Not too long ago, IT departments in general were very much standalone: brought in en masse to service other departments who were also working in silos. As team working becomes more fluid, Trevor Hall shares how the FCA has brought in a “communities of practice” model and how that has revolutionised the way his department, and the governing body, works.
What is the remit of the FCA?
‘The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has a mission, which is to create public value by preventing or reducing harm. That's our sole purpose. Parliament gave us a single strategic objective, which is to make sure that the relevant markets work well. We protect consumers. We make sure that consumers are not being abused or misused, that the market operates with integrity and that effective competition works in the consumers’ interest - in an honest, open way and with integrity.’
What is your role within that?
‘I am community lead for architecture and operations at the FCA, which means I work across a number of different teams within our IT and Change organisation and for anybody, no matter what team they're in. I’ve worked across both these areas before as an enterprise architect and operations manager. If someone is working in architecture delivery or operational management of the division, then I support them as one single community for their learning and development and for building their capabilities in that area.’
How does the communities of practice model work?
‘We still have an IT and Change department; it's about how we're structured within that now and how that faces off towards the business. There are always two things going on within the organisation, “the important” and “the urgent”. So, there's a lot of urgent delivery, project delivery, keeping service up, responding to customer demands and the like. We also do the important work of developing individuals and creating cohesion across teams. Between the important and the urgent, collaboration can get squeezed out.
‘So, by having an intentional strategy that says, “let's have a community of practice" we create a mandate that says we must not forget the important at the expense of the urgent. So, it keeps those in balance, ensures that people as individuals are developed and that we as an organisation develop capability.’
Is the communities of practice model new, or was it adapted from elsewhere?
‘We're not the first to adopt this sort of model. We looked around, we spoke to people like Gartner and explored how the new model might work through focus groups and learnings from the transformations of other companies. Very much front of mind was trying to make this our own and not just cookie cut from others.
‘We used tools such as SFIAplus to look at structure and to assess what “good” looked like. It also helped us to define what skills and knowledge a business architect, or senior business architect would have. The mapping software gave us a more objective way of looking at the team.
‘Previously, we had a traditional IT model, where people who did a similar role sat together. Now we’ve moved to an end-to-end service delivery model, so we have teams with all the various skills - so you’d find the project manager, the business analyst, an architect, relationship manager all together on one team. That means, not only is it easier to deploy a set of skills to a certain project or need within the business, it also takes out the frustration of multiple handoffs.
‘Staff engagement surveys used to highlight problems being “thrown over the wall” from one team to the next - whereas now, it’s one team with a common goal in delivering for the same agenda.’
So how did people feel about moving to this model?
‘Change is always challenging and as much as we want things to change, adapting to change can be unsettling. There were an awful lot of handoffs and a lot of points of frustration that people wanted to change, so when we started talking about a new operating system, the idea of change, was actually really well received. We were in a place where people were saying, "we need to transform. There must be a better way of working." That was a great place to start on that journey.
‘Obviously, we are a service provider to the rest of the FCA, so we also needed to bring our customers and our stakeholders with us. We asked them, "How do you want your IT organisation to transform and provide the value that’s important to you?" We already had the technology, so this was by far a more people, process and culture-type transformation than a technology project.
‘The FCA has a really strong culture around our staff and our Staff Consultation Committee (SCC) made it easy to air their views, both in person and anonymously. I think it’s important to remember, you won’t always agree, but through this platform, we were able to listen and respond.’
Once the skills were mapped, how did you deal with skills gaps?
‘In the process of our transformation, some people went through a journey of doing the same role but in a different structure, while other people went through a journey of changing a role that no longer existed into a new role, which included part of what they used to do with some new skills.
‘We were keen on making sure that those people who needed to adapt into a different role - whether slightly different or dramatically different – were supported with learning and development. Again, SFIAplus was really useful for being able to benchmark a number of those gaps and help to create development plans for individuals.’
How do you measure your success?
‘There are two parts to answering that. One was, we knew the number of handoffs we were having was high and that was making our delivery model less efficient. So, we knew we had an increase in demand; we had no more extra resources coming our way and so we needed to be able to deliver more with the same, or less. That was a nice concrete measurement and a clear measure of success.
‘We also have an annual staff engagement survey, so through that we could see that staff engagement and job satisfaction had increased. We also had feedback from our stakeholders, saying that they felt we were easier to work with and understood them better.
‘More specifically, thinking about the community of practice as a subset within that, there are things we can measure. By baselining the capability gap and using tools like SFIA, we can ascertain whether staff are growing and developing. Also, are we retaining staff? Is it a great place to work where people feel supported and can grow? Also, at a more senior level, are the new appointments we've made coming from internal rather than external candidates? The more we see those internal appointments, the more we know we're growing talent, rather than having to buy that in.’
Does the FCA have an apprenticeship programme?
‘The FCA has a number of apprenticeship roles. Traditionally within the IT department, we’ve focused more on graduate entry and our intake has been steadily increasing in recent years. We also use outsourcing services, so we tend to recruit at a more senior level or for people with a certain level of experience.
‘That said, with the use of cloud, we are on a journey to start to develop more services in-house. That has created the opportunity for apprenticeships in this area in the future, which is a talent pool we are keen to develop. We need to find the right people at the right level for the right role.’
How important is exterior recognition for your work, in the form of awards?
‘The FCA has won awards for our IT delivery over a number of years. Certainly, the people who join the organisation comment straightaway that the volume of change that we're delivering is quite exceptional. We have the talent and are using leading edge technologies, so it’s only right that the people who work here feel recognised for their contribution. The more you're able to spotlight the level of leadership, the level of technology and the level of delivery, then the more you become a brand that skilled people want to come and work for. It’s important both for job satisfaction and also for attracting the right talent.
‘There is a phenomenal amount of pride in people who work for the FCA, because we believe in what we do - which is to protect consumers and make the markets work effectively. This is important and it affects every household in the UK. The FCA can't do any of that without IT, without data, without the technology that underpins that. We’re a critical part of that organisation actively protecting UK citizens.’
What piece of advice would you give to someone thinking about a transformation?
‘Senior level buy in is really critical for success. Our CIO originated and championed the community of practice and talks about it a lot externally as well as internally. My sole focus is community of practice. Whilst many in the community are doing a day job and doing community work, which is absolutely necessary, actually ring-fencing a few people with a specific task is really critical, otherwise that urgent / important balance gets squeezed out.
‘Also, just recognising that it's a long journey. This is a long-term investment. Clearly, year on year, I have to demonstrate value. We have to demonstrate progress. Recognise that you're trying to create a different culture and a different level of capability. This is over the longer term and so needs to be understood by the team so nobody is becomes disillusioned by the lack of short-term gains.’
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