There’s never been a better time to step up to more transformative culture change — to increase transparency and shift the culture with a greater focus on customers, employees and the community.
By Bob McCarthy
The financial services industry has been through its fair share of turmoil in recent years. And then along came a disruption at a scale so massive, it overtook everything else: the global economic and societal response to the coronavirus.
For financial services firms in the US, the DOJ Fiduciary Rule was the big focus for several years. It’s since been vacated, although there are still attempts to resurrect it. But even in the absence of a federal mandate, increasing client expectations and demands for greater transparency were already shifting the tides with enough force that no financial services organization could ignore them. So, they started making some significant changes — to product portfolios, compensation plans and other areas.
But the questions remained: What has really changed? What are banks and other financial institutions doing to regain society’s trust?
For Most Organizations, Culture Has Already Changed
With the world now reeling from the devastating health effects of COVID-19 and the economic impacts of measures designed to contain the virus, banks are once again being closely watched as they react to significant social and economic suffering. Will banks again seek to only protect the interests of their shareholders ahead of the customers they serve and the people they employ? Or will they recognize their unique capacity to promote the economic welfare of all stakeholders?
We’re all going through a huge amount of turmoil right now. We can’t necessarily rely on the traditional ways of engaging our customers and employees. The strategic planning financial services firms did around strengthening profits and loan growth this year were based on the environment of six months ago, which now seems like a world away. We have to adjust our approaches to meet the new realities as well as the uncertainties that lie ahead.
On the plus side, this means there’s never been a better time to step up to more transformative culture change — to increase transparency and shift the culture with a greater focus on customers, employees and the community. As McKinsey recently put it, “While keeping the needs and well-being of both customers and employees at the forefront, banks can use this moment to experiment with radical redesigns of their operating models to achieve better efficiency.”
What Does it Take to Sustain Culture Change?
The importance of changing organizational culture is once again in sharp relief as countries looks to the financial services industry to share the difficulties everyone is facing by effectively acting as a financial shock absorber for communities, rather than being just another earnings maximizer in a tough economic environment.
The industry has traditionally viewed changing organizational culture as a top-down initiative, assuming that if leaders put out the correct messaging, that will be enough to bring about the appropriate behavior change among staff.
But the reality is, people don’t generally change their behavior because they have been told to do so. To truly achieve culture transformation, top-down directional changes must be complemented by appropriate bottom-up procedural changes. Furthermore, changing organizational culture will not be achievable by a one-off initiative. Repetition over time is required.
Progression Of Organizational Change
To change the culture, processes must be put into place to support change in an organization’s collective mindset. These processes have to be designed with two clear objectives:
This starts with helping employees recognize the type and tone of internal mental conversations they have with themselves about their role and how they create value for customers. That then extends into the conversations people have with each other in the workplace and, most importantly, with their customers. This objective should have the effect of ingraining new thinking patterns until they become habitual.
Creating a framework
The framework that promotes sustained culture change. This entails setting up processes that keep the momentum of change on a sustainable footing and will require:
The use of ongoing programs (i.e., equipping leaders and managers with strong coaching skillsets and mindsets) that are designed to convey and reinforce the correct parameters for internal behaviors and
Regular activities that support learning and application of effective communication skills.
Ensuring the Customer Comes First
Changing customer expectations, the shift to digital banking, the rise of fintech and other disruptors have all been pointing to an obvious and critical cultural shift that must occur within all sales organizations. There’s an urgent need to replace the emphasis on product with a strong customer focus, where the customer, not the firm’s products and service offerings, takes center stage. This means ethical sales training will be essential in order to shift and sustain culture. An ethical sales culture is crucial for any organization, but it’s particularly vital in a sector that’s experiencing an erosion of community confidence and trust.
The challenge is to redefine the culture, from one incentivized to gaming the system in order to achieve sales quotas, to one that sees customer focus as the best strategy for increasing sales revenues. Ethical sales training for financial services companies and banks can help employees develop this new perception by helping them change their mindsets.
One effective way to do this is to overturn distorted perceptions of selling as a “transactional” process to an approach that sees selling as a customer-focused service aimed squarely at building relationships and delivering value for the customer. Particularly now, McKinsey notes, banks “can emphasize their broader suites of products and the value of relationships to underscore their value proposition to these customers.” This will make it easier to not only inspire ethical behaviors, it will also drive revenue growth and position your organization to thrive long term.
Changing Organizational Culture Requires Thinking Ahead
Nobody knows when we will get back to “normal” or what the “new normal” might even look like. But on thing is certain: The world we ultimately re-emerge in will be different than the one we left behind. Change how you work with your customers now, based on how you want them to judge you after — history tells us that is exactly what they will do.
Bob McCarthy is Managing Director for our partner, Integrity Solutions Centre, in Australia. Connect with Bob on LinkedIn.
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