Article: The journey of becoming an agile workplace: SIAM Commercial Bank


The journey of becoming an agile workplace: SIAM Commercial Bank

Worawat Suvagondha, Dean of SCB Academy, Siam Commercial Bank talks about the journey of the Bank into becoming an agile workplace, what it means to them and their workforce, the importance of being future ready and how the Academy is playing a pivotal role in leading the bank to its next level of transformation.
The journey of becoming an agile workplace: SIAM Commercial Bank

Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) was established by royal charter on January 30, 1907, as the first Thai bank. During its more than 110 years in business, the Bank has played a leading role in providing the financial services needed in Thailand, developing deep expertise. 

Today, SCB is a leading universal bank, offering deposits, and lending and a wide range of other products and services, to meet the needs of all customers. Their retail services include home loans, personal credit, car hire purchase, credit cards, ATM cards, debit cards, currency exchange facilities and, overseas remittances as well as investment and insurance products. 

The bank recently launched the SCB Learning Academy with a vision to create a more educated, engaged, adaptive and innovative workforce. By taking a multi-disciplinary, human-centered approach to environmental design, they developed an integrated employee experience solution that considers user needs, expresses the brand and aligns with strategic business outcomes.

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Worawat Suvagondha, Dean of SCB Academy, Siam Commercial Bank, talks about how the focus of the organization has been on moving towards an agile way of working, being future ready, becoming more innovative and having a customer-centric approach and how the SCB Learning Academy is playing a crucial part in that.

You have such extensive experience in the field of HR. Please take us through the shift from HR to learning and how the entire journey happened?

I was doing investment banking for twenty years before switching to human resources. I came to lead the human resources in SCB, and then when we started the digital transformation of the bank three years ago. There was also this crucial need to reskill or upskill our people. So, we decided to set up the SCB Learning Academy two and a half years ago. During the first few years, we spent a lot of time in reskilling our people so that they can be mobilized within the bank. Then, in the second phase, we focused on the digital literacy of our people, because the bank believes that we need to be technology-oriented. Then moving to the third year, we moved our focus to the new way of working. In the first few years of transformation, we invested a lot of capital in technology, data, and infrastructure in creating a new model. But unless we really change our people’s mindset and behavior, it’s not going to be successful. So that’s why this year, we began talking about moving the organization toward an agile way of working and design our thinking to be more customer-centric. According to our CEO, among the things to achieve, the first one is innovation, second one is customer-centricity and the third one is the risk culture in SCB. And agile transformation is one of the approaches to lead us to achieve those goals by changing the mindset and the way we work together in the bank.

What do you mean by the agile way of working?

Basically, the first wave of agile is going to be a cross-functional team with one objective but they come from different departments. For example, the credit cards. In the past when you wanted to issue new credit card, the credit card unit which is responsible for a product needed to work with departments like technology, data, marketing and to measure if they can issue credit cards to the customers. Now we are going to house all of them under the same team. So, we recruit people from various units, put them in what we call the ‘credit card tribe’, and make sure they can work with everything, deliver that objective without the silo mentality or obstacles that we used to have. Also, we are going to create transparency about who is what. Within the tribes, there are twenty to fifty people, so everyone has to know who is doing what. That’s going to be a tribe data and within the squad there will be eight to ten members that are the product owners. That person is obviously not the boss but he or she is responsible for getting the requirements from the customers, whether it is internal customers or our real customers and oversee what we deliver for that squad. The added people who come from areas of expertise like data, marketing, digital banking make sure that they deliver the same objective for that squad. This first wave of new structure is going to be suitable for the product and innovation areas but not really for operations. So, we move in phases. In the second phase, it could be operations, and support functions like HR and finance. We are not going to use the same structure but a different structure which might not be cross-functional in certain areas but with the same vision to achieve speed, transparency, and feedback. So, it’s going to be different across the organization but the first wave will have an impact on the customers. 

Since you are talking about the agile system, where did the thought come from and what led to this?

