If the events of 2020 to date prove anything, it’s that no one really knows what the future holds. In times like these, a nimble workforce is an unusually powerful advantage. With so much uncertainty and so many challenges, it can be hard to focus on one area of the business. Luis Díaz Gutiérrez, Accenture’s Global Lead for the Future Workforce in financial services, puts it like this: “the business challenge is an organizational challenge, which means it’s a people challenge.”

Luis, who is my guest on the latest episode of Talking Agility, works with some of the world’s leading financial services firms to help their people embrace change and create competitive advantage. We had a fascinating discussion about common challenges for agile workforce transformation and the impact of intelligent tech on the industry.

Automation over augmentation

Luis was quick to bring up the new Workforce 2025 report from Accenture, which presents important economic modelling, looking at the impact of smart technology on the industry’s workforce.

The research found that up to 10 percent of tasks in financial services could be automated by 2025, which is not that far ahead. That’s a significant portion, but it pales in comparison to the likely impact of augmentation—that is, using smart technology to enhance the abilities of the workforce rather than replace workers. The analysis found that half of all work in financial services could be augmented within five short years.

“This means the biggest impact on our clients’ bottom line will likely be realized by an increase in productivity,” Luis says.

Combined, automation and augmentation could provide business value of $140 billion to the industry—but achieving that will require real change.

It’s time to walk the walk

For good reason, enterprise agility and workforce transformation are both hot topics in financial services right now. Unfortunately, Luis sees more talking about transformation than actual transformation happening.

“Some organizations claim they are committed to enterprise transformation, but their actions often contradict their words,” he says. “For the most part, their actions are stuck in ways of past. They may do some things here and there, but their experiments are confined to isolated areas or pockets within the organization.

“They buy agile coaches by the pound and infuse a new way of working that’s hard to scale. It’s more for the illusion of change than actually effecting change.”

Luis sees two common roadblocks that derail well-intentioned commitments to transformation.

The first is limiting the scope of the transformation.

“For many clients, workforce transformation is an afterthought for value change,” Luis says. “Most automation projects at banks, insurers, capital markets firms are small in scale and siloed. This dilutes value capture.

“Or workforce transformation is seen as HR’s monkey. This is a myopic view, in my opinion. Workforce transformation can’t be achieved without close collaboration across the firm. It needs substantial resources, money, and ideas. HR usually lacks the vision, internal credibility and budget to do this alone.”

The second common stumbling block is failing to dream big enough and embrace the audacious innovations that intelligent tech and culture transformation put within reach.

“When it comes to reinventing work or talent management or culture, the arc of the possible is so vast that many CHROs see it as Star Trek,” Luis says. “They fail to realize that this futuristic view of talent is not science fiction. Like an object in a mirror, it is closer than it appears!”

“Dream big enough! Embrace the audacious innovations that intelligent tech and culture transformation put within reach.”

Building an ironclad business case for workforce transformation: four steps

So where does this leave organizations facing these stumbling blocks? Luis laid out a four-step, high-level strategy to drive real workforce transformation.

The first order is to build a business case. Be as specific as possible, putting hard numbers on the value of automating and augmenting workforce roles.

Second, secure allies.

“You need a social strategy to secure allies in every area of the organization that matters,” Luis says. “Everybody that needs to have a say, you need to recruit them to the cause.”

Then it’s time for step three: knock on the CEO’s door.

“Have it discussed at the next board meeting,” Luis advises. “This is CEO and board material. It shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve done your homework. You’ll have your allies sitting at the board table, making it easy to greenlight this opportunity.”

The fourth step is to actually drive the transformation by collaborating across the organization.

“Don’t replicate exactly what others are doing!” Luis advises. “There are many elements particular to an organization that go into the definition of the different roles and functions.

“You have to give this task a lot of love. You have to take the opportunity to share this vision and make sure everyone is on the same page. Share success when this workforce transformation starts yielding the results you expected.”

A truly human approach to transformation

There’s no getting around the fact that many employees get nervous when the subject of automation comes up. Luis wrapped up his remarks with some thoughts for HR leaders on the subject that I found very interesting.

“I would advise, when you embark on this transformation, to be conscious of the impact that your decisions have on employment,” he says. “When we talk about disruption, augmentation, and automation, it creates more opportunities than it destroys. But we can’t ignore the fact that some jobs are going to be lost, and that this has social impact.

“So I would advise anyone embarking on this adventure to try and anticipate the loss of jobs. Try to have the people impacted new skilled to have a role in the future. It makes sense from a business perspective and it’s the truly human thing to do.”

Listen to the full episode

To hear my full conversation with Luis, which includes a look at workforce transformation done right and unpacks the growing relevance of the arts and humanities in financial services, tune in to the latest episode of Talking Agility here:

To read more about Accenture’s predictions for the Future of Work, read Workforce 2025.

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback on this episode and suggestions for future episodes.

You can reach me here or share your feedback through your preferred podcasting platform by commenting under each episode.

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