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Thought Catalysts: Peter Aceto on Employee Freedom

Thought Catalysts: Peter Aceto on Employee Freedom

Branding and Creativity Expert Ron Tite recently gave space on his “Thought Catalysts” blog to Tangerine CEO Peter Aceto, on giving employees freedom:

Diversity of thinking is key to great decision making. Get various experiences and viewpoints in the room when it counts.  Watching the film Lone Survivor in early 2014, I wondered if I could ever make it in the army. I’m not sure I’ve got what it takes. Lone Survivor is the story of American soldiers in Afghanistan. The premise is simple: soldiers hunting for a bad guy are faced with a dilemma when farmers wander into the middle of their camp. Will they “engage” with these farmers to protect their mission? Or will they sacrifice the mission to respect the rules of engagement and release the farmers (who will no doubt tell the bad guy)? The soldiers don’t agree and the leader has to make a call.

The decision is to follow the letter of the law, and the result is a story that doesn’t end well for the soldiers. And I wondered, would the army regret the soldiers’ decision to opt for the status quo instead of the alternative? Would that agree with their own view of the Greater Good? It’s a tough question and I don’t have the answer. I’m glad I don’t have to face the kinds of decisions that troops everywhere have faced for millennia. I only hope I can learn from their example.

When I tell someone precisely what I want and how to do it, I get precisely the result I anticipated. When I tell someone the broad-stroke vision of what I’m trying to achieve, and I don’t tell them how to do it, I find that the output is way better than I envisioned in the first place. Great people tend to deliver beautiful things, more beautiful than I can imagine myself. The parameters are not strict or confining: the fundamental goals of the plan have to be aligned, but there is a lot of room to make suggestions, experiment and grow.

I regularly have these kinds of discussions with my teams, and they regularly come back to me with results better than I originally envisioned.

You have to be flexible enough to recognize a better idea, especially if it is for the good of the company overall. I try to set it up for people like this: Know what we’re trying to accomplish, what your job is, what you’re responsible for and be responsible for it. If you want someone to do the job well, then you have to let that person do the job. No micromanagement.

Among the core people who report to me, their primary care is for our business. That’s what you have to argue for: the business, not yourself. That perspective makes a big difference. If you make it personal, you put yourself above the business. All of these people work real hours. They’re dedicated, and they don’t need me to push them. I didn’t hire them all, but I picked them all. They are in the right position for them and for us right now—they’re challengers.

None of them originally set out to be bankers. They’re just all a little bit different in their perspective. One thing they do have in common is vision. I need them to feel independent enough to create; I need to encourage lateral thinking and problem solving.

That’s what I enjoyed when I started at the bank: I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, but every day I was learning something new. All of it was new. Everything was a challenge; everything led to something else. I want to impart that spirit to all of our employees.

Some people liken Tangerine to Robin Hood, who took from the rich to give to the poor—he was truly altruistic. I don’t want to overstate, because we are a business. We are changing how people think about banking, and our customers enjoy the fruits of our hard work, and at the same time we make a profit.

Peter Aceto