Where Change Fit Organisations Place Their Bets

Sprints, SCRUMS, stand-up meetings, foosball tables and introducing the foot hammock for office desks. Judging by the antics of highly successful companies, getting the most out of your staff starts by throwing out the rule book and welcoming discussions about bringing your pet tarantula to work.

There’s that, and there’s also the fact that your customers are changing. No longer content with long queues at the customer service counter, today’s consumer is an information junkie who knows more about your brand than you do.

On the surface it all seems to point to an influx of new technologies that are making everything easier; from starting a business without getting up from your couch to getting supper ready for 12 guests — without getting up from your couch. Yet, in a time where technology appears to hold the key to virtually every market, why is it that big companies can’t seem to buy their way out of the fierce competition they face from startups?

It would seem that the Apples and Amazons of the world have something over the Blockbusters and Kodaks — and it isn’t tech, nor is it money. At its peak, Kodak was worth a staggering $31 billion and employed over 140 000 people, yet the imaging pioneer of yesteryear couldn’t buy itself out of the inertia that ultimately led to its demise. So what is it that separates companies like Kodak from others that appear to be more change fit?

A Cultural Mindset That Embraces Change

A 2016 study by Deloitte examined the readiness of South African companies to address cultural challenges that act as hurdles to business transformation. The report inadvertently makes correlations between companies that struggled in the past to adapt to change and modern ones that are stuck in a certain way of thinking about culture.

It found that while a majority of respondents see culture as fairly important, only 31% view it as an integral part of thriving in the digital economy. This is a critical miscalculation. The effects of digital disruption on human culture at large can’t be studied in a vacuum that ignores the way it influences the way people think about work. The truth is that companies that pursue aggressive technological agendas without factoring in the human and cultural changes that go with it will ultimately miss the mark.

“It would seem that South African respondents while seeing the importance of culture in general, do not see it as a crucial catalyst in the execution of a differentiating strategy. This runs the risk of relegating culture to a tool only for “employee engagement” and values alignment, rather than a precision lever if managed well, to drive strategy.” ~ Deloitte Report on Human Capital

To be a true change fit organisation, companies must place their human capital at the front and centre of their transformation agendas. With technology alone, little progress will be made towards relevance in markets that are ultimately defined by human preferences and proclivities. A human-centric approach to transforming a business helps to uncover opportunities for innovation that benefit employees and customers alike. Workforces are end-users also; they bring with them experiences and ideas that are often overlooked in middle-management strategy sessions and high-level boardroom discussions.

Furthermore, when change is cast upon organisations, it’s often the case that those with “boots on the ground” are best positioned to indicate realities to the C-suite. This brings about a kind of change agility within companies. Harvard Business Review talks about change agility as your company’s “…ability to engage people in pending changes. This is an internal focus that is critical to the company’s ability to effectively implement identified innovations. A great idea won’t matter if you can’t muster the capacity and commitment to carry it through.”

The onslaught of change is disrupting businesses in mid-conversation with their markets as the next big thing hits app stores on an almost daily basis. For business decision-makers to become intractable and myopic at this stage of the game is virtual suicide. Including your workforce in discussions about “what the people want” is becoming critically important to building products and services the people really need.

Banking On Change

Africa’s most innovative bank for two successive years, First National Bank (FNB), stands in a class of its own for innovation within the finance sector. As one of the top 5 banking institutions in Africa, FNB hasn’t allowed its size, infrastructures and most importantly, traditional cultures, to prevent it from building human-centric financial products.

Its employee innovation program is responsible for some of the bank’s most popular financial products and contributes to FNB’s claim to the top spot as the bank with the biggest brand value across Africa. According to Jolande Duvenhage, FNB’s Head of Innovation, “Encouraging our employees to re-invent banking processes and come up with deep-rooted innovations has helped in extending more value to our retail and business clients. This forward-thinking approach helps to keep us ahead of our competitors.”

The bank’s recent move to digitise its life insurance products has had favourable responses from FNB users, along with a host of other products that include the highly successful eBucks rewards program and a host of student, investor and savings products. With most new innovations directly resulting from the employee innovation program, FNB seems to have tapped into a source of innovation that requires only a new approach to how businesses enter conversations with employees. To date, the program has awarded nearly R60 million towards new customer product and service initiatives.

FNB seems to have a habit of being the first to dip its toes into unknown waters. The bank launched the first cryptocurrency ATM in a pilot program in 2017, it was also the first bank to seriously challenge the mobile device and telecoms markets. It also allows customers to register their small businesses and manage their accounting from within their online banking portfolios while young, first-time bankers can open an account with nothing more than a selfie taken from their mobile devices.

Change Fit Means Being Ready for the Long Game

With an employee innovation hub that’s been running for 15 years and more than 1000 innovations introduced into FNB’s offerings, it appears that investing in a culture that prioritises people can pay significant dividends in a milieu where technology seems to be the answer to everything. Change fit companies seem to almost know this intuitively and are wise enough to tap into their human capital and uncover otherwise dormant opportunities in the minds of employees that are more than ready to add to the new narrative.

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