There are typically two stages to how learning happens within the banking sector. The first stage involves staff receiving information through a structured event or self-directed training. The second stage is a probationary period of on-the-job learning. Workers begin to apply their knowledge under supervision, with the aim of identifying and avoiding mistakes at every stage.
There are good reasons for this approach. It gives staff the practical experience that’s crucial to acquiring new capabilities. It allows regulatory compliance to be monitored. And it gives banks reassurance that the risks of costly errors are being managed.
Even so, these traditional methods look increasingly ill-suited to the ways of working that are transforming the banking industry in the new reality.
Firstly, they’re too slow – for banks and learners alike. Banks need quick, radical transformation, and traditional approaches aren’t sufficiently agile. Automation is atomising many roles into distinct, portable capabilities; and more workers are pursuing flexible careers and freelancing.
Secondly, controlled experience-building doesn’t allow for enough experimentation. Evidence shows that a balance of experience and experimentation makes for faster and more effective learning.
In my view, banks should consider following the same approach to learning as the one that they’re applying to technological development. This consists of a ‘fail fast’ attitude that encourages staff to learn through trial and error without fear of negative consequences. This allows individuals and processes to improve more quickly and effectively.
This approach recognises that, when it comes to acquiring new capabilities, the most valuable experience allows learners to experiment. Instead of trying to control experience from the start, it permits learners to fail at every stage of the learning process. This not only helps workers to apply what they’ve learned sooner; it also makes them better at applying their new capabilities in unfamiliar situations.
The good news is that technology is increasingly able to support learning. It gives banks a wide range of ways to share information with learners. And it makes it easier to provide realistic, tailored and adaptable scenarios for learners to practice applying their knowledge in the real world.
But cultural factors are just as important as technology. Banks need to give staff a safe space to fail as they learn. They also need to encourage staff to co-operate across silos, functions and business units, comparing ideas and sharing experiences.
This kind of cultural shift can be hard to achieve. Banks are naturally risk-averse, and often cultivate a zero-tolerance attitude to failure. But viewing change as a potential risk stifles experimentation. Without it, there can be no improvement – let alone innovation.
Taking a ‘fail fast’ approach to learning may feel difficult, but it’s essential to the wider transformation that banks are seeking to achieve. If banks are to benefit fully from greater agility, they not only need to apply it to the development of technology, but also to developing the staff who use it.