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How To Prevent Productivity Drop In The Financial Sector

Worried about a productivity drop? Here's how to avoid it.

If you’re a finance leader, improving productivity is top of mind.


Because productivity in the financial sector has both an internal and external impact.

Internally, improving productivity boosts your company’s own performance, allowing you to reduce costs and increase profits.

It also increases the amount of capital flowing into the business, since your people market, sell, and process financial services more efficiently.

Externally, improving productivity in your company supports the economy’s performance. With so many companies relying on the health and smooth operation of the financial system, well-run companies are essential.

So, how can your organization improve productivity or prevent productivity drops?

By doing the following:

  • Increasing employee engagement, morale, and motivation within the workforce
  • Hiring externally for new roles, not just to replace outgoing team members
  • Improving internal communication so it advances your company’s priorities
  • Developing an employee recognition strategy
  • Improving your digital transformation projects through task visibility

Increasing employee engagement, morale, and motivation within the workforce

Improving employee engagement is not just a fluffy, feel good exercise.

If you want to boost productivity within your organization, improve the outcome of digital transformation projects, and inspire your employees to embrace digital skills training and new approaches to work, you need them to actually care about their place of work.

To sincerely understand and improve employee engagement, your company needs to first gauge the current culture.

Your culture is your employees’ understanding of what the company values. Employees figure this out by watching which behaviours get rewarded and which behaviours get punished.

Think about it this way.

Suppose there’s an understanding among senior leaders in your financial firm that the company culture is creativity and collaboration.

As a result, everything that comes from those leaders – corporate communications, company initiatives, recruitment marketing messaging – carries this message.

Meanwhile, there’s a completely different understanding on the ground.

Employees who speak up with new ideas are routinely shot down, or they’re told to run with the idea only to receive no support and fail.

The net result is that people don’t share interesting ideas.

And even if they’re brave enough to speak up, they don’t see the value in doing so because their workplace doesn’t create the conditions for success.

Over time, this creates a new, on-the-ground story about what the company’s culture is.

It becomes the story employees tell people in their network when asked whether your company is a good place to work.

It also becomes the story that employees tell themselves and each other whenever a new initiative is announced. This kind of culture leads to comments like:

“Did you see that new program they rolled out? Let’s see how long that lasts.”

“I’m keeping my mouth shut during that meeting.”

“I just come here to put in my time and go home.”

In today’s economy, this kind of culture is lethal in two ways.

First, it pushes out talented and creative thinkers.

Second, it causes employees to disengage and not embrace new projects or initiatives.

Before you can improve productivity, you need to understand and evaluate your company culture. Otherwise, your attempts to embrace digital tools or undergo digital solutions may fall flat.

So, how can you assess and improve your company culture?

Obtain a baseline understanding of your company culture with an annual survey

If your financial company already distributes an annual survey to your employees, you can skip to the next section on operational data.

If your organization doesn’t, it’s time to start.

Distribute a long-form employee engagement survey asking employees questions about everything from company culture, professional development opportunities, their relationship with their manager, plans to stay with the company, employee benefits, and more.

This will give you a baseline understanding of where your workplace stands on different issues.

In order for your employee survey to be successful it must be:

  • Clearly written. Avoid complex questions and confusing multiple choice options. Otherwise, employees will rush, skim the questions, and randomly select answers.
  • Completely confidential and managed by a third party. You want to emphasize that this survey is completely confidential, so that you receive honest feedback from employees. Whether the survey is administered through your choice of HR software or an outside HR consulting firm, highlight the confidentiality of the survey in your communications.
  • Actively promoted by managers. If managers and senior leaders do not actively promote completing the survey, there won’t be enough responses. There should be regular reminders to managers that the survey is mandatory for their teams, so that managers encourage employees to complete them.

Combine operational data with annual surveys to identify teams that need the most improvement

Your operational data, combined with the results of your annual survey, offer a high-value opportunity to understand exactly why some teams perform better than others.

There may be a relationship between certain people management factors (e.g. managers, turnover, professional development opportunities, salary) and performance KPIs (e.g. return on assets, customer satisfaction, number of deals closed).

Understanding correlation between people management and performance isn’t easy, which is why Sparkbay designed a powerful module that can identify specific workplace issues having an impact on your performance and gives recommendations to turn these insights into effective strategies.

