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PA OPINION

Creating a culture of agility in financial services

The world of work has moved on considerably from Frederick Winslow Taylor’s theory of scientific management. In Taylor’s view, the recipe for profitably scaling an organisation consisted of hiring specialists to perform specific tasks, shifting control from workers to management and overseeing the workflow within an organisation as efficiently as possible. And, in fact, organisations large and small embraced this model.

Hailed as a great revolution in management science at the time, Taylor’s theory is no longer compatible with the modern workplace and the services it delivers. The trouble is, organisations are still configured to operate like they did in Taylor’s day, more than a century ago.

We believe organisations need to embrace agile ways of working and become agile organisations. By agile, we don’t mean what your digital or IT teams are doing. We’re not talking about a new way to introduce technology into your company. We’re talking about an entirely new way to run your organisation.

We spent months interviewing hundreds of senior executives across industry about their organisations’ working practices. We found that the top 10 per cent of companies in terms of financial performance are 30 per cent more likely to demonstrate agile characteristics. These winning organisations:

  • centre on their customers
  • speed up time to value
  • design for simplicity
  • build to evolve
  • liberate their people.

Our research also revealed that to successfully achieve organisational agility you need focus 80 per cent of your effort on culture. Yes, culture. The soft and fluffy thing that many organisations struggle to secure investment for.

Yet culture in financial services is sorely in need of change. Crises from years ago including PPI mis-selling and sexual misconduct refuse to die and the 2018 FCA discussion paper on transformation culture in financial services urged companies to reform, blaming conduct failings on culture, not individuals.

Did you know the top 10% of financial performers are 30% more agile than the rest?

Download report

We recently hosted over 50 representatives from financial services organisations across the UK, and 80 per cent told us they are already taking practical action to change organisational culture –a huge step forward. But the “everything and nothing” sense of culture means finding practical ways to shift values, emotions and behaviours can be difficult.

Our model of cultural agility emphasises eight critical attributes:

  • dependability – doing what you say you’ll do is the second most critical attribute for high performing teams
  • diversity – more diverse organisations are more financially successful
  • collaboration – agile organisations can quickly assemble teams to solve problems or investigate opportunities
  • adaptability – responding quickly to internal and external influences is a major determinant of organisational success
  • alignment – a compelling vision and clear priorities give teams a sense of connectedness to purpose
  • safety – psychological safety is the most important attribute in high performing teams
  • excellence – mastery is a critical motivator for individuals working in service industries
  • curiosity – deliberately developmental organisations deliver higher levels of innovation.

As consultants, we often hear clients say that culture change is hard. It takes time. It’s impossible.

At the same time, the need to change, and change quickly, continues to pick up pace in financial services.

We find success in driving forward culture change boils down to commitment from leadership to getting started and treating it as part of everyone’s day-to-day role.

Here are five simple steps that leaders at any level in financial services can take to begin to shift their culture immediately:

  1. centre on your customer – make performance objectives customer-centric. Our research shows that nearly 70 per cent of respondents from financial services believe failure to truly understand their customers’ needs is significantly slowing their business down. Customer centricity and the ability to personalise products and services and anticipate customer needs is widely recognised as a differentiating factor in financial services
  2. speed up time to value – improve induction. People enjoy connection. Providing new joiners with a buddy, starting the induction process and adding a personal touch that creates an emotional bond up-front, are all simple and easy steps that you can take to speed up time to value
  3. design for simplicity – make learning simple. Firstly, treat people as peers and remove unnecessary sign-off processes. Secondly, allocate real time to learning. Empower teams to learn as they want and need to – and make it as simple as possible
  4. build to evolve – build leadership agility. Leaders who are able to evolve, welcome change and set a culture that always looks for new ways to improve will set the tone for the rest of the organisation
  5. liberate your people – introduce daily stand-ups. Running a daily stand up for your team helps dramatically and immediately with collaboration and innovation. And encourages more fun. In our recent survey, we found only 48 per cent of financial services embed culture as part of their day-to day culture. This needs to change.

Speaking to the financial services representatives we hosted, it’s clear that new joiners currently take more than three months to get up to speed with their company’s expectations, workload and culture – a duration that needs significant acceleration in a world where people may only stay with the organisation for two-to-three years before moving on.

By following these five simple steps, you’ll begin changing your culture for the better.

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