Leadership + People: Episode 56 - Rob Brough - Part 1 of 2
In this episode Vice President of Zions Bank, Rob Brough, discusses the benefits of allowing your team to fail and how to set up guidelines that will ensure failures are learning opportunities. Brough talks about his mentor Scott Anderson and provides examples of how Anderson as helped him learn.
Scope and assets of Zions Bank [01:22]
Acknowledging a mistake in leaving Zions and a kind mentor who made room for him to return [03:41]
By removing negative notions about failure, Brough’s team was able to push its potential and remove limitations [08:01]
Creating a culture where failure is to be learned from and where conversations can encourage such growth [10:34]
Guardrails provide security and encourage a fail fast, correct the course culture [13:18]
Conscientiously taking an active place in the community [18:46]
Be consistent, with time and that your behavior matches your words [21:45]
This episode of Leadership and People was originally released on: November 6th, 2018
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Welcome to Leadership and People. This is a series that pulls back the curtain on leadership by interviewing CEOs, Senior Executives and Entrepreneurs who had large exits. We ask these experts about how they built trusted networks to rapidly grow their companies. And what advice they wish they knew if they could do it all again.
JL: Today on the show we’ve got Rob Brough.
ROB BROUGH: “A long rope. And give them the opportunity to succeed and to find themselves and to see within themselves their ability to do things that maybe they didn’t realize they could do. And give them the opportunity to fail. And so what I have tried to do as well is that, you know, when they fail, I don’t punish them. I’m not harsh in that.”
01:20 JL: Rob, thanks for making time.
ROB BROUGH: Great to be here. Thanks Jess.
01:22 JL: So tell us what you do for Zions.
ROB BROUGH: I am the executive vice president of marketing and communications. Which in essence means that I have responsibility for all of the advertising, internal external communications, community relations, sponsorships, community partnerships, our website, what we call the office of the president. All that sort of funnels into my group. Basically what we say is any communication that comes from the bank, whether it’s external or internal, comes out of our team.
01:58 JL: And so for people who may not know, or people across the country who may be listening to this, can you give us a scope of how many locations, assets under management? Anything to give people a scope of the size?
ROB BROUGH: Absolutely. So Zions Bank is under the umbrella of Zions Bank Corporation. That is our parent company. Zions Bank itself operates in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. We have about 130 branches spread across those three states. Been around since 1873. So we’ve been around for 145 years. We are the largest locally headquartered financial institution, you know here. We are headquartered in Salt Lake City. So assets size, about sixteen to seventeen billion dollars in assets. So we’re pretty good sized organization.
02:48 JL: Yeah. yeah. About how many staff approximately?
ROB BROUGH: About twenty-five hundred.
02:53 JL: Yeah. Ok. So let’s dive right into it. You know, the show is about leadership and people. We were talking just for a minute about one of the leaders that influenced you.
ROB BROUGH: Yeah.
03:06 JL: Do you want to maybe share a bit about that?
Mentor Scott Anderson
ROB BROUGH: Yeah. It may be to obvious, but my, really my mentor when it comes to leadership is Scott Anderson. He is the president and CEO of Zions Bank. And to me he embodies what leadership is all about. And I’ve had the privilege… I’ve been here at Zions’ just over twenty-one years. And I’ve worked directly for Scott for about eighteen of those years. But worked with Scott for all twenty-one of those years. And so he really has been, and continues to be my mentor when it comes to leadership.
03:41 JL: And do you have any stories? Is there an example that comes to mind of a classic Scott Anderson story for you. Or something that maybe either something with you or something about him or just something that can give people some flavor for that?
