West’s Valley First division went whole hog on Lean. In just a few months, he achieved his Lean black belt certification, becoming one of four black belts at First West.

Here’s what this banking veteran had to say about the difference Lean has made to his work and at First West.

How did you come to work at Valley First, Jim?

Jim: While living in Kamloops, I was approached by a recruiter for a position at Valley First. I’d had 25 years of experience with banks and credit unions. Once I met the management team at Valley First, I was very impressed and knew it would be a great fit— I’ve been here for a little over nine years now.

As VP of Credit, what are some of your roles and responsibilities?

Jim: I oversee the credit team, interpret First West policy, write lending guidelines, and as part of the Valley First leadership team, I provide insight on regional issues to the First West leadership team.

You recently went to Japan and became a Lean black belt. Tell us about that experience.

Jim: Lean training was challenging—sometimes more challenging than I expected—but it was life-changing. If you absorb everything you can, you begin to think differently. We bankers are so caught up in processes, but Lean opens your eyes to why you do the things you do. Even in my personal life, Lean thinking has helped me simplify things and take more risks and try doing things differently. Going to Japan for Lean training and learning about Japanese culture was fascinating. In Japan, people look at things with a Lean perspective all the time, and because of that, the culture there is very, very different. There, the customer is always number one.

Give us an example of how a Lean perspective has helped you see differently.

Jim: While completing one of our blackbelt assignments Cheryl Croeze, our assistant vice-president of retail banking at Valley First, and I saw a strategic opportunity for mortgage delivery—the mobile sales force. This is a team of people out in the community who are not only able to sell mortgages, but also all of our base products.

What Lean tools do you use most, and why?

Jim: There’s the hansei—or daily reflection—it’s a valuable tool for getting my team together and offering encouragement and help. We’re also using value graphs, the “Five Whys” and the Gemba, which encourages us to get out to our physical locations (branches, insurance offices, etc.) more and promotes broader collaboration.

It sounds like you’re using Lean tools often. Have you come across anyone outside of First West who is also on the Lean journey?

Jim: I only know of one organization in the Okanagan area. But Lean is certainly starting to gain greater awareness in the community and other companies are interested in hearing more about our Lean efforts.

We’re about a year and a half into our Lean journey.  In your opinion, what has been the most challenging aspect in these formative years?

Jim: The Kaizen activities we used to identify improvements are quick, whereas moving through to implementation of improvements takes significantly longer, and that’s really the end goal. On the plus side, everyone really dug in to make them happen. We also could have done a better job communicating results—people see their peers participating in kaizens and wanted to know the details.

What are some of your Lean goals over the next year?

Jim: We want to get as many people as possible into Lean 101 training, our in-house Lean introduction course, and make overall enhancements to our Lean training program. Personally, I plan to take advantage of every opportunity to listen to people about areas of frustration or new ideas that may lead to mini-Kaizens. The main goal is always to improve the member experience.

Do you believe Lean has changed First West from a cultural perspective?

Jim: I certainly think it’s started. Having only been at it for a year and a half, I think we’ve made phenomenal strides. As with all new things like Lean, support from senior management is crucial to growing the Lean culture across the organization.

What’s the last word on Lean you’d like to leave us with?

Jim: Don’t be afraid of Lean. Really take the opportunity to learn however you can. You’ll find that Lean principles can be applied to everything for continuous improvement. Even a small effort will produce visible results.

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