Vijai Kishan talks on how Fidelity Investments India adapted Agile to suit its needs

Across the world, corporates are aggressively investing in the Agile transformation of their organisations to meet the demands of the market during the pandemic. In an interaction with BusinessLine, Vijai Kishan, Head – Personal Investing, Fidelity Investments India talks about how the company adapted to the “new way living, working and being.”

Are the rules for agile transformation being rewritten following the pandemic?

To me, it makes all the difference whether an organisation pursues agile transformation just for the sake of it or if it does so because it truly believes in the value such a transformation can bring. At Fidelity, we began our agile journey way before the pandemic hit. We were among the first financial service organisations in the US to implement agile principles at scale. Business, product, and marketing teams were aligned to cross-functional teams supported by agile tools, practices and coaches and a strong commitment to learning and skills development. We believe there is a significant difference between doing agile and being agile. Going into our journey of transformation, we knew there was no going back. We saw ourselves as explorers heading into the unknown, and once on this journey, we would have to “burn our boats”. This would be our new way of living, working and being. Our journey also reiterated Fidelity’s commitment to learnability. We launched a unique concept called ‘Learning Days’, where one day a week is dedicated to learning. The results were highly satisfying – existing skills were enhanced, new skills were added to the group, processes moved even faster, and talent rotation resulted in skills being distributed across teams.

How do organisations like yours help stakeholders, especially employees, to buy into adopting agile practices as resistance to change is itself a big barrier for transformation?

As with any other change, resistance is a natural outcome. We drove a culture of transparency so we could address all concerns and make changes where necessary. We created several listening posts and forums for employees to share their experiences and inputs and ensured they were always heard. It was essential that all team members were on the same page, completely invested in, and committed to the journey. The results soon become apparent for all to see. We effectively enabled more direct connections between employees and the leadership by flattening our organisational structure, thus empowering and enabling more agile thinking and working across teams. Furthermore, skills were enhanced across the board, positive multiplier behaviours and practices rewarded, and an energised and empowered workforce was built for the long term.

According to a recent survey, 47 per cent of agile transformations fail. What should organisations do to ensure that their best practices are implemented successfully?

The success of agile transformation depends on an organisation’s commitment to developing robust people practices and processes. At Fidelity, we wanted to build teams that were excited, energised, and as fully invested in the journey as we were. Our end goals were clear and transparent, and we involved employees completely in the decision-making process. All of these helped ensure we were able to surge ahead as one unified team of passionate individuals working together for the collective good of the organisation and the customers we serve.

What are the three main challenges for implementing agile transformation?

a) Having the Will: Organisations wishing to implement agile transformation should be committed to the process and appreciate its impact and scale. They must also be able to take their employees along and create flat organisational structures to enable their participation in decision-making.

b) Focusing on Skills: By investing a significant portion of the work week in enhancing learnability across our teams, we emphasised the importance of skills enhancement in line with our new ways of working. This should be a key focus for organisations, along with creating new learning and collaboration platforms that are centrally available.

c) Investing in the Thrill: The biggest challenge is getting your workforce invested in the success of such a massive change. Once they are on board, they become your most powerful proponents, helping drive the change across the organisation.

Typically, what is the cost and scale of implementing agile practices in an organisation?

We see agile transformation as more of an investment than cost, as evidenced by our commitment to learnability. The benefits we gain as an organisation far outweigh these investments, which are really building organisational muscles for the future. While we have seen positive results on every metric, we have actually redefined the way we look at metrics – not as mere numbers to be surpassed, but a culture that is committed to quality on every front. The culture we have built is truly satisfying. We now have a highly skilled workforce, each employee completely invested in and committed to the journey. We have merely laid the guardrails and built systemic mirrors for our self-governing teams to power forward.