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Fear and Loathing in Canary Wharf? Managing energy in financial teams

By Chris Barez-Brown, Upping Your Elvis

As individuals, human beings ebb and flow.  Some days we feel bulletproof, we’re physically and mentally strong and everything just feels easy. Other days, we are overly-sensitive, we argue with colleagues (and ourselves) and everything just feels much harder.

We’re the same person on both days, it’s just that our energy’s different.

Chris Barez-Brown
Chris Barez-Brown

Normally there is enough stability within a business to absorb these changes. But when the business itself goes through periods of change, there is a real danger of a perfect storm. Uncontrolled changes within the individual meets uncertainty in the workplace and has a potentially huge, negative impact.

This is compounded by the fact that most banks and financial services enterprises often have large departments built around specific functions.  Consequently, at any point in the course of the evolution of a company, there can be hundreds of like-minded people bringing anxiety, fear and concerns into the workplace. Unless tackled head on, this practically guarantees a negative outcome.

The risks to the sector

The banking and financial services sector is especially susceptible to this risk because constant change to processes, against a backdrop of tight compliance and aggressive sales targets, is the very basis of the evolution of the industry. These points provide not only the impetus for continual change but also the parameters of that change itself – the change programme must still fall within the accepted limits of the industry but have a clear commercial impact.

Businesses within the financial services sector must therefore figure out how to manage the diverse energies of their staff as the business works through ongoing waves of change.  The alternative is that that change kills the business.

Issues of perspective

It is an utter cliché, but no less true, that it is our perspective on change that determines everything. If a business addresses the energy of the staff around a change programme, then suddenly that change feels like an exciting opportunity, rather than something to be feared.

This need not demand huge shifts in employee behaviour. On a recent change programme that we ran for a large financial institution, we supported the face to face workshops and training with daily prompts for ‘micro-actions’.  These acted not only as a reminder of the behaviours the teams and leaders had been trained on, but also increased the adoption.

Critically, we also saw huge increases in people being open to trying new things – a clear sign that a team is embracing change, not running from it.

Another key tactic is to demonstrate what is desired: a team of ‘change champions’ were created to model new behaviours and show other staff members how to lead the business through a huge merger.

Following this programme the business reported a 50% increase in staff giving more feedback to each other, a 54% increase in staff giving public recognition to each other and 61% of team members trying new ideas to familiar solutions.

The core of successful change

At the core of these successes is the fact that staff and managers alike must take ownership of their own growth and development during times of change. This boils down to actively seeking out feedback.

Staff must get continual, fresh input on the things they are doing, every day, so that everyone learns, grows and embraces the change the business is working through.

In both banks and the financial services industry, staff are often shy about asking for positives (especially in London offices) but it is only by asking what worked and why, that a business can rapidly multiply those positive actions.The more specific this feedback, the better.

By seeking feedback and focusing on the positives of what has been achieved, a business can accelerate the positive association a staff member may have with the change programme being undertaken.

There is clear evidence that the more people in teams are aware of their personal energy and take active steps to manage it themselves, the better they can handle change.  It is vital to instill the confidence to experiment,and the wisdom to use data to refine those moments of evolution. These are the indicators that a positive culture towards change is present and that that change will be for the better.


Photo Credit – Robert Bye