Addressing barriers to agile change

In my last post, we discussed why enterprise agility is such a valuable quality for financial services organizations at this moment of change in the industry. It does not come without cost, and it is not desirable in every situation. But in the right context, enterprise agility can be a powerful business advantage. Many financial services organizations are looking for ways to become more agile right now. 

Yet surprisingly, the research shows, enterprise agility is in very short supply at most banks, insurance providers, and capital markets firms. The question facing financial services leaders is not “should we become more agile?” but “how can we become more agile?” 

This is a complex question that has fascinated experts in competitive advantage for decades. A thorough examination of their work reveals that reinventing workforce learning is one of the most powerful actions available to financial services leaders right now. 

For example, the French researcher Audrey Charbonnier-Voirin identifies four types of benefits that agility brings to organizations: 

  • Customer value creation: customers feeling that they receive greater value from a financial services provdier is an obvious benefit to the provider. 
  • Promoting collaboration: greater cooperation within an organization can reduce response times and encourage innovation. 
  • Mastering change management by empowering teams to sense and respond to important developments. 
  • Improved human resource practices can help employees take charge of unpredictable situations. 

Very few of the levers available to financial services leaders right now are likely to address all four of these categories—but a workforce able to learn in a truly agile manner would do just that. 

It’s important to note that agile learning is, by definition, self-directed. This isn’t about building top-down systems to push workers towards learning—it’s about empowering workers with the tools and curiosity to educate themselves with “just for me, just in time, just enough” learning. 

A workforce that can master new ideas, new skills, and new ways of working “at the speed of business” would be better equipped to deal with the unexpected, to work closely together, and to ultimately create more value. Employees at agile organizations are more empowered, involved, and motivated than their peers in less agile businesses.

The enterprise agility catch-22

There is a serious dilemma to overcome here: improving workforce learning to grow organizational agility is much easier if a firm is already agile.  

Consider, for instance, Accenture’s own “pivot to the new”—a major strategic operation launched in response to changing market conditions.  In 2012, Accenture’s business model was threatened by increased competition and a commoditizing core business that was eroding profit margins. Accenture’s leadership also expected New Digital Age technologies to soon become major disruptors.  

In response, Accenture made its pivot—a plan to shift revenues to higher-growth, higher-margin areas and capitalize on the opportunities of the New Digital Age. A major part of the plan was the Future Talent Platform, or FTP, which is a next-generation tool that helps the workforce learn what it needs to know, right before it needs to know it. The platform, in my view, is a major contributor to Accenture’s enterprise agility. 

I’ve written about the FTP before, so if you’re curious about its key characteristics I encourage you to read this. The salient point here is this: rigorous retrospective examinations of the launch of the FTP have concluded that Accenture was able to design and successfully launch the FTP because of its agility. Though the platform does make us more agile, in my opinion, we would not have been able to launch the FTP if we did not already possess a degree of agility. We were able to build the FTP because we were already agile. 

So where does this leave un-agile financial services firms looking to boost workforce learning? My next post in this series will explore this topic.  

In the meantime, if you’d like to continue the conversation about improving workforce learning and enterprise agility, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached here.

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