A path to agility at a crucial moment

In this blog series we’ve been looking at how insights from neuroscience can help financial services organizations manage change and deal with the high levels of fear in the industry workforce. 

These industry-wide issues are distinct, but they have a common cause: this is a time of tremendous uncertainty across financial services. New competition and new ways of working are making major waves. Uncertainty, as we’ve seen earlier in this blog series, can paralyze our ability to perform. 

The most important change-driver of all may be technology. Game-changing new tools like cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things are hitting the market in rapid succession, compounding one another’s impacts. This creates new opportunities for innovation and new vectors for disruption, both of which are extremely difficult to predict.  

Shifting workforce demographics are another major source of uncertainty. Four generations are now part of the global workforce. Each generation holds different attitudes towards work and prefers different ways of working and communicating.  

The combined impact of these trends and shifts is that the industry is not merely going through major change—it is dealing with major change constantly. Change is not a discrete event; it is continuous.  

To keep up or to get ahead, then, organizations need to continuously change. Market advantage awaits those firms that can learn and adapt faster than their competitors. The race for enterprise agility is on. 

Yet recent research from Accenture shows that most financial services firms are stuck in legacy business models with operations, cultures, workforces and technology that are slow to change. 

The consequences of poor change management are numerous and well documented. They include shrinking market share to declining revenue to job losses. A poorly managed change can even be an existential threat to a company. 

But the latest change management process, methodology or tool is unlikely to solve the problem for financial services organizations. A huge number of change management solutions have been available for years, and yet the industry on average is poorly equipped to deal with major changes. We need to focus on people. 

How well we cope with change depends on how well we learn. This is why applying lessons from neuroscience to build a learning culture and achieve enterprise agility is so powerful. 

Building an agile learning culture with neuroscience

While it is true that everyone learns differently, neuroscience research has shown that some ways of learning are more effective than others. Specifically, some learning techniques create learning that is more “durable”—more able to be retrieved and applied long after a learning event.  

Durable learning is maximized when exposure to new skills and ideas is spread out over time, with spacing, questions and reflections in between. It is also boosted when learners need to solve problems in the course of learning, because making and correcting mistakes improves skill retention. 

Neuroscience has also proven that learning is optimized when students are motivated and engaged—when they are “pulled” into learning by their own interest or passion, instead of “pushed” into it by a sense of obligation, duty or even fear. 

The fight-or-flight response is another major area of neuroscience research. (See, for example, this writeup on social neuroscience research at UCLA.) Fight-or-flight refers to the ways in which our brains, in stressful situations, prime our bodies to escape or to fight. These preparations are unconscious and it turns out they govern much of human behavior. Leaders involved in major change projects need to understand the fight-or-flight response and how to minimize it. 

Neuroscience further demonstrates that durable learning doesn’t require full-time study in a classroom. In fact, in some cases it may even be desirable to fit learning into an already-busy life. “Microlearning” is the breaking-up of learning into small, easily absorbed chunks. When paired with durable learning techniques, it can be very effective.  

One of the most important advantages of learning in this way is that it can be—and, in many cases, should be—integrated into the everyday flow of work. Busy professionals do not need to perform miracles of scheduling or give up sleep to find time for the learning that contributes to competitive advantage. When learning is “just enough, just in time, and just for me,” it is both more effective and easier to access for working learners. 

New digital learning tools for the new digital age

New digital learning tools, designed with neuroscience in mind, enable agile learning in the workforce.  These are not “magic bullet” solutions, but they can go a long way towards creating a workforce that learns quickly—and therefore deals with change better and makes the organization more agile.  

These tools need to deliver learning that is: 

  • Continuous—learning happens wherever and whenever it’s needed. It is not restricted to seminars, weekend courses, or other one-offs. 
  • Challenging—learners make and correct mistakes in the course of learning. 
  • Engaging—learners are intrinsically motivated because the learning is relevant, interesting and fun. 
  • Customized—learners choose what they learn, when they learn, and how the material is delivered.  

Doing this at scale is no small feat, but a growing number of full-featured solutions on an enterprise scale are available. They include Salesforce’s myTrailhead and Accenture’s Future Talent Platform. 

If you’d like to learn about how Accenture’s own digital learning tool, the Future Talent Platform, more information is available here 

Or if you’d like to continue the conversation about neuroscience, learning and the future of financial services, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached here 

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