Championing agility at Bank of Ireland UK

To meet the evolving needs of customers banks must reinvent their business models to maintain a competitive edge and stay ahead of the game. Agility in banking refers to a very significant mindset change and encourages us to move away from current constraints to be more customer-focused. Businesses must look beyond current structures and adapt quickly to stand out from the competition.

What attracted me to agility is its foundations in principles, not rules; that’s what got me hooked. Commonly held thought is that agility is for technologists only, but, while thinking was spawned there, I quickly understood that it is applicable and relevant to any function.

Agility is based on five strong values; Focus, Courage, Openness, Commitment and Respect. In turn these are supported by 12 principles as captured in the Agile Manifesto. These include customers and developers working together, face to face conversation as a preference and satisfying customer needs through early and continuous delivery as the highest priority. All of these principles just make a lot of sense and it’s hard to argue that you wouldn’t want to live by any one of them. Agility provides businesses with much greater oversight and control and ensures competence and purpose.

Adopting agility requires courage to launch a major cultural shift and change in mindset. It’s hard to stamp out habits and behaviours that have been reinforced for years. At points you may find yourself raging against practices and instincts that have been drummed in while trying to replace them with new programmes.

This takes time so businesses must be patient and manage their expectations accordingly but work quickly to adapt. Habits with years of reinforcement need to be unlearned and new ones programmed in. Apparently, you have to do something 66 times before it becomes habitual. This takes time.

Too many people jump straight to process, looking for a template or a methodology to follow, but time and money shouldn’t be wasted on a long training and communications plan. The real win is in fostering the environment for agility and it must start and end with people. Role model leadership begins at the top – without this, agility won’t work – so senior leaders must start living the behaviour they wish to see from all. Investing in coaches to guide teams is also essential; trying to implement agility without them would be like flying a plane without experience or a licence.

Agility isn’t about being able to do more or cut costs. While both of these are positive outcomes, starting with these goals is likely to lead to failure and you will miss the ultimate big wins. It’s also not a once off shake up. Businesses must continue to tweak their structures and employees need to keep developing their skills and engaging with colleagues to compare notes and learn from each other, as we do at Bank of Ireland.

I believe that the future success of banking lies in implementing nimble business process platforms. Agility sets the course for banking innovation, but it can be applied anywhere as it’s relevant to all functions. At the end of the day, all businesses produce a product. It’s just some are material and some are less tangible such as risk advice or assurance.

Since moving to the agility model, I have seen many great benefits at the Bank of Ireland UK and I am proud to say that our purpose is very clear. Agility supports our strategy and produces better outcomes for customers and colleagues. We seek to constantly assess our own competencies and those of others so we can adopt leadership with control and confidence.

My biggest piece of advice? Don’t wait, just get started.

Steve Sanders, Head of Audit By Steve Sanders, Head of Audit at the Bank of Ireland UK