Raindrops on roses

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This month I am focusing on some of my favourite things from my roles, first as an adviser subject to T&C, as a T&C supervisor, and then finally being responsible for multiple T&C schemes.

But first, for those who are wondering about the title, you obviously have never watched a version of the musical of the Sound of Music whilst unfortunately I have, five times to be precise.

The film appeared in my life at a time when I was starting to make my own mind up about my likes and dislikes, but when my mother still had a veto on where my body could and should be. This meant I was forced to go with her to see the film, which was probably a bad start, on the first and then four subsequent occasions, as she liked it so much.

However, it taught me at an early age that you can’t expect everyone to like the same things or agree with the decisions you make. It gave me an insight into the resistance that can ensue from someone being forced into doing something just because somebody said so. It provided an understanding of the need to bring people along with new ideas rather than them simply being told to comply.

From that point of view, it was a useful exercise and hasn’t really left any scars, although to this day I still couldn’t vouch for the physical safety of a lonely goat herd, if I happened to meet one.

but old habits die hard and a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology in 2009 said it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit

I must admit that, as an adviser subject to T&C, my reaction to what some others saw as an imposed extra layer of unnecessary activity, was to see the sense of the additional supervision T&C brought to the role. That in part was due to my T&C supervisor taking the time to explain what T&C was about, the potential benefits in terms of customer outcomes and protection of the business, rather than just telling me that I had to comply with the rules come what may.

I remember a few colleagues who liked to believe they were not only infallible, but above the need for any additional supervision, regarding T&C in the same light as they would a traffic warden hovering around the car that they had abandoned on double yellow lines. This in part was due to the mismatch in their minds between the sales team, and those working in T&C who they thought couldn’t possibly bring anything to the party they didn’t already know.

However, I found as my career developed, that reaction often came from people who were incredibly good at their job but were, behind that façade of confidence, nervous about being found wanting. Indeed, some of the best observations I ever undertook were with such people who, in the subsequent feedback, admitted how nervous they had been about the observation and welcomed the comments I made.

Lightbulb Moments

As a T&C supervisor there were the lightbulb moments when those I was bringing through the initial competence process, or those who were a little longer in the tooth, suddenly saw something in a new light. This ranged from those who understood a little more about T&C than they had, to those who could see ways to change their approach to client interaction that could make a difference to the outcome.

One such person was someone who had been an administrator for consultants, who believed that they could do a better job, if they were given the chance. Well that chance came, and I embarked on taking him through his initial competence, not knowing if his previous experience and opinions would be a help or a hinderance. It was a steep learning curve for both of us and he was a living example of the quote from Donald Rumsfeld some of you may recall.

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

This individual really knew what he knew, or thought he did, but initially he didn’t get the fact there may be unknowns he had to negotiate, and whilst he seemed eager to learn it was initially a slow process punctuated by errors and mistakes.

I decided to tackle this at a 1 to 1, but he surprised me by bringing up the subject first and apologising he hadn’t progressed as well as he had thought he would. He said he was so used to being good at his job as an administrator that he expected just to fit neatly into a consultant role at the same level of competence, and the realisation there was much to learn had been hard to accept.

The same applies to experienced consultants and advisers joining a different business, they would have been comfortable in what they were doing at their previous employer and would hopefully have been doing it successfully. It should therefore be an easy task to embed them into a new firm with the few changes that there would be, but old habits die hard and a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology in 2009 said it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit.

People also must unlearn previous habits before they can adopt new ones, so it is not surprising that somebody who was used to dealing successfully with clients, can find themselves struggling in an unfamiliar environment with different systems, and values. Some may even see this period when they are reaching competence again with a new employer as a negative experience and can question whether they made the right move.

In many such cases, I have been fortunate to be able to work with good sales managers and have collaborated on making the transition to competent consultant as effective as possible, both for the individual, and for the business. At the end of the day, they all want a temporarily unproductive employee to be able to contribute financially as soon as possible, compliantly.

Setting out to Fail

One of the interesting things about being responsible for a range of T&C schemes is that you can see where the common touch points are from one scheme to another, and you can take the best points from each scheme to create a best practice template that could be used as a basis for other schemes.

For example, if one scheme has a review process built in, they should all have one, and if a scheme has a “last updated” section, they should all have that as well. If not any internal or external review could spot these inconsistencies, and then wonder what else had been missed.

The other thing with the change to the FCA’s principles-based approach, from the previous prescriptive approach is that you can design a scheme that suits the business, or a specific part of the business, based on proportionality.

However, that isn’t always the view of those in charge of a particular business area and based on my previous comments you may think I mean that schemes are seen as too harsh. However, in the case I have in mind, I was faced with a director who had been familiar with the prescribed approach and wanted a scheme that lived up to those expectations.

The brief was that everything was to be set out and documented on a strict timescale basis, with everyone being subject to the same extensive rules, regardless of the differing risks that they posed, because that was what a good T&C scheme looked like to them.

I needed to get them to see a T&C scheme needed to allow for variables and that by being so prescriptive, they would leave no room for the unexpected, where flexibility is needed, or for the possibility of someone just having a difficult day. This would mean there would be the potential for a constant stream of scheme breaches, which would have to be documented and reported to the risk committee.

The way I did that was to organise a proof-of-concept test, a series of brief roleplays based on how the scheme would work in real life scenarios, so that we could get a flavour of its effectiveness. We would then review each scenario against the alternative T&C scheme I proposed, to see how that would work.

The test was successful from my point of view because I was able to demonstrate how things might happen and why they might go wrong. This practical demonstration had much more of an impact than any amount of theorising or negotiation would have and showed the director the relative impacts of two types of schemes. It still provided a robust T&C scheme, but prevented unnecessary additional work by supervisors and advisers, whilst re-assuring the director that it met the needs of the business. It just confirmed that you can’t always assume that, whilst you may be right, people will accept what you say without proving it to them.

The great thing about the range of T&C related roles I have had is that you can always learn something about yourself and other people, and that the mistakes people make will be repeated by others but can be softened by the application of experience.

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Derek T Davies is a freelance Consultant,Editor and Writer

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