ROB BROUGH: Well I think one of the things about Scott is I think… Which would be sort of a-typical for a CEO, he’s just so nice. And I’m not saying that CEOs aren’t nice. Because I know a lot of fabulous CEOs who are incredibly nice, but Scott is… Scott has a compasion. And he has a love for the community. He has a love for the individual. And maybe not a specific example, but I see it, I saw it very early on. Maybe I could give you this example that was very personal for me. That when I had been here at Zions Bank for about, well a little under two years. This was my second job out of college. I’d been with a local communications and PR firm for a couple of years. Which was a fabulous experience for me. And then I made the move and came over here to Zions Bank. And that’s a whole other story in and of itself. If you want to talk about we can. But I’d been here for a little less than two years. And I made the decision to go somewhere else. I had another company that recruited me. I was flattered by that. I was flattered that someone was interested in me and came to me and said ‘we would love to have you come work for us. And they were offering what at the time seemed like a lot of money. And so I took it. And frankly I didn’t really think about it as thoroughly as I should have. And I left Zions and I went to this other organization. And I’d been there for just a very short time. A couple of weeks. And I just realized; gosh I think I may have blown it. I may have made a mistake. And this was a fabulous company. A company that I respect greatly. But it just wasn’t a fit for me. And so I called my former boss at that time. And I said ‘Look, I think I may have made a mistake. Is there any chance you’d take me back?’ And he said, ‘Well I wish you would have called me a couple of days ago. We actually just made an offer to someone to take your position.’ And I said; ‘Great. I understand. I certainly didn’t expect for you to hold on to my job incase I decided I wanted to come back.’ And so I just resigned myself to the fact that we’re going to make this thing work. Well a couple of days later I got a call from Scott Anderson. And again at this time, I’d worked with Scott for a little less than two years. But you know, I was a relatively junior person here at the bank at the time. But I get this call from Scott. And he says; ‘I understand that you may be interested in coming back to Zions Bank.’ And I said; ‘Oh Scott.’ I was sort of embarrassed that he was calling. And I said; ‘Yeah Scott. I just feel like I may have made a hasty decision. And I didn’t think it through well enough. And I would be thrilled to come back.’ And he says; ‘Look, we would love to have you come back and work for Zions.’ And he, you know, we’ll create this position for you. And here’s what we’ll have you do. And to me, one, I’ll be forever grateful to Scott for that. And I am to this day, I am… I remember that story almost everyday. But what it taught me from a leadership standpoint… Scott saw something in me that I didn’t see in me. And he created a pathway and an opportunity for me to leverage what he saw in me, and I’ve tried to do that. And he continues to do that. Where he gives me plenty of rope. You know. Which can be good and bad. He gives me the opportunity to be successful. He gives me the opportunity to build confidence in myself and in my abilities. He’s always done that. But he also has given me the latitude to fail. Which I’ve learned a great deal from as well.
08:01 JL: Yeah, so thinking about that lesson, and kind of learning from that example, what are some of the ways that you’ve tried to implement that? Or what does that look like for your team?
Hire Well and Let Them Fail
ROB BROUGH: Well a few things I would mention. One is that I… My philosophy is that I try to hire really good people and then let them do their jobs. And so… But I also think that within that there is a responsibility that we have, not… Even those who you, again give a long rope to. There’s still opportunity for coaching and mentoring. And so what I’ve tried to do is just what Scott’s done for me is give my employees a long rope. And give them the opportunity to succeed and to find themselves and to see within themselves their ability to do things that maybe they didn’t realize they could do. And give them the opportunity to fail. And so what I have tried to do as well is that, you know, when they fail, I don’t punish them. I’m not harsh in that because I think that each of us. We’re all going to fail. And we’re going to fail over and over again. If we have a fear of failure, I think we limit ourselves. So I’ve tried to emulate what Scott taught me by giving my employees that same leash. While at the same time trying to give them guidance and direction that they need as well.
09:31 JL: Well I want to talk about this. So our consulting firm Mylan. We work with all these different CEOs and Commanding Generals and blah blah blah right? And a lot of times we’ll be working with somebody who’s realizing ‘Hey our culture maybe isn’t as daring as we could be.
ROB BROUGH: Yeah.
09:45 JL: Isn’t as bold as it could be.
ROB BROUGH: Yeah.
09:48 JL: A little bit of CYA kind of stuff. So, you know this idea of let people fail. It’s kind of scary.
ROB BROUGH: It is.
09:56 JL: Right? So when you… If you were to give guidance to some other senior leaders who are saying ‘Hey we want to open up to this a little bit.’ What guidance would you give about how to know what are the left and right limits. How do we let them know ‘Hey this amount of failure is reasonable.’
ROB BROUGH: Acceptable. Yeah.
10:13 JL: Because a free for all doesn’t work.
ROB BROUGH: No. No.
10:15 JL: Holding the reins too tight doesn’t work. You know walking that balance beam in the middle. What kind of guidance would you have for somebody?
ROB BROUGH: Well you know, I wouldn’t hold myself out as an expert on this by any stretch. But I have seen what Scott’s done. And I’ve tried to implement it. Obviously within our industry. We’re in the banking…
10:34 JL: Highly regulated.
