HSBC’s Powerful Idea: Separate “Change the Business” from “Run the Business”

A simple, powerful idea for portfolio management

Observers of strategy have long recognized the tension between operations and transformation: How to balance the present and the future? Finding a balance between the two polarities is a core challenge of strategic management.

The dilemma for managers is this: On one hand, there are endless operational challenges.  A common jargon is the “lights on” project, which is a project intended to accomplish just that: keep the lights on so the business can keep running.  On the other hand, companies need to experiment and innovate with business models. Failing to do so puts the future of the enterprise at risk.

How HSBC Balances Operations and Strategy

HSBC is one of the largest banks in the world. HSBC categorizes projects as either 1) run the bank (I often substitute the word business), or 2) change the bank (business).  How sensible!

The guiding philosophy of HSBC’s portfolio management strategy is this:

  • Most projects fall into the Run the Bank (Business) category. These are projects that are meant to support the function of the bank as it stands today, often with the acronym BAU for Business as Usual. Current HSBC examples are supporting the bank’s goal of “ever greening” and another is compliance with new regulations.
  • A few, focused projects fall into the Change the Bank (Business) category. These business transformation projects are changing the way HSBC performs a process – or adding a new functionality. Compared to the “run the” projects, these projects require more sophisticated project management.

Interestingly, the “ever greening” that is now a run-the-business concept is the operationalization of a strategic initiative: to become the first major bank in the world to commit to going carbon neutral (announced in December 2004).

Funding the Project Portfolio

HSBC has used this “run the” and “change the” to align its $5 billion annual spend in IT with its business drivers. Examine the nearby graphic for one example. Notice that the “run the” proportion of Information Technology funding from 2005 to 2008 was approximately 70%.

About 70% of the portfolio is “Run the”

HSBC’s use of the “run the” and “change the” continues and is recognized at the highest levels of the organization. For example, its May 2011 presentation to investors reported performance improvement opportunities in both Change the Bank and Run the Bank categories.

Aligning with Strategy for Growth

Smart companies prioritize for strategic alignment for growth in targeted sectors. A HSBC manager explained to me,

“The Bank gives priority to Change-the-Bank projects because the Bank wishes to be able to grow in new market sectors. The classification allows our organization to start projects that will provide the greatest benefit to the Bank.”

Managerial and Leadership Lessons

Consider these three points:

  • The HSBC model provides a simple first cut for identifying the role of strategic initiatives: Strategic initiatives are a change-the-business tool. They compete with   run-the-business imperatives for resources. Thus,….
  • Budgeting for operations must be balanced with budgeting for strategic change. From the data in the prior graphic,  I infer that HSBC invests about 30% of its budget in transformation. Budgeting and accounting decisions and conventions have consequence! A strategic initiative is likely to be found somewhere in the 30%, and it is in competition for funding with operational imperatives. If the strategic initiative leader understands the follow-the-money story (see the link below), they can better create a compelling benefits proposition for operational leaders.
  • All organizations face and must answer the question: What is strategic alignment? Is it operating within the current business model? Or is changing the model?  This is a big challenge for strategic management within organizations.

  Do you agree that there is a tension between “run the business” and “change the business?”  How else can this tension be managed?

About these ads

About Greg Githens

Vice President of Strategic Initiatives. a.k.a., The Strategic Thinking Coach. I'm a hands-on strategy & execution consultant with experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. I'm available for extended or short-term engagements. For an introduction to pragmatic tools that turns vision into results, attend my popular seminar, "Leading Strategic Initiatives (Program Management)."
This entry was posted in Program & Portfolio Management, Success Principles for Strategic Initiatives and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to HSBC’s Powerful Idea: Separate “Change the Business” from “Run the Business”

  1. Kevin Cattell says:

    Could not agree with you more. The attempt to manage both Run and Change creates, at best, a fractured model, at worst a starved Change team.

  2. Pingback: How to Improve Strategic-Operational Collaboration | Leading Strategic Initiatives

  3. Bimal says:

    I would like to clarify onething.
    What are the common “Change the bank” processes?

  4. Pingback: S.T.I.C.C. – A Useful Communication Tool for Critical Situations | Leading Strategic Initiatives

  5. Dave Davis says:

    Back in the 90’s we used to use the Acronyms RTB (run the business) and ITB (improve the business) as a simple way of presenting options in the development funnel. The the word transformation came into vogue and the simple categories were abandoned. I still like them and think a simple binary means of the overall objective of the initiative into either focus on what we have/do vs. create something do is a very effective means of not only categorizing your work, but defining the benefits and risks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s