Boyden Executive Search

Key Takeaways from Boyden's Financial Services Virtual Event 

By Andy Wolfe, Juliet Hardingham, Richard Plaistowe
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“Leading Through This Period of Change”

At our latest “virtual networking” event we invited CEO’s and NED’s from across the financial services sector to discuss how they have adapted to the changes that have been foisted on them due to the dramatic effects of the Covid-19 crisis. We looked at this from both the challenges for leadership and businesses and discussed how they are preparing for the future.  Some of the key discussion points revolved around the speed of change, the importance of communication, the adoption of working from home and the mindsets and behaviours that need to change as well move forwards.

Speed of Change

There was a real sense that as change has and is continuing to happen so rapidly acceptance and adapting to a new normal happened very quickly, however this is more a roller coaster ride than a classic change curve and there will be bumps along the way. It is also clear that there will be continual change over the next few months with an uncertain future; as new operating models are being developed and potentially new products and service offerings being developed to enhance the customer experience and gain competitive advantage.  

As one of our leaders said: "We are all starting to work out the end game and crucially what will the future operating model look like."

Historical timeframes have changed and a transformation programme that might have been expected to take 18 months will now take 18 weeks. No one knows what will happen in the next 4 -6 months, so leaders can only really make plans and have discussions for the forthcoming four to six weeks. 

Digital acceleration across the financial services sector has increased during this pandemic and will continue to be crucial for developing agile ways of working with new operating models built around the customer experience.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Everyone agreed that communication with their workforce has been key to maintaining morale and being open and honest is essential. Even if they don’t know an answer, at the very least leaders are informing colleagues of this and letting them know when they will next be able to update them.

Everyone agreed that making sure that when communicating, they act with realism rather than offering false optimism, which could lead to a loss of trust at a later date. Using actual data, facts, and analysis rather than what is being put out in the press and on social media feeds is important to support communication.

Our leaders have increased the frequency of their communication events to daily or weekly, when previously this would have happened fortnightly or monthly and conversations about employees’ welfare as well as business objectives are both equally important.

Communications with customers are also adapting and the customer experience has taken on a new meaning during this crisis.  Efforts have focused on meeting the concerns of customers and proving flexibility around their relationships, whether that is safety, security or providing flexible solutions for customers facing financial challenges. 

Working from Home

Each of our leaders commented on how quickly they were able to move their workforce to a remote state and how adaptable everyone was in moving to a new style of working; any thoughts that a virtual working environment would not work were quickly dispelled. It has also created a sense of collegiality with the whole business pulling together and individuals feeling really accountable for the success of the business. In some instances productivity has actually increased.

Leaders have had to adapt to the new working style, building trust in their workforce and where previously some had relied on a culture of presenteeism and perceived that working from home was seen as a “day-off” this has now changed. The current crisis has forced a change that potentially could have taken many years to achieve, one of our guests said we achieved something in three weeks that would not have occurred in 50 years.

There was general agreement that despite the recent success seen, a fully virtual workforce is not sustainable for the long term as it does not appeal to everyone and there are negative impacts including the fact that some employees would rather be, and in some cases feel safer working in an office; there are challenges to maintaining a company culture particularly with new joiners; the loss of sharing ideas and off-the-cuff conversations as well as personal development and training can be seriously impacted (particularly in environments with an apprenticeship culture).

Mindsets / Behaviours

Leadership qualities and behaviours are being challenged in ways that were not seen as important before. One CEO mentioned how his had changed and have developed significantly since the last crisis describing how he is really enjoying making a positive impact on the well-being of his employees and is now working with empathy, thoughtfulness and kindness coming to the fore. He really sees that managing your employee welfare is as important as the profitability of a business – which is very different to the way he worked through the 2008 financial crisis.

With change being forced on individuals a broadening of mindsets has been seen. Things seen as unfeasible previously have proved to be possible, whether that is remote working or developing virtual training programmes, leaders and managers have proved to themselves that things can be done.

One of our leaders commented that "Businesses have historically taken a different level of adaptability when dealing with their customer relationships compared to the flexibility they offer their own staff."  Moving forward, they will look at how to balance flexibility and constraint towards their employees too.

Moving Forwards

One of the resounding comments was that all businesses need to take stock of what is working well in this new environment and what is less effective. There is a key opportunity to take the learnings from this crisis; to remember the positives and carry those on into the new world.   

In relation to employees, one guest commented "Once you have worked out the degree of flexibility, we will need to understand the people we have today and the people we plan to have tomorrow and work out how to retain the best. Potentially this means we will need to adjust the type of people we recruit to fit the new way of working."

As the taps get turned back on, there was a general consensus that one of the next big challenges will be the assessment and planning on how to bring the workforce back, whilst remaining compliant, safe and reassuring.

All the guests agreed that a 100% virtual world is not sustainable for the long term as it does not appeal to everyone, it was acknowledged that the most likely outcome will be to see a dispersed team mix with some working from home and others in the office which will require a different mindset for a business and create challenges for the future to treat everyone equally.   What was highlighted is that this will ultimately create benefits for the future with less travel up and down the country for meetings and a more flexible way of working. 

Leaders will need to continue to adapt their style – delegation and trust is another key area, with a remote workforce it is harder for leaders to have a handle on everything that happens within the business as they might have done previously.

There was a discussion around key behaviours that leaders will need to be aware of as we go into a new world and flexibility, delegation, empathy and continued growth in communication were all thought to be key. This was backed up by a recent Boyden survey which also included, the ability to adapt, ability to inspire, EQ, resilience, agility, and strategic perspective.

In conclusion, there will be many challenges along the way, but across the industry, there was overwhelming consensus that there is a tremendous opportunity for innovation.  Finally, and perhaps the greatest consideration of all, the industry can play a vital role in stabilising the economy and to be a lead force in the recovery.

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