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Banking on values

Simon Lloyd, HR Director of Santander UK, looks at how the HR function has been instrumental in adding value to the bank in a sector, which has seen significant public scrutiny in recent years.

We are constantly seeing evidence that consumers place an ever-greater emphasis on the social contribution of the businesses and organisations they interact with. In a world where the power of the customer has arguably never been greater, if they don’t like what they see then they will go elsewhere, and quickly.

Today’s employees too are empowered, willing and able to share their work experiences beyond their immediate contacts. And the growth of the HR discipline has had the effect of creating greater awareness of the best, and worst, practices amongst mainstream, rather than just specialist, audiences. An internet search for the best UK employers quickly reveals a wide range of award schemes, guides and case studies, accessible to all those who wish to assess the record of a company. There has been a great deal of negative media coverage and public opinion in the last few years about the banking sector and this criticism has undoubtedly had an effect on how potential recruits view us. There is a tendency to tar all organisations in a sector with the same brush and the best talent around the world have many options when developing their careers. We need to do what we can to ensure that the current public conversation about ‘banking’ does not affect their decision to join us.

We have been focused on ensuring that we are able to demonstrate how we are different and the HR function has been at the heart of our work to create a bank that is Simple, Personal and Fair for our people, our customers and our shareholders. Our business is primarily based on meeting the needs of personal, small business and corporate customers by supporting them through their life cycle. To do this we concentrate on developing products which create value for them and on providing excellent service, both of which are heavily dependent upon a motivated and engaged workforce. Santander UK has grown through bringing together a number of different banks, each with its own culture, and last year we launched a new set of values which reflect the new shape of the business. These values are Teamwork, Commitment, Innovation and Excellence, expressing both our existing strengths and our aspirations, and are designed to underpin a culture that achieves our goal of being Simple, Personal and Fair.

Once we had identified our core values, we had to determine what this meant in terms of the specific requirements for each role in the bank. We identified not just the appropriate technical skills but the attitudes and behaviours we are looking for. It is of course essential that any work on values takes account of the required attitudes and behaviours that follow on from them, that together they are fully understood by everyone who works in the organisation, and that they are effectively embedded. It’s the behaviours displayed by our people that reflect the values and culture of a business to its external audiences, and there’s no hiding behind a glossy marketing campaign when your people are the face of your brand. The crucial factor here is working inside out, the first priority is getting the right values in place that will contribute to your business strategy and embedding them in every discipline, before you expect them to be expressed by your people to external audiences.

The adage of recruiting for attitude and training for skills has never been so true and we reassessed our recruitment processes at all levels following our work on the new value proposition. We have brought our values to the fore in the recruitment and induction processes so that potential candidates and new recruits understand what we stand for, what we are trying to achieve and how that feeds through into their role and the way they operate within the company. Obviously, the behaviour of a business the size of ours cannot rely solely on bringing in new recruits with the characteristics we are seeking, the key is to empower our existing people and enable them to operate