Written by Mark Cotter on Wednesday 29 March 2017
In the digital world we now inhabit the need to ‘upgrade’ has become almost second nature. We upgrade our software, our apps, our subscriptions, and our memberships all at the touch of a button and with barely a second thought. We even upgrade our ‘hardware’ with increasing regularity; changing phones every couple of years, our cars every three, our homes every 10 years and there are even apps for changing our partners these days!
Financial Services is not immune from the relentless pressure to upgrade technology. You only need to open a trade magazine to find re-platforming, data migration, robo-advice, omni-channel, P2P lending, blockchain and other stories taking up many column inches. But should companies making these often huge investments in their IT and infrastructure be looking to ‘upgrade their humans’ as well? Or are they being left behind?
It is of course true that technology can create huge increases in efficiencies across large organisations by harnessing it to do the ‘heavy lifting’ previously done by human beings. Just as the assembly lines and machinery of Henry Ford’s factories allowed cars to be produced at a fraction of the previous cost, so software and IT infrastructure has allowed financial service companies to operate at scales unimaginable in previous times.
But it seems to me that the human elements of technology transformation projects are frequently neglected. Softer measures around training, personal development and leadership are often the things which can make or break a big change project. After all there is little point in creating a whizzy new website or mobile app if the back-office process relies on disillusioned and demotivated staff!
What modern companies really need - particularly in times of significant change or innovation - are more multi-skilled, cross-trained and flexible staff to complement the new technologies being put in place. And that means more focus on creativity and outcomes rather than the mechanical inputs of timesheets and productivity metrics. Key staff should be encouraged, trained and measured based on their contribution and on what they deliver. On their ability to flex and to work well in teams. Or on their innovation and ideas and their efforts to break down walls and silos. On their ability to ask constructive questions and challenge rather than to follow orders. If the machines are our new labourers - we need our humans to be the new artisans.
This is of course a cultural upgrade as much as anything else and is very difficult to implement and measure, which is perhaps why so many firms shy away from it. But not all and we are beginning to see some interesting innovations. VW has banned internal email at certain times of day, Virgin and Netflix have introduced unlimited annual leave, several social media firms have opted for total salary transparency whilst others have banned annual reviews.
Of course some of these innovations are only suitable for certain types of companies and much like technology upgrades they are not a panacea. However even the attempt by such companies to invest and develop not just their technology but also their staff and their culture shows a growing recognition that in the modern world, until the machines are capable of doing all jobs, some of us humans are still worth upgrading...