Drill down on problem areas through regular pulse surveys

Once you have the results of your long-form annual survey, review the results and identify the areas where you obtained the poorest scores.

Let’s say your financial firm received poor results for questions related to “motivation to learn digital skills”, “plans to remain with the company long term”, or “understanding of my day-to-day responsibilities”.

In this case, these are the areas you should focus on in your employee engagement strategy and that you should commit to learning more about.

How do you learn more about these problem areas?

By distributing pulse surveys. These are quick, focused surveys that can be as short as a minute. In fact, an employee can complete it on their phone while waiting for the elevator or on their computer while having coffee.

The goal of these pulse surveys is to understand what exactly people want or why they feel a specific way with regards to a certain issue.

For example, your long-form survey may identify that 55% of employees are only “somewhat certain” about what’s expected of them on a day-to-day basis.

This is an alarming number for financial companies trying to maintain or improve productivity levels.

As a result, it’s tempting to dive in and put a plan in action.

But if you launch into a strategy based on this limited information, you may not address the real problem.

Instead, a pulse survey can help you identify why this is a problem for your organization. Your pulse survey may ask employees:

  • What is the biggest obstacle that prevents you from understanding your day-to-day tasks effectively? (Choose one)
    • “I’m not qualified for one or more of the tasks I’m asked to complete.”
    • “There is no clear strategy or direction”
    • “I do not have formal goals and objectives to work towards”
    • “I do not have the tools or technology to track my work”.

If the majority of employees say that they are not qualified for one or more of the tasks they’re asked to complete, this suggests a few things:

  • There is a disconnect between job descriptions and actual job duties
  • Tasks are tackled by people who are not trained or qualified to complete them, and as a result, many operational tasks are taking up more time than they should
  • There is a potential threat to employee morale and retention if people are set up to fail by receiving work they haven’t been trained to do

Finally, pulse surveys do more than help financial leaders drill down on problem areas. They also help team leaders understand which initiatives are working.

For example, suppose a bank decides that, based on the results of their survey, they will offer online courses.

A month or so into the program they notice that very few employees have signed up.

A pulse survey can help them understand why. By distributing a two-minute survey they might learn that employees are:

1) Definitely interested in training BUT

2) Don’t want to complete this training on their own time AND

3) Would prefer training options during work hours

Hiring externally for new roles, not just to replace outgoing team members

Small to mid-sized firms tend to hire mostly when replacing a vacant role.

Instead, these financial companies should routinely evaluate their current talent base and recruit to supplement it.

When your organization’s recruitment focus is exclusively on addressing attrition, your talent strategy dulls. It isn’t focused on bringing in new skills to the company.

As a result, when a marketing manager leaves and a new marketing manager arrives, the only expectation for this new hire is to do exactly what their predecessor did.

On the other hand, if your company is constantly evaluating its talent base it can either:

  • Create net new roles for identified skill sets
  • Incorporate missing skills into the job description of existing roles

In this way, either a new marketing role, like a UX designer, is created, or your company replaces an outgoing marketing manager with an incoming manager that has a background in user experience design.

If your company is considering a digital transformation project at some point in the future, it may not make sense to hire specialized IT talent just yet. But it would be smart to start looking for IT candidates with digital skills when hiring for your existing vacancies.

By rounding out the talent workforce regularly, you bring in people with new, faster ways of working who increase the overall efficiency and productivity of your company.

Improving internal communication so it advances your company’s priorities

Another helpful way to boost productivity in your financial company is to boost your internal communication.

First, this helps your employees become aware of what other people within the company do.

Second, it helps employees find natural connections between different business units, align their goals to other teams’ goals, and boost overall productivity.

Finally, it boosts morale and motivation by communicating what the larger objectives are and sharing success stories.

This last point is worth emphasizing. By sharing specific success stories, you help your employees learn by example by showing them different types of success stories in sales, lead generation, cross-referrals, and more.

Bank Investment Consultant shares one example of how this worked for a company. One bank CEO became so focused on strategic internal communication that he switched up his style when visiting branches.

Instead of having casual conversations with the staff, he asked managers the same two questions every time they entered the branch:

  • How many referrals have you made this week?
  • How many referral appointments did you have?