Fail Fast, Learn Fast
ROB BROUGH: Highly regulated. So there are some pretty hard and fast dos and don’ts. There are some failures that are just not acceptable at all. And so I think part of this process is clearly understanding what are those areas. What are those places where, to quote the famous line ‘where failure is not an option’. Where you just… There’s a certain limit. So there’s… We operate within that realm in terms of the regulatory environment that we’re in. And so we understand where those guardrails are, within which, you know, if we go beyond those guardrails failure isn’t an option. So I think that is one thing. Clearly understanding that. And making sure that that’s clearly known. Making sure that as you try to create this environment where failure is accepted, but its not a free for all, you set those parameters and say; ‘Ok. We can’t walk on this ground.’ And so… But then I think what I would say is as you create that environment where failure is accepted, what you have to allow for in that is that when someone does fail, that there’s a culture where you can have that conversation with them about, ok we failed here. But let’s have a conversation about why we failed. Let’s have a conversation about how we then improve the process going forward to ensure that that failure doesn’t replicate. And it’s not just a willy nilly; ‘Hey you know what? Do what you want. And if you fail there’s no repercussions for it.’ Well, you know, I’m not going to fire you for failure. Unless it’s in some of these other areas where it is clearly out of bounds. But within the bounds that we’ve set, great we’ll try to create an environment where failure is accepted. But that failure then leads to a discussion. It leads to a movement forward as opposed to just; well we missed that one. Let’s get the next one. That kind of environment doesn’t work. It has to be coupled with a process for engaging in conversation about it.
12:49 JL: Yeah. You know you hear about those organizations. You know this hotel, hey you can make any decision in favor of guests up to a hundred dollars without any approval.
ROB BROUGH: Yeah.
12:57 JL: Or a thousand dollars. Or whatever the number is right, for their industry? It’s almost like a safety net of giving them that guidance of like how much, you know, where is the safe zone for experimentation.
ROB BROUGH: Right.
13:08 JL: It seems like in my observation, I want to hear your thoughts on this, in the absence of clear parameters, nobody wants to skate near the edge.
ROB BROUGH: No question.
13:18 JL: Right? So, let’s aire on the side of safety. And let’s not even… Let’s leave all that unused potential experimentation out because now I’m out into the risky zone because I don’t know where the line is.
ROB BROUGH: Yeah. That’s not even a question. I mean I… This may sound silly but about a week ago I visited the Grand Canyon. And… Which is just spectacular. I went with my, two, or three of my brothers. Where we went, we didn’t go to the typical tourist place where you go where there are all the guardrails. We went, and I’m forgetting the name of the exact location. But you drive for about, you know, thirty miles on this dirt road. Longer than that. Forty or fifty miles on this dirt road. And the last four or five miles requires a high clearance vehicle. So not just anybody can get out there. So we’re out there. And we’re out there all by ourselves. And we’re standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and it’s three thousand feet straight down. In the absence of having those guardrails there, what I found myself doing there was hugging the side of the rock that was farthest from the edge. You know it does something to you physically when you’re looking over that edge. But in context of what you were just saying Jess. I think absent having those guardrails there, yeah. We’re going to tend to hug the side of the mountain so we’re not anywhere close to the edge. Because in that situation, you get too close to that edge and three thousand feet down there’s not much there that’s going to save you. I think the same really is true as we think about leading and managing others. If we set those parameters, we set those guardrails. And say ok, again clearly these are the bounds in which we need to operate.
15:21 JL: Regulatory. Catastrophical loss. Reputation loss.
ROB BROUGH: Yeah. Exactly. And you’re clear about what those are. And you’re intentional about what those are. And those targets don’t move. Yes the regulatory environment can change. But you know, thinking about our industry, the things we’d be thinking about setting as guardrails, those don’t change from day to day. So you’re not changing the rules everyday. But then you say within those guardrails, we want to create that environment where you’re free to think. You’re free to explore. You’re free to fail. I think that’s healthy.
15:55 JL: Well and think about the space of marketing right? It’s… Maybe it’s part science but it’s also part art. Right?
ROB BROUGH: Exactly.
16:04 JL: So can you give us a couple of examples of couple of yours that fell flat and a couple that did great?
ROB BROUGH: Well, yeah. I mean without getting into too many specifics. You know there are certainly times when we roll out a marketing campaign or a marketing effort that we may think; ‘Hey this is spot on. This is really going to do it.’ And we put it out there.
16:27 JL: And you’ll spend how much on it? Just give me…
ROB BROUGH: Oh I mean it could be as much as any particular campaign. Could be three hundred thousand. Seven hundred and fifty thousand, depending on the nature of the program. And sometimes they work. And sometimes they don’t work as well as we’d like them to. And what we’ve been able to do more recently is we’ve set measurements in place so that along the way we can measure. So it’s not… You go back…
16:55 JL: So it’s not all or nothing.
