Blog Article

What have the financial services sector and the civil service got in common?

Posted by Graham Atkins

Graham Atkins

Quite a lot as it happens. Besides the obvious things like scale, utility and complexity, it is clear that both are facing the challenge of a generation. In the case of financial services, this is about rebuilding trust in some of our oldest institutions whilst fundamentally changing the business model of our banks; meanwhile the civil service is downsizing by over a quarter whilst pushing through the biggest series of policy reforms seen for decades, in order to rebalance the economy.

Recently I’ve been following how the respective sectors have been tackling the leadership challenges that these situations pose and have been struck by the similarities in approach.

1. The current position is unsustainable. First off, both are clear that the current position has to change – doing nothing is not an option. Leaders have envisioned a future that is brighter than the current and use disruptive innovation to challenge long held assumptions about what success looks like. In their minds, the case for change is crystal clear. This was also identified by Hay Group in our recent research Appearances can deceive which explores how the financial services sector can transform.

I heard a lovely analogy recently about the current troubles at Blackberry, and noted how Apple may be leapfrogged by Samsung as the default smartphone provider of the future. Critically, we as consumers have a choice about which phone we choose. As leaders, it is not within their control how the market (or ministers and the public) respond. In much the same way, the government’s transparency agenda provides a strong parallel to empower citizens to drive improvement.  The old adage of customer is king still holds true

2. Digital transformation and people transformation. In terms of what to change, the priorities are also clear – nothing short of a complete transformation of mental fitness (clear strategy and focus), building a stronger heart (culture and people), and increased physical fitness (process and structural change). In the past it may have been sufficient to focus on physical fitness. In recent times, leaders on both side of the fence are prioritising ‘the heart’ be that changing sales behaviour in branches, or restoring pride in the public sector (72% of public sector workers do not feel proud to work in the public sector). As in economics, if people do not believe in brighter future, they won’t take the risks required to make it a reality. Therefore, people change is a pre-cursor to digital transformation and both sectors are actively delivering major programmes of change in both.

3. Leadership drives culture drives performance.  I heard a compelling explanation of why a leader invests his time in leadership and culture at a recent meeting. It is not because he is a nice chap (I expect he is), but it is because he knows that these things drive business performance. Authenticity is the key word here, especially when talking about values and behaviours and I was left thinking how important this is during times of great change. It also reminded me that increasingly we see ‘integrity’ feature as an organisational value – after all, how else can we stay true to the cause and sleep at night?

4. The role of leader: is it doable? This question challenges us to test whether human ingenuity can overcome the significant challenges facing these behemoths of British society. However, I have a question for these leaders who are undoubtedly making great strides with their respective organisations; if change happens by one person doing one thing differently, then how are they changing personally through this process of transformation?  I am sure they are in some way, but we may have to wait until we read their memoirs to discover how it really felt on the inside.


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