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A people-centric approach to change delivery

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If anything has remained constant for financial services leaders over the last several years, it’s that the volume, velocity and magnitude of the change initiatives they oversee has dramatically increased.

In the past, most executives would shepherd just a handful of change projects over the course of a year. Nowadays, as their institutions embrace agile development processes and digitize almost every part of their business, the number of projects has soared. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 crisis has only compounded the complexity of change delivery as many employees work remotely from home.

To succeed in the post-pandemic environment, financial leaders will need a new framework for managing change. They must reimagine workplace practices, compliance protocols and technology governance, and in many cases, turn to new technologies and change analytics — all with an eye toward improving the engagement, efficiency and productivity of their employees. We call this a data-driven, “people-centric” approach to change delivery.

First, financial leaders must focus on the technologists, developers and other organizational stakeholders responsible for executing the change. Change for these “implementers” generally means more work, more meetings and more approvals — whether it is permission to change software code or modify long-established, internal protocols.

To keep these workers engaged, executives must strike a careful balance between the implementers’ natural proclivity to have a free hand in decision-making, along with the organization’s need for proper risk controls and governance measures.

For instance, instead of requiring developers to seek approval before changing every line of code, an organization might rely on behavior-based credentialing. Developers with strong track records of delivering error-free code would be given an automatic green light, just as the Transportation Security Administration pre-check expedites low-risk travelers through security. Gamifying certain activities — such as publishing performance data on a virtual dashboard, which the entire software development team can see — can encourage good behavior and establish clear lines of accountability. Taken together, these solutions can strengthen the control environment without sacrificing productivity or speed.

Second, financial leaders must also anticipate the effects of planned changes on all organizational stakeholders — from frontline workers to the C-suite — and monitor adoption and performance during implementation. Executives will want to envision how day-to-day responsibilities, workflows, performance expectations, interactions with colleagues and use of technology and tools will adjust.

Advanced analytics tools can help visualize and interpret the aggregate impact of upcoming changes. They can quantify both the sheer effort required from employees as well as expected sentiment and will tell a different story from that of each individual initiative. Parsing the data by job role then enables leadership to modify when, how and the speed that changes are introduced. During implementation, workplace analytics tools can then measure overall organizational health across multiple metrics over time to spot fluctuations or marry employee indicators with actual operations data to understand root causes behind negative trends or to reinforce what’s working well.

Of course, executives should use analytics capabilities to support more informed decisions, not make them. Although employee pulse surveys and change analytics dashboards can provide a deluge of data, they must enhance — not replace — managerial insight and experience.

Consider, for instance, an executive who notices an unusual trend in the operational data of team members who were working long nights, but were less active during the afternoons. In normal times, that might be a potential red flag. But during the pandemic, it might potentially indicate that many team members were reshuffling their schedules to help their children during the day with remote learning before logging back in to work at night. A savvy manager might use the data to spark an internal discussion about whether it would be beneficial to offer workers a more flexible work schedule and then assess whether the current controls were robust enough to meet those new demands.

If the pandemic has made one thing clear, it’s that financial services leaders are no longer in the business of managing change. Managing change is their business. Executives who follow the data to embrace a people-centric approach will have a greater competitive edge.

Heidi Boyle is a principal and Dan Costa is a partner and principal at Ernst & Young.