ROB BROUGH: You go back twenty years ago, when I first started doing this. You sort of made the investment up front. And you pushed it out there. And then a couple months later you find out whether it worked. And now you know we can be much more precise. And we can measure it along the way. And we can make adjustments. Which really helps. And so frankly that gives us also I think a little more leeway to fail if you will. And I think we have to be clear how we define fail too. Failure isn’t always this catastrophic event. It’s just that maybe it didn’t do what we originally expected it to do. But now we have the ability to fail fast or to learn fast from our failures. Or from our successes. Now when we roll our campaigns we can measure along the way and say hey this is really knocking it out of the park. So let’s invest more. We’ve got three or four different iterations of a message out there. And this one is clearly performing better than the others. So lets now divert funds that we had put over here, into this. Because that’s what’s being successful. We can do that now. And to me that also allows us to have a little more flexibility in terms of our ability to be creative and to not always have to be so concerned about being so precise and being so perfect out of the gate because we can fail faster and we can learn faster from those failures.
18:22 JL: Yeah. When you think about that growing process and the you know the advantage of measurement, right?
ROB BROUGH: Yeah. Yeah.
18:30 JL: But yet it’s still humans that have to do the measuring.
ROB BROUGH: That’s right.
18:35 JL: And have to recognize the pattern. And make the decision, right?
ROB BROUGH: Right.
18:38 JL: You know we have listeners from dozens of different countries. They may not understand what a dominant position you guys have in the market here.
ROB BROUGH: Yeah.
A Community Fixture
18:46 JL: When you think about how you have done so well as far as owning the customer mind in these regions, can you talk more about what you attribute that to and you know…
ROB BROUGH: Sure. I would mention a couple of things. You know we operate in a very competitive space. And we have been around in this market, we meaning Zions Bank has been around in this market for about one hundred and forty-five years. But it really has been in about the last twenty maybe thirty years that Zions Bank has really elevated to a position of prominence. You know, we had one of our major competitors, with whom we had competed for years, they were again, about twenty years ago, they were acquired by a large national bank. And they had been one of the key community players in terms of, they sponsored all the major events and things that were happening in the community. They were very actively engaged in the community. And when that acquisition took place, we made a very conscience decision to say that’s a position in the marketplace that we want to own. That is a piece that we want to carve out and say that’s who we are. Because we had been that. We had been a major contributor to the community for decades. But we said we really want to own that space. And I would attribute much of the prominence of our brand, positioning in the marketplace, to that. To that decision to, you know… One of the compliments I hear often is people will say; ‘I/we see Zions Bank everywhere.’ ‘Zions Bank is everywhere.’ Well we can’t literally be everywhere. And so when people say that to me, I get excited about it because what it tells me is that we are where people expect us to be. Or it’s where they want us to be. Or where it’s important for us to be. And we work very hard at that. At trying to identify what are the important needs of the community. We recognize that at its heart, banking is very much a local business. Banking is very much a personal business. I mean even today with all of the technology and with all of the ways in which people can access their financial institution, banking at its hearts is still a very local and very personal business. I would attribute much of our brands success to that decision to become actively engaged in the community. And then be consistent with that over a number of years.
21:45 JL: It’s interesting the value of consistency uh?
ROB BROUGH: Yes. In fact we have a tagline that we say. We haven’t forgotten who keeps us in business. And it’s a tagline that we created again about twenty years ago. And we’ve stayed with it for twenty years. And we have discussion probably every year where we say is it time to do something different with that? Well, there’s something to be said for consistency. And whether it’s consistency in a brand or as a leader. There’s something to be said for consistency in your behavior. Not only that your behavior is consistent over time. But that your behavior is consistent with what you say. There’s something to be said for consistency for sure.
22:32 JL: Love it. I think this is a great place to end part 1 of the interview. Everybody tune back in and we’re going to hear some more from Rob in part 2.
Hi. My name is Logan Wilkes and I’m the CEO of Corporate Alliance. A few years ago I moved to San Diego to build a new market for us there. The biggest deterrent I had to success was I didn’t know a soul. I often thought to myself, if I just had a thriving network or influence this would go 100x faster. To be honest with you I had never felt so alone in my line. Because a) I didn’t have an influence and b) I didn’t know anyone who was going through the same thing I was. If you have ever felt like this and you were looking to grow your influence join us at one of our upcoming events. You can check us out at corporatealliance.net And you can request an invite to one of our upcoming experiences.