How to keep your technologists dancing

Wouldn’t it be nice if people came to work feeling engaged and energised and collaborated harmoniously with their peers to deliver impact while having fun?

Picture yourself queuing for the train at Canary Wharf station during rush hour on a Monday. A seemingly coordinated formation of perfect queues, spontaneously shaped without conversation or eye contact; both of which offend tube etiquette.  Suddenly music begins to play, and out of nowhere the person next to you breaks out into a choreographed dance sequence. You look away in embarrassment, but to your shock others appear to join in. It’s a flash mob!

Flash mob: a group of people who assemble spontaneously to perform a seemingly pointless act for the purpose of expression or entertainment, and then disperse.

Flash mobs were invented for fun, so that people could come together to do something bizarre and enjoyable, just to show it could be done.

We are passionate about the idea that people can feel full of life and purpose at work, just like the flash mob. Unfortunately, this is not what we encounter with our technology clients in banks.

Downsizing, rightsizing, minimizing and rationalizing: just a few of the buzz words we hear daily. As an outsider looking in, it appears that the rapidly changing environment and cost pressures are evoking a reactive response – a reduction in headcount with the sole aim of reducing cost quickly. This makes it increasingly difficult for banks to motivate and engage their top technology talent.

We understand the range of pressing priorities facing technology functions in banks: regulation, simplification, acceleration – all while keeping the lights on. Not to mention the more strategic objectives, like becoming a more digital modern bank and transitioning to an agile enterprise that partners with clients to enhance their experience and deliver new products and services. Balancing these equally important demands is tough, especially in the midst of cost cutting pressures. It’s no wonder that talent becomes collateral damage.

But if downsizing is unavoidable, how can the remaining reduced flash mob keep dancing?

Part of the answer is investing time and effort in a vision and strategy cascaded through the organisation. The vision is what we want to achieve and how it feels when we get there, while the strategy maps out the journey we need to embark on to achieve it.

The long-term benefits far outweigh the initial investment: clarity and transparency of organisational goals, an aligned and high performing leadership team, added value for shareholders and clients, key talent retention, motivated and engaged employees. The alternative leaves you lagging behind your competitors, caught in a downward spiral, only just able to survive.

Building the vision requires facilitated workshops with the leadership team and a few volunteers from different levels of the organisation, to depict the ideal organisation of the future that everybody wants to be part of. The strategy is then developed using this vision, by understanding market forces, client needs and leadership objectives to create a road-map to this ideal organisation. Typically, strategic pillars comprise of transforming the operating model, developing people, simplifying the technical landscape and prioritizing business outcomes. Strategic pillars can be leveraged, when faced with additional cost pressures, as levers that can be pulled to avoid the default decision of reactive reduction in headcount.

To increase likeliness of successful adoption of the vision and strategy, is it essential to cascade this communication campaign throughout the organisation. An effective cascade approach involves identifying future organisation and thought leaders that represent 10% of the organisation, and on-boarding them as change champions to engage them in the vision and strategy. These change champions are required to cascade the communication campaign through working groups to help others understand what the vision and strategy means for them in terms of what role they can play and the opportunities available to them.

To avoid the downward spiral and instead create a robust organisation for the future, invest in defining where you want your organisation to be, as well as investing in the people you want to be in it. Whatever landscape you find yourself in, there is a team of talented people waiting to have fun and make an impact.

So, why not keep your technologists dancing?

Note: This opinion piece was first published by Catalyst prior to the Sionic merger

About the author

I help organisations and the individuals within them change and develop; to be better, more effective and have a positive impact on the clients and society they serve.