Empowering the workforce is crucial to being able to move at speed. But as Prashant Gandhi, Managing Director and Head of Digital Payments at JPMorgan Chase, explains, autonomy without structure is chaos.
How to make team autonomy really work
We know we can’t “command” from the center today because the world is moving too quickly. That’s why providing teams with autonomy is crucial. But while autonomy is celebrated and talked about frequently, I find that what’s often missing is a careful discussion on the management systems needed to support it. Otherwise you get chaos.
For me, that management system is based on having a shared culture and guiding principles that make it clear why we’re doing what we’re doing. Our guiding principles start with the customer. My teams and I have worked to really understand what our customers want, which is to make the payments experience easy, confidence inspiring, and valuable. With that guidance, you can align on goals across the product owners and teams. Then they’re accountable for meeting those goals. I’m responsible for being clear about what the destination is, but it’s up to them to figure out how to get there.
This is the scaffolding needed to support this freedom of action. Once scaffolding is strong and consistent, then you can get out of the way and avoid the chaos. If you lay out principles, give people autonomy to deliver on those principles, and provide a system of reviews that’s fair and rigorous, people get it and rally around it.
The core working unit is our product team, which brings together engineering, design, and other functions to work on specific customer journeys. Together, we make decisions on the product road map. We have a review process to approve projects that require significant budget or have bigger risk implications. And we do monthly reviews with product teams, where we look at performance and health metrics as well as customer feedback.
But after that, product owners are essentially GMs who can reprioritize the team’s work based on what they learn. We have built a system to get them timely customer feedback data across all our physical and digital channels. They then use that insight to shape priorities and scale users and usage.
Finding people who are comfortable making decisions is obviously key here. We are focused on recruiting talented people who are capable of independent thinking and taking initiative. Once we have them in place, we support them with a robust system to validate their decisions.
Being a role model for the culture you want
You have to reinforce the culture you want to have in place whenever you can. It starts with outlining the attributes of culture we want to build. My manager Bill Wallace, the Head of Digital for JPMorgan Chase, has laid out the key principles for us—we value integrity, teamwork, respectful behavior, accountability, and customer obsession. That’s the foundation for doing what’s right for the firm and our customers.
In a truly agile model, sometimes you are the leader and sometimes you have to be a good follower. This means diving in where it’s needed and helping out. There are other occasions to be a role model by deferring to a team decision even if you disagree. When we launched our simple, searchable biller directory, the senior team wanted to organize the billers into industry verticals. But the product design and engineering team overruled the call based on direct inputs from customers. That’s part of teamwork and showing respect.
Learning is important, of course, but we really focus on validated learning. We have dedicated researchers who coordinate customer panels and validate the learning by re-testing and making sure that the insights are valid. The team has hypotheses and tests them with customers directly.
When we tested some ideas related to our P2P (peer to peer) service called QuickPay, we learned that we were delivering a terrific experience for customers sending money, but it was hard for the recipients to get the money when they weren’t enrolled in the service. We fixed that by cutting down enrollment from eight to three steps. The real key is to be systematic about how to track customer feedback and signals, and then act on it in every case. That’s when you start to scale users and usage.
We’re moving to the next level by developing innovative ways to apply AI and machine learning for distilling patterns for faster learning and insights. These AI and machine learning platforms will better inform our product teams when aspects of our value proposition (related to making the payments experience easy, confidence-inspiring, and valuable) are not working.
Crossing lines of business for the customer
Our organizing principle to accelerate innovation is to focus on the customer journey. That’s because when you think about customer journeys, you have to think outside of the traditional line of business boundaries. Let’s go back to the bill payment example. Our teams have been searching for ways to make the bill payment experience for our consumer bank customers easier. When they took the customer journey view, points of friction became clear—customers were looking for ways to find more billers in a searchable directory. The team landed on the idea to enroll our business banking customers to this directory since we do business with more than 4 million small businesses.
Working on customer journeys that cross these lines of business is easier said than done. We’ve had to spend the time to understand line of business priorities and put in place real foundational capabilities, like customer listening posts.
It takes time to get all of this right but you can’t say you’re obsessed with your customers if you’re not willing to invest in it.