When I started working in banking in the early 90s, the job profile was perceived to be stable and secure, like working for the Government. This was one of the many appealing reasons for pursuing my degree in business administration “Diplom Betriebswirt (FH)” at “Hochschule für Bankwirtschaft” (the origin of Frankfurt School).
This time was dominated by an era of managing the day-to-day operation, sprinkling some efficiency measures to achieve organic growth. The job market was driven by specialisation. People would get trained and spend entire careers in one area.
Since then, the banking landscape has undergone a remarkable transformation, shaped by market events and subsequent regulatory changes, technological advancements, geo-political changes and, not to forget, a shift in consumer preferences. Some of these changes reached a disruptive level and even wiped out entire markets.
Growing the business and securing its continuation depends on anticipating and managing change. The traditional one-company, one-job profile type of career is a relic of the past.
The #1 skill in the business of the future is, therefore, change and project management.
In the last century, organisations were focused on optimising their run-the-bank activity as a means of increasing productivity. The focus was on reducing costs, streamlining processes and eliminating manual workarounds. Some of you might have lived through the annual 10% cost-cut rounds just before the financial crisis. There is, however, a limit to these kinds of measures, and they will only carry the organisation for so long.
Today, all organisations are exposed to seismic shifts of change caused by new regulations related to capital adequacy, financial crime, etc. or new technologies like Blockchain, AI, etc. All levels of the organisation need to monitor these changes, assess them, anticipate movements and adjust accordingly. If you do not pay attention, your business model gets priced out of the market or just eliminated.
In the last century, run-the-bank was a constant, and changes were temporary. Today, changes are permanent, and run-the-bank are temporary processes until the next change happens.
In line with the business shift from efficiency to change, the profile of professional lives has also changed. Looking at CVs from the early 90s, you would often find somebody who has worked for the same company in the same department or specialisation for 20+ years. The increased merger activity in the late 90s and early 2000s shifted the picture, and you would find more and more people who would change firms every couple of years but stay true to their specialisation. In the last decade, however, I have seen more and more CVs where people were either forced or deliberately decided to change between run-the-bank and change-the-bank roles and moved between departments and specialisations.
These kinds of changes require agility, adaptation and willingness for lifelong learning. The past is no longer a good predictor of the future, and employees and entrepreneurs need to constantly assess their environment.
Even though we have already established that change is the new norm and is here to stay, we also find that a large portion of projects are badly managed. In addition, a large portion of managers and executives spend a considerable amount of their time on project-related matters, even though some of them lack a fundamental understanding of how projects should be managed.
Some research indicates that 35% of projects fail today and do not deliver the promised benefits. We should all strive for a world where most projects are successfully delivered to harness the additional value. Several key areas need to change to increase these numbers. However, the most important of all is the people element.
People need to hone their skills to become Project Leaders. People need to be educated on defining and managing projects successfully, as projects are the new norm of creating value or simply staying in business.