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Belinda Gannaway

Change and collaboration in the banking sector – what’s working?

The banking industry is going through a period of change. One senior banking leader was quoted in last year’s YouGov report (Public Trust in Banking Spring Symposium April 2013) putting it:

We must be very realistic about the fact that we are in repair mode in terms of the industry’s standing in the public mind, for some time to come; that the path to redemption will be one where achievements will probably get underestimated and setbacks will get exaggerated.

At the same time – and not unrelated – there are change makers across the industry looking to make their organisations more connected, agile, open and, ultimately, collaborative. Sometimes this intent is explicit at the top, sometimes it’s people working from the ground up. So where are these moves getting the most traction?

Last week I hosted a group of inspiring collaboration and enterprise social leads from a number of large banks. All have some responsibility for the platforms designed to enable these sort of behaviours. Between them they identified the two most significant factors as:

  • Having somebody senior who cares about this stuff and keeps pushing
  • Making sure it’s happening under the radar

Sounds like a contradiction? Ie you want somebody senior enough to be driving the collaboration agenda to make it happen. But, at the same time, you don’t want to scare people by making too much noise too soon before there are any real wins to boast of. And, as an aside, it appears it’s game over if you so much as mention the word ‘social’ in the wrong places.

So, a step-by-step approach is the key.

Here’s how.

First find some genuine pain points that can be tackled through more social ways of working – real obstacles or headaches that make it hard to get things done. Then help those people to work more collaboratively – on or offline – to resolve their problems.

Remember, the answer to every problem isn’t necessarily found on Jive, Yammer etc. Often people need to simply get in the habit of getting up to talk to someone in a different department or on a different floor.

Before moving on, score some wins and shout about them – loudly. Then wait for the envious questions from colleagues:

How did they do that? And how can I do the same?

Social collaboration success spreads like a virus. And it often catches on among the most disenfranchised first – branch networks, small remote offices, homeworkers etc. Which could account for some of the fear from the centre – they don’t get it, it’s not controllable and it’s too far away.

This all sounds remarkably easy on paper. Of course, in practice, it isn’t. So what’s the biggest block?

According to this group, when it comes to encouraging people to actually adopt social ways of working, the biggest challenge in banks – and likely any other hierarchical, traditional organisation – is getting people comfortable with the idea of sharing before something is ready (search ‘working out loud’ to find out more).

But that willingness to share work in progress is crucial to collaboration taking hold. Because if we all carry on working in our silos until something is totally finished, what have we missed along the way? One member of the group talked about saving months’ of work by sharing a problem early and getting input from across the organisation.

Scale that up and we can see – actually have hard evidence in many cases – organisations saving millions in individual, team and organisational productivity. And a less tangible, but equally large amount, in the benefits of more engaged and better connected colleagues.

Now, isn’t that a nice argument in favour of humanising the organisation?

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