Leadership Perspectives | 10.26.22
The Power of Communication: A Q&A With Wallace Harris
The past two years have in many ways transformed how people communicate both personally and professionally — for better and worse. Thirty-three percent of people interviewed for a 2022 project.co study said communication has gotten harder for them in the past year, while only 18% said it’s gotten easier. As president of BMO Investment Services, Wallace Harris has developed effective communication strategies to ensure he and his staff stay on the same page despite many competing priorities. Learn how he makes it all work in our conversation with him below.
What does effective communication mean to you?
WH: Effective communication occurs when my message is heard, understood and connects with my audience in a way that drives appropriate and positive outcomes. It is much more than saying the right thing — the messaging should be clear and concise, incorporating empathy with a generous dose of authenticity.
What is the most pressing issue and biggest opportunity related to communicating effectively in a digital age — with clients, potential clients and internal teams?
WH: Many competing platforms are vying for everyone’s attention in today’s digital age. It can be an email notification, text message or social media alert. This “noise” can be distracting and often interfere with your message being received and understood. While all this technology contributes to noise distracting people from receiving messages effectively, it is also an excellent asset for better communication.
The most significant opportunity for communicating effectively in a digital age is that we have more platforms available to deliver information in various formats. For example, text and basic images are no longer relevant as more multimedia options, such as video and graphics, are now available for all forms of communication. There is no longer a one-size-fits-all method for communication — messaging can now be personalized and delivered in the format the audience wants to receive.
What have you found most helpful when communicating during a crisis?
WH: The pandemic taught us a lot about how to communicate during a crisis. What I found most helpful during this time is that it is essential to be transparent, share information promptly and admit when you don’t have the answers. During a crisis, it is also better to over communicate and be redundant to avoid anyone not hearing or misunderstanding your message. Also, to help stand out above the noise, use multiple platforms to share information — email, conference calls, video calls, etc. And lastly, it is ok to be a bit vulnerable to help better connect with your clients and teams.
Words matter. What are your tips for supporting an inclusive environment through communication?
WH: At BMO, we foster a culture of inclusion where we acknowledge, embrace and learn from our differences. It’s important to recognize your unconscious biases (we all have them — but we might not be aware) and be mindful of the language choices you make. It is best to use neutral words that include everyone regardless of race, gender, age or sexuality. For example, saying “guys” to a mixed-gender group excludes anyone who is not male.
Communication is a two-way process. To truly understand someone’s differences, take the time to genuinely listen and keep an open mind to remove preconceived notions. You might learn something about that person that you did not know.
About Wallace Harris
Wallace Harris, Jr. is a highly effective, innovative, and results-oriented leader passionate about building and operating businesses by developing sound business strategies, defining excellent client experience, constructing talented teams, and improving employee performance. He uniquely combines strategic thinking and financial discipline to generate superior results.
Respected for his honesty, decision making, collaboration, financial acumen, and ability to establish governance boundaries, Mr. Harris finds that others often seek his opinions and views. In his current executive assignment, Mr. Harris serves as President of BMO Investment Services, a brand name under BMO Wealth Management that refers to BMO Harris Bank N.A. and certain affiliates that provide broker-dealer and registered advisory services. Through the Premier Services Program, Mr. Harris and his team work collaboratively with Retail Banking sales leaders to deliver integrated banking and wealth management solutions to our mass affluent clients.
Before joining BMO Harris Bank, Mr. Harris was President of Irwin Advisory Group (“IAG”), an Irwin Union Bank affiliate company. At IAG, Mr. Harris started this wealth advisory business for the bank and grew it to over $1.2 billion in assets under management within two years. Before IAG, Mr. Harris served as the Executive Vice President, Head of U.S. Banking, and Chief Financial Officer for Irwin Union Bank. He has also held various leadership roles with other organizations, including Chief Financial Officer for Baldwin Richardson Foods Company.
Mr. Harris holds several Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) licenses, including Series 7, 24, and 66. He has an MBA from The University of Michigan and a BBA from the University of Notre Dame.