The benefits of slow, incremental change

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Why there’s a similarity between adopting a new physical exercise regime and digitally transforming a business.

The industry may be filled with chatter about digital transformation but instead of all the fanfare, shouldn’t we employ a more subtle approach to change in certain areas? After all, I frequently hear horror stories from executives tasked with leading the transformation charge and coming up against a wall of cultural resistance. Maybe if we looked at the transformation of an organisation in the same way we approach introducing a successful physical exercise regime to our day, we might get further?

We all know that if we run headlong into a new exercise routine or crash diet in January, we’ll run out of steam by February or mid-month because no matter how much enthusiasm we have to begin with, it will wane with time. The same goes for firms starting down the path toward digitally transforming their businesses. We’re not talking a quick facelift here, we’re talking about transformation, which requires wholesale changes in organisational behaviour and technology usage. Both of these things rely on people.

When we think about businesses, we often forget about the important people aspect of those businesses. You can introduce as many fancy new technology tools as you like, but if people don’t use them, you haven’t changed anything. The same goes for gym equipment – you can buy kettlebells, an exercise bike and a yoga mat but if you don’t use them, and regularly I might add, you won’t get any fitter.

No doubt, as with the start of most years, a lot of you out there will be thinking about new year’s resolutions and getting fitter in 2021. Especially as a lot of us have worn a dent in the sofa as a result of lockdowns and the lack of a commute has left us with a few extra pounds or kilograms to shift.

Personal trainers and athletes will tell you that the key to their success is in changing their routines gradually and tying those changes to already acquired behaviours. So, adding a few push-ups in the morning to your wake-up routine, for example, or carving out the time you’d usually be commuting and going for a walk, then a jog and maybe even a run. But the key here is you start walking before you run, you don’t rush into running. If you start off with a painful and difficult run, you’re unlikely to want to do it again.

Now take this and apply it to organisational behaviours. By forcing your entire workforce to adopt a whole bunch of new processes and to interact with new (and to some people, let’s face it, scary) technology tools, it’s like making them run that difficult first run. This is why institutional inertia happens – the majority of people are resistant to dramatic changes. We’re creatures of habit.

If, on the other hand, you approach that change agenda by bringing those people on board to begin with and changing those processes carefully and incrementally, you’re much more likely to succeed. Granted, it isn’t glamourous or exciting. It isn’t going to win you awards or industry fanfare, but good project management and gradual change is equally as important as trialling that new artificial intelligence tool with your top two clients. It might not be worthy of a press release, but it will mean new processes and technologies are properly embedded within your organisation.

Nowhere is this more important than in the post-trade realm (in my humble opinion).

No firm really wants to spend the dollars, pounds or euros on multiple heavy-lift operational change programmes, so getting it right first time is important.

This might be as simple as taking into account how your staff currently interact with their systems and what they are comfortable with when designing your new user interface. If they work in a similar manner to the older system to begin with and you change these UIs gradually, you’ll also have to spend much less time on training your existing staff. Now that’s only one example of many, but incremental change really can make a big difference in user adoption.

Listen to your staff, see how they work and get them onboard with the change. Be your organisation’s equivalent of a successful personal trainer, without the shouting (hopefully).

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