Stories of “Agile and FinTech” – The HumanDebt™ in Banking Series

Let me start by acknowledging that if you’re raising an eyebrow thinking “what is she on about? Thought she left FinTech” then you’re not wrong. I thought I did too. 

Very long story short, while there when FinTech history was made, I grew frustrated with begging bankers to do Agile and look at their culture and I put all I was preaching in a book to sell to bankers for 20 quid a copy not 20k a workshop – “Emotional Banking”.

While writing it, I had a moment of clarity and realised all the ills in banking were traceable to this one culprit – that they had ample HumanDebt™. This concept I arrived at practically embodied all that these organisations owed their people in terms of respect, care, tools, permission and support – all of the times they didn’t do right by their employees.

Akin to technical debt, human debt keeps accumulating when topics to do with the employees have been neglected or frankly, half-arsed for long enough. Inclusivity, diversity, engagement, wellness, big topics around race and gender and so on.

The lack of discourse on flexibility -more prevalent when I wrote Emotional Banking to be fair, as that’s a tide that Covid has managed to turn for the most part-, the lack of empathy, the illusion that humans can ever be emotionless and the implicit demand that they have to have a mask when at work that shows their professional persona devoid of any trace of feeling and the lack of preoccupation with teams.

The many times when projects to better the employees’ lives disappeared or dissolved into some leadership change, some restructure or amounted to nothing else but insignificant lip-service surveys or when initiatives were confined to after-hours as there was too much “serious” delivery work to be done, the absence of complete openness and trust and so many other ailments. 

This was why these banks couldn’t execute what they knew was needed digitally.

This is why they couldn’t really get their heads and hearts around Agile.

This massive debt resulting in rampant politics, institutionalised dishonesty, toxic cultures, command and control, bullying, discrimination and generalised fear. This was -and still is, the crux of the issue. When this penny dropped another one did – it wasn’t only banks that had masses of unresolved HumanDebt but other big institutions as well.

So I embarked on an even bigger crusade and went to change the world of everything not that of FinTech only.

So for the past three years, I’ve focused on finding the answer as to what will diminish this HumanDebt the fastest so that organisations can get Agile and compete in every industry – the answer? Working on the teams’ dynamic through this absolutely cornerstone concept of Psychological Safety which practically boils down to the ability healthy, happy and high performing teams have, to be fully open and authentic with each other and always speak up.

That makes them collaborative, it makes them innovative, it makes them courageous and therefore makes them Agile, fast and super-effective. They fear nothing, they love what they do and they perform superbly putting $ in the pocket of the organisation.

Psychologically Safe teams automatically reduce this HumanDebt because they immediately reverse its effects on the happiness and productivity of the teams. 

This nearly magic concept of what it takes to have a team be super-performant was studied tens of years ago, then popularised through the extensive work of Prof Dr Amy Edmondson and put on the map by Google’s Project Aristotle only to then be embraced by the DevOps community and be driven by them much more efficiently than most other HR and Leadership teams. So I set out to see lower HumanDebt and more Psychological Safety in the teams of every industry and we created a software solution to accomplish that thusly leaving FinTech to immerse myself in the Agile/DevOps/Leadership/Culture world. 

But while to my mind, I had left, unsurprisingly, after 20 years in the industry, the places I knew most intimately, where I had seen the HumanDebt grow -and grow, and *grow*!- were in banking and many of my new company’s (PeopleNotTech) clients and prospective clients are banks. Incumbents and challengers alike. And the non-FI but FinTech-through-open-APIs new players. Or the swathes of crypto-makers.  And big tech. 

This is the thing – HumanDebt isn’t exclusively reserved to the big old, inflexible mammoth of structures. A startup can start amassing it early on. If they’re a scale-up and most tech and challengers are, they can take the wrong turns and build without their people at the centre real quick. Or can mandate Agile without everyone’s heart being into it. Or demand that their people come back and shackle themselves to the desk again.

So if before PeopleNotTech and my “HumanDebt and PsychologicalSafety if we want Agile and Digital” revelation -which is now also part of my “People Before Tech” book which you can find here– I’ve looked into the bellies of hundreds of banks in my career, then of late, I’ve seen a few tens of them again and from another light. I’m here to tell you about them.

I now know even more clearly how much HumanDebt they have and why and how that translates into their failed Agile rollout, or the transformation only being there on paper or the fact that the big wigs are ignoring all of the big waves coming their way. 

These will be their stories every Friday. All identities are fiercely protected of course. Here are the titles of a few episodes, subscribe and gather round so you hear them:

The One With the “Or Else”

The One With the Stealth Approvals

The One With the Challenger Who Had Become the Establishment

The One With the CTO Who Was Afraid

The One Where Everyone Was Waiting to Retire

The One With the Depression Club

The One With The George Strait Fan

The One With the Non-FinTech Bank

The One With the Ghost Project

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