To create an environment where employees feel safe, relish change and embrace behaviours that drive enterprise agility, FS organisations must provide the right leadership, offer a compelling vision for the future, rethink their business structures, and create a new ‘living business’ culture.

As we sail through the storms of disruption, how do we make sure the crew are on-board for the whole journey and we are ready for future storms ahead?  More than that how do we help them rekindle their love of the sea?

In this blog series, I have evaluated how fear and anxiety damage change efforts at financial services (FS) organisations, and how building psychological safety an trust in leaders and their vision improves performance and paves the way for innovation, collaboration and greater agility. There are change leaders whose businesses have more teams who feel safe and where each individual can bring and contribute their full self to work. These teams, because of the safety they feel with each other and the trust they have in leaders and their vision, thrive on fast-paced change and the more change you give them the better they get.

This can be a balancing act for leadership at all levels of the organisation—between creating a positive vision and a path for people to engage, while being realistic about the demands and uncertainties of the future.

There are reasons for cautious optimism. We analysed in research with the G20 that 38 percent of worker hours can be automated by technology, but 51 percent of hours are more ‘augmentable’ by technology. In addition, two thirds of executives in the UK believe that intelligent technologies will, in fact, increase the number of roles out there, as new jobs are needed to work with and alongside AI.

Indeed, our research with the World Economic Forum shows two thirds of workers want to reskill, but only a small handful of firms (3 percent) are significantly increasing investments in learning. This needs to be addressed. Investing in continuous learning of market-relevant skills will raise confidence and performance of our people. It will increase the agility of our businesses. Whereas mind-sets and skills were once a brake on transformation, they can become the enabler of agility in the future.

Our latest report, “Fearless” identifies three areas of action every FS leader can take to build safety and trust in the workplace:

  1. Build trust in the vision and the leadership. Tell a story that connects teams to a vision and purpose that satisfies intellectually and resonates emotionally. Make sure the vision is backed up with a well-considered plan and a clear direction. FS leaders need to communicate early, transparently and often with their employees, while maintaining consistency. Be intentional about developing positive relationships by seeking diverse views, listening and being open. Build trust at every level of the organisation—corporate, business unit and team.
  2. Shift behaviours, mind sets and skills in a safe space It’s crucial for leaders FS to reframe the organisational mind-sets from ‘don’t rock the boat’ and ‘follow the process’ to ‘trust, test, fail, learn, and fearlessly challenge the orthodoxy.’ This can be achieved by removing the barriers to high performance, while celebrating and learning from experiments that do not work first time or that fail. The emphasis needs to be on learning, while helping teams and individuals build resilience and coping strategies for their fears and anxieties. Building trust and resilience during stressful times requires leaders to identify mental health concerns in the workplace and provide support where it is needed. Finally, give your FS workforce the time and tools they need to adopt new behaviours and ways of working.
  3. Create safe teams and trust across the organisation. There is no single ‘cure’ for fear and anxiety in an organisation, so avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach and understand each team’s dynamics. Address trust deficits before you begin transformation efforts. FS leaders will also have to empower employees by redesigning work and teams to offer people more autonomy and safety. Adopting agile methodologies and other techniques will enable small, iterative steps to change, while design thinking can improve the overall employee experience. Last, but not the least, break down your firm’s organisational silos to encourage collaboration and innovation.

Change will remain a constant for financial services for the foreseeable future. Yet, too many FS firms fall into the trap of creating a negative narrative about the future, one that causes uncertainty and distress for their colleagues. Others ignore the human consequences of change. Change becomes associated with sweeping organisational restructures and job cuts, with employees warned that they will need to reapply for their roles in the next wave.  In other instances, people are coerced into change. Instead of buying into it, they make an outward show of compliance because they fear for their jobs. The result is organisational paralysis, attrition of talent, or reversion to old patterns of behaviour.

In a time of constant disruption, FS organisations must work to nurture psychological safety and trust to liberate the workforce from mind-sets that create a barrier to change.

To create an environment where employees feel safe, relish fast-paced change and embrace behaviours that drive enterprise agility, FS firms must provide the right leadership, build and nurture trust, offer a compelling vision for the future, rethink their business structures, and create a new ‘living business’ culture.

By doing these things banks and insurers – in fact leading organisations in any industry – can unlock the full potential of their people and their organizations.

While uncertainty has always been with us on any voyage, new storms of disruption will keep coming in the future. Disruption and uncertainty are our reality, not the problem. As the American inventor Charles Kettering once said, “No one would’ve crossed the ocean if he could’ve gotten off the ship in the storm.”. It’s time for leaders in FS to chart the right course and lead their workforce through the storms of disruption.

To find out more about how fear impacts change in FS, please contact me here, or @andyyoungACN.

To learn more register to download: Fearless: How safety and trust can help financial services thrive even during disruption and transformational change

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