Receiving these questions every week prompted branch managers to focus on these metrics and as a result, boost investment referrals.

By turning internal communications into a tool that supported the company’s strategy, this financial organization was able to boost its productivity.

Developing an employee recognition strategy

An employee recognition strategy is a carefully structured approach to recognizing your employees.

Like any strategy, it should have an objective. In this case, it’s to get your employees to do their best work and to stay at your company.

This means that activities like handing out gift cards during the holidays, publicly thanking an employee at an event, or sending out the occasional email of appreciation are not employee recognition strategies.

They might be tactics in an employee recognition strategy, but they have to be part of a larger plan.

For example, an employee recognition strategy may be:

“Increase employee satisfaction scores by 40% and decrease turnover by 20% by end of FY21 by using an online employee recognition platform that enlists managers and colleagues to track great performance and distributes meaningful rewards to employees.”

This platform could help workers collect “points” or “company dollars” from other employees that they train or support. These “dollars” can then be redeemed for internal rewards such as paid time off, the ability to leave early, gift cards, or trips.

But no matter how clever an employee recognition strategy is, it needs one big thing to succeed: Buy in from the leadership team.

If this employee recognition program is not talked about by managers or discussed by managers, employees won’t feel comfortable using it or claiming the rewards.

Improving special projects and digital transformation projects through task visibility

Acquiring new technology is just one piece of the digital transformation puzzle. And it usually isn’t even the first piece – it’s just the most visible and exciting one.

In reality, successful digital transformation requires strong project governance.

This means that there needs to be a clear breakdown and shared understanding of critical steps such as planning, forecasting, implementation, and execution.

In fact, 39% of financial institutions report that finding the right metrics to track a project’s progress is their biggest challenge when it comes to advancing digital transformation initiatives.

That number increases to 46% when you only consider mid-market financial institutions.

Keep in mind, BDO defines middle market players as organizations with revenue anywhere from $250 million to $3 billion.

The point is that financial companies experience productivity drops due to projects that are meant to enhance productivity across the enterprise.

If financial services companies do manage to overcome these initial tracking challenges, new challenges arise when attempting to actually implement the digital transformation project.

BDO reports that 53 percent of companies say that poor communication and project management hinder the successful implementation of a digital project.

In other words, relevant parties don’t know what different contributors are doing and therefore can’t coordinate those activities to create a result that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

How can financial services companies avoid turning a promising productivity booster into a productivity drain?

Conduct a skills analysis to ensure you have the appropriate human resources

Embarking on a digital transformation project without a thorough understanding of the skill sets required is a surefire path to wasted time and money.

For instance, if your financial company plans to create an AI-powered wealth management solution, it’ll need a clear picture of what skill sets are needed to make this happen.

Even if you have a full IT team within your business, they may not be qualified to put together such a solution.

As Digitalist Magazine put it, “Customers demand better, faster, and fully digital banking experiences, while banking CIOs are directing most of their IT budgets towards supporting legacy core systems written in COBOL.”

So if you’re embarking on a digital project to create an AI-powered wealth management product, don’t assume you can simply lift and shift workers from your IT team.

While a few may be able to join, some may not have the requisite skills. Others will need to stay put to manage your legacy IT infrastructure.

Creating an AI-powered wealth management product may call for employees like:

  • UX/UI designers and researchers
  • Product managers
  • Project managers
  • Software engineers
  • Mobile developers
  • Data engineers and data scientists
  • Financial services domain experts
  • Business analysts
  • Coordinators and administrative assistants
  • Compliance specialists

And that’s far from an exhaustive list!

You’ll also require a senior leader as a project sponsor to ensure the team has what it needs to succeed.

In short, there are many moving parts in a digital transformation project. You don’t want to realize you’re missing someone a third of a way through the project.

Conduct a skills gap analysis to understand the objective of the project, what tasks will be required to complete the project, and what skills you have in house to complete those tasks.

Once you’ve identified your gaps, you’ll then need a strategy for filling them, which could include steps like:

  • External recruitment
  • Engaging independent contractors or outsourcing specific components
  • Upskilling internal workers who possess a majority of the skills needed

Obtaining visibility into your human capital and understanding how to use it effectively can reduce productivity drops when embarking on a financial services digital transformation project.

Interested in boosting your finance company’s productivity using people analytics?