In my last post, we talked about how the human factor can make or break growth and impact the efforts of financial services (FS) firms in change initiatives. In December, we had a fantastic discussion at the Change Director Forum in London about the human side of change. We had a sneak preview of the bottom-up results of our global research into change in FS (more on that in the coming weeks). We also heard about the neuroscience and psychology of behavioural change from Diana Barea, about human-centred design from Celia Romaniuk who leads Fjord’s studio in London, and about authentic communications from Liz Wilson at Karmarama.

Accenture’s 15-year-long Change Tracking findings consistently show that leadership at all levels has the highest correlation to business performance during periods of transformation. This is more than leadership at a sponsor or board level, it is leadership through the organisation that matters. When we conducted our FS Change Survey last year, we made sure to ask participants specifically about the role of leadership and the importance of culture.

According to our survey, those that excel the most in change (the ‘change leaders,’ who get better performance and benefits) share strengths across leadership and culture. FS firms that are change leaders reported that senior leaders almost always provide the necessary sponsorship for transformational change programs (94 per cent v. 63 per cent of their peers). They also said “team leaders actively demonstrate support of and commitment to the change process” (87 per cent of change leaders v. 63 per cent of the rest of the industry).

As for culture, our survey found change leaders believe in being ‘more innovative and progress new change ideas’ (86 per cent v. 53 per cent) and reported ‘thriving on fast-paced change’ (83 per cent v. 34 per cent). The employee-engagement levels were also striking: 92 per cent for leaders v. 69 per cent among the rest.

Change leaders begin their transformation with strong alignment within and trust in leadership, a base from which they continue to build. As benefits are realised, trust is reinforced. Low performers typically start with weaker alignment and trust in leadership, which if not addressed, continue to erode in the later stages of transformation. Eighty-five per cent of transformations that fail, do so because the organisation dynamics that existed before the programme were broken, again often to do with trust.

So, how can FS firms lead change with the right vision for leadership and culture? If you are a board member or senior executive, ask yourself whether you and your peers understand the change required and whether you are ready and committed to lead the change successfully. If the answer is “no,” then it’s time to challenge the status quo and explore some other future direction. If the answer is “yes,” then ponder whether everyone else in the organisation is ready to lead with you or not. Do you know where this is not the case?  Where is your organisation not working well?

Our analysis shows that vision has three-to-four times greater impact on business benefits than anything else. For FS firms undergoing massive transformation efforts, it’s crucial to develop a clear vision and narrative for change, with a focus on rapidly delivered outcomes and value that flow from the vision. This vision will not be static but allowed to evolve constantly, as you learn from experiences and as the world around us changes, too.

When it comes to change efforts, the role of leadership and clear vision, and the importance of culture, cannot be overstated. They provide the foundation blocks for the monumental transformation ahead.

To find out more about the Financial Services Change Survey or to join our FS Change Director Forum, please contact me here, or on Twitter.

You can read more survey results here.

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