I think we started our transformation almost two years ago. It was when the top management realized that unless we significantly change our way of working within the organization, we will not deliver the results that we expect. It could be an incremental improvement but in this current situation, we have to lead from the front. With that in mind, the top management team traveled overseas, trying to see what other organizations or banks have done in trying to change the way they worked. They came across large banks organizations like ING who have really transformed into agile organizations. So, we then decided to seek the help of BCG since they were the ones who helped ING transform. In order to move the organization into agile, we needed to start from the strategy and then moving on to the organization structure including even the budget or finance. We used to do annual or half-year reviews, but now with the agile way, we need to do quarterly business reviews. And then we have to make changes in the HR system, leadership, talent management, performance management, compensation, culture, and even in the way we work. The academy also played a role in educating and empowering employees to learn the new ways of work. We also needed to have an agile coach and the technology had to change too. 

According to our CEO, among the things to achieve, the first one is innovation, second one is customer-centricity and the third one is the risk culture in SCB

How big a challenge was change management for you?

It was very challenging indeed. At one point, when the CEO announced this, there were mix sentiments across the organization. On one side people were excited, wanted to learn more about agile and understand what the implications will be, while on the other side, people were concerned when asked to move into other teams and being taken out of their comfort zones. So, we needed to create a lot of excitement. People were feeling enthusiastic and at the same time, we had to address all the concerns that people had emotionally. That’s why we still have chapters (which means their original departments). So, while people belonging to a certain tribe have to work toward the objective of that particular tribe, at the same time, they have to report back to the chapter leaders who take care of their career and skill development. On the output, they are with the tribe, but on their development and performance, the chapter would be responsible. 

What role will culture play when the whole organization undergoes changes?

This whole thing is the cultural transformation of the bank using different tools or the system and structure that help to make changes. The performance management and communication will also help because we believe that the change will happen only if you communicate and change the HR system, and then the people will feel impacted by the change. You have the responsibility to train or educate them. If they want to change, they would ask how they can change and what skills they should acquire. This is the basic responsibility - to equip them with the right skills and knowledge, and then let them work and learn longer. That’s why we have the agile coaches and trainings to help them. The first process was the reskilling, especially in operations and services. In the second phase, it was digital literacy which is technology and data and the new way of working.

We started our transformation almost two years ago when the top management realized the need to change the way of working within the organization by going agile and delivering the results that we expected

Could you please elaborate on the new way of working? 

I think we need to start by asking ourselves because to make significant changes, we need to start changing ourselves first. We used to be the department where learning was forced on employees and it was like a burden on top of their job responsibilities. So, at first, we need to transform the mindset of our people; how can we make people become more motivated and engaged with learning in a way that they always want to come back to us for continued learning instead of we having to go to them. So, we have to change a lot of what we do. First, we need to change the learning approach. In the first year when we did reskilling, the first program that we launched was pretty much an e-learning traditional one. I think we tried to be creative by using a lot of animation, but it was the same training! When we launched the second and third programs, we focused on entertainment, creating movies or sports series and embedding learning into that. But that was just the beginning. So, in the second phase, we talked about the need to integrate the platform be it on mobile or a digital learning platform. We wanted to attract them to the platform and make sure they come back very often for more learning. I think we are still far from where we want to be. We are making progress, trying to make it more exciting for our people by enabling them to decide and design their learning path. 

How did the senior management come into the picture of learning and adopt the continuous learning mindset?

When we started the agile way of working, we wanted to make sure that the top 100 seniors be educated first about the concept. They needed to be the first group of people who should understand why the organization needs to move to agile and what implications it would have. So, we put them through a fundamental training. The agile coach of these top leaders was regularly updating them and the rest of the organization with the progress. Then as part of the concept of agile within the tribe and the squad, people were meant to have certain qualifications. First, they needed to understand the agile way of working, the process or approach of how to work in an agile way and what kind of tools can be used to do so. At the same time, they also needed to be good coaches to listen to all the squad members, to empathize with them, be able to coach them and facilitate the change each time. So we needed to develop the internal agile coaching in the organizational context. We could also recruit people from outside to help with the expertise, but we still needed internal agile coaching to understand the organization well. 


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Topics: Diversity

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