Managing change and staying ahead

by AB19 Apr 2018

HomeStart’s Deborah Dickson shares her tips for managing everything from regulation to digitisation

When globalisation changed the rules of business many companies, organisations and brands found themselves on the back foot, but few struggled as much as GE. Losing market share and profit, the firm turned to Jack Welch, the youngest chairman and CEO appointed in the company’s history.

At that point, Welch lacked the years of management experience most CEOs call on during crisis. But it was his experience working on the factory floor that paved the way for him to transform GE into one of the most profitable companies in the world.

The secret to his success was change management (CM), the idea of managing change for better outcomes. The crux is, events happen but change doesn’t; change occurs by management, and is essential to safeguarding company culture.

In the financial sector, where it has been business as usual for a number of years, a similar combination of threats lie ahead, including regulations, digitisation and changing employment and buyer trends.

The Royal Commission, ASIC’s remuneration review and online and mobile innovations, digital tools and fintech – they make globalisation look like a walk in the park.

Structural changes in the population are also a risk factor, with an ageing workforce that retires – and gets its empty nest – much later. Data from HomeStart Finance indicates the average first-time buyer will be 40 years old in the next generation. The increasing prevalence of freelance and self-employment in the gig economy is also making itself known.

How these are managed in each organisation is make or break.

“The banking and mortgage industry needs to embrace change by acknowledging the issues that exist and prevailing customer perceptions in the marketplace,” says Deborah Dickson, HomeStart Finance head of retail. 

“The banking and mortgage industry needs to embrace change” - Deborah Dickson, head of retail HomeStart Finance

Award-winning in its approach to change, HomeStart picked up a transforming culture award last year, in recognition of its own successful change management strategies.

The socially focused non-bank lender has also appointed change champions to “live the change” throughout the business.

While acknowledging the power of self-reflection in the CM process, Dickson advocates the chance for deeper soul searching. She says, “We need to address the incentives that drive the behaviours that are now under scrutiny and take them out altogether. It may mean less profitability, but it will also mean a stronger industry, better customer outcomes and, ultimately, a stronger national economy.”

The change toolkit

The mechanics of how change can be achieved are still up for debate, and while it’s clear the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t apply, there are patterns in best-case outcomes.

“The acknowledgement of differing priorities within teams and the willingness to engage with customers and third parties to understand the issues and surface solutions is crucial to achieving change. You need to create a combination of challenge and purpose linked with stretch, and enough support that people feel comfortable to express what they really see is happening and how issues could be resolved,” Dickson explains.

The path to change may be intangible, but the tools for the journey are more clear-cut. For Dickson, there are six: clarity in direction, organisational structure, the protection of behavioural boundaries, transparency, new policies and organisational momentum to keep the pace.

The aim is to lay the foundations for a change to take hold without changing the organisation itself. However, tools are not guarantors of success – people are.

Dickson says, “There are a lot of subtleties that are easy to miss, especially when change is fast or originates from a burning platform. All of these are tied up in culture
and leadership.”

At HomeStart Finance recent changes have increased focus on team development – not just in technical training, but in what Dickson calls “real individual growth that benefits the individual and, ultimately, the organisation”. Total training and development expenditure at HomeStart increased to 5.8% of the salary expense in 2016-17, higher than the national average of 5%.

Inspiring others to pick up the baton, Dickson’s takeaway is clear: we don’t do change to others, we do it with others