Leading change at Sbanken

I have previously argued that leadership is the key ingredient for digital success, and even a born-digital company like Sbanken needs digital transformation in order to adapt to a new landscape for financial services. Reinvention is key to survival, and deciding whether to challenge one’s core business is one of the hardest decisions for every leader to face.

Even though all of us are aware of the risk of becoming obsolete and none of us wishes to join the ranks of Kodak or Blockbuster, the list of once-great companies that failed to renew themselves is growing at an accelerating rate.

With the never-ending wisdom of hindsight, it is easy to point fingers and say, “how did they not see that coming?” Perhaps they saw it coming, but merely lacked the necessary tools to face a changing market.

Or even worse, they were so deeply tied to the methods that provided success in the past, that they were not only confident that whatever comes our way, we know how to fend of every challenger out there, but also failed to realized that the challenge ahead had completely different characteristics than those of the past.

In order to embrace the change ahead, we have defined a set of leadership principles as a code of conduct when navigating forward.

People first

Digital business is a people’s business, and you need to acquire, motivate and develop the best talent to succeed. This requires leaders in the bank to put people first in not only what we say, but also how we act. High performing teams need psychological safety, and it is up to us leaders to provide it. According to Harvard Business Review, psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off — just the types of behavior that lead to market breakthroughs.

Understand what motivates your people – realize that different things motivate different people, and meet your employees on a personal level. Actively listen to what your colleagues have to say, and resist the temptation to draw conclusions too fast. As a leader, you should not provide the answers, but aspire to ask the right questions.

Have the right team, and embrace diversity. A team consisting of a collection of carbon copies of the team leader is worthless. A good team should be balanced in terms of gender identities and backgrounds.

If your people do not thrive, you will not get the best results. Make sure to invest in your people and make sure they have a good time at work.

Clear direction

If you want change, make sure everyone knows where they are heading. If everyone runs in opposite directions, you will never get off the spot. In a world of uncertainty, this is easier said than done. We can all agree that the rigid five-year plan based on a linear projection from yesterday’s results is obsolete. Dare to define bold a long-term vision that can act as a focal point for the organization and make sure everyone has an understanding of the overall direction as well as the possibility that it might change at any given time due to external factors.

When the common understanding is achieved, develop a model for moving from vision to tactics; make sure to break down your goals to actionable steps and measurable results.

A shared long-term vision of the journey ahead as well as shared goals define which steps you need to take together. Shared goals are however not sufficient.  You need to make sure you all have a shared understanding of your surroundings as well. Common goals have no value if the map does not match the terrain.

Insatiable for results

Results may come in many shapes and variations, but the important thing is that they are tangible. IN Sbanken we view our results from a fair deal perspective, where we commit ourselves to deliver results to the customers, our shareholders, our employees as well as contributing to a sustainable society. A balanced perspective enables us to delight our customers, deliver shareholder value, create an attractive workplace as well as take social responsibility.

Take responsibility

Achieving sustainable change is the sum of individual efforts; it is, therefore, imperative that everyone involved play their part and take responsibility. If there is a better way to do things, challenge existing and perhaps obsolete practices, but above all; if you see a problem, do something about it. Create a culture where those who propose a solution rather than pointing at the problem define greatness.

Recognize achievements

Let people know when they have done a good job. As simple as that. A great leader makes other people feel appreciated by recognizing achievements. Digital change is not a one-time exercise, but a constant state, and what gets recognized gets repeated.

Recognition also builds trust. Without trust, none of the other desired behavioral traits is possible. Trust is crucial to know that you will receive support from your peers when needed as well as receiving constructive criticism in knowing that the intention is towards a common goal.

The math is also fairly simple, when employees feel recognized, they tend to stick around. Talent retention is always cheaper than recruiting.

Think big, start small and learn fast

Encourage visionary thinking, but make sure you are able to restrict the scope and know where to start. Make sure people have a wide enough perspective to consider all possible outcomes in an uncertain and complex future. Image having a clean slate, how would you solve the problem at hand, rather than anchoring future perspectives in past practices.

Work after the minimal viable product principle; break down your grand vision into bite-size deliverables and deploy a feedback loop in order to collect data and learn fast from the initial release. Fake it until you make it through inexpensive prototyping in order to validate or faslify your initial hypothesis. Base your decision making going forward on real data rather than gut feel or theoretical financial projections.

At the end of the day, it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

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