Leading your financial services organization into the future: 8 lessons

Hindsight is a gift, but it can also be frustrating. Often you could have done things in different ways, maybe better. For this series of articles, we asked IT and business leaders from financial services organizations who now work at Red Hat to share their insights for financial services leaders.

No one could have predicted the events of 2020 and 2021. Although there is no crystal ball to know what will happen in the future, we can learn from each other and benefit from the experience of others.

[ Read Part One of this series: How to ward off the Great Resignation in financial services IT. ]

We asked ex-bankers, “What is one thing you learned at Red Hat that you wish you had known working for financial companies?” Consider these lessons learned:

1. It is important to understand each other’s roles

It’s easy to get caught up in your role and not worry about what it takes to make your role possible and easier. Taking the time to understand the impact of teams on your success builds trust, collaboration, and morale – all things that impact results.

“I used to have a ‘It’s just technology’ mindset. I needed something, someone built it and I used it. I never understood the complexity of what they had done nor the importance of the infrastructure that allowed them to do their job effectively. I would have worked to understand better and I would have much more appreciated the technologist who allowed me to do my work. –Richard Harmon, vice president, global head of financial services, Red Hat

2. Appreciate other business models

Often things stay the same because “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” But what if what works doesn’t work as well as it could?

Learning new patterns or exploring a more open structure can be daunting. It can also be the change that redefines your business and creates your legacy. “I didn’t fully appreciate the concept of an open source business model. It’s really unique. The ideas and efforts of so many people who came together to build something great. Then take that and make it ready for businesses to operate and offer products and services to improve their communities. It’s really amazing to watch. –Aric Rosenbaum, Global Head of FSI Business Development, Red Hat

3. Technological learning pays off

People love and hate technology, but it is present in almost every aspect of business and life. Used well, it can improve your customer interactions and loyalty.

“I hadn’t realized the breadth and capabilities that were available to me that could have facilitated our work and improved our offerings. I wish I had taken the time to ask more questions and share more of my goals. –Russ Popeil, Director of Solutions Architecture, FSI, Red Hat

4. Language changes everything

Often business leaders and IT managers are working towards the same goal, but the difference in terminology leaves both parties frustrated. Business leaders can help by explaining a project’s goals and strategy, while IT can reduce the “tech talk” and instead show how technology relates to business needs.

“Simplifying the message for internal and external stakeholders allows for clear communication and engagement, which helps projects get completed faster.” –Daniel Callot, Solutions Architect, FSI, Red Hat

5. Culture Impacts Success

Team members can spend more waking hours with each other than with their families. An inclusive, open to ideas and collaborative culture, where they feel they make a difference, will impact retention, recruitment and productivity.

“I would like to understand how the bank’s culture has impacted employee morale and validated their contributions.” –Mahen Singh, Solutions Architect, FSI, Red Hat

[ Read Part Two of this series: Six ways financial services leaders can enable innovation. ]

6. Good ideas really come from everywhere

It’s true. You don’t know what you don’t know and no matter how high your IQ and EQ are, you only have your point of view – unless you really listen to others. Engineers can have great marketing ideas and marketers can have great product ideas. There is so much diversity of thoughts and opinions available within a global company, for example, from different age groups.

“People everywhere have good ideas and I should have reduced the silos earlier. –Peter Magnaye, Solutions Architect, Red Hat

7. Ask more questions

Questions are a sign of strength. When no one asks questions, even about leadership decisions, maybe it’s time to worry. Your teams are not engaged? Are they overconfident and think they don’t need to know more? Are they afraid of appearing less well informed?

Yes to any of these questions can put your business at risk of falling behind innovations. “Asking questions of team members is a value versus a threat or a sign of weakness. Often asking questions provides insight, context, and saves time.” –Cynthia Devaraj, Solutions Architect, ISP, Red Hat

When no one asks questions, even about leadership decisions, maybe it’s time to worry.

8. Knowledge is only power when shared

When teams know the goals, challenges to expect, vision, and project details, they can find stronger options, provide insights along the way, and give insights that might have been missed.

“Transparency in the sharing of information really allows an organization to develop the best results for its customers. You get better ideas, people get the full picture, and they get more invested in the work. –David Lee, Chief Architect, Red Hat

Points to remember about leadership

It’s clear that getting teams to think outside of their specific day-to-day role and see the bigger picture can have a big impact. What other adjustments can you make?

Perhaps you can speak openly about your weaknesses and encourage others to do the same. Adjust your language to meet people where they are and teach them slowly. Some of the best partnerships are ones where the other person’s role hurts your head, and yours hurts theirs, because that’s not how your brain naturally works. With trust, these partnerships bring great success.

Share your knowledge, communicate openly and come up with ideas to innovate faster.

[ Want to learn more from the financial services professionals interviewed for this article? Get the ebook: Meet the Bankers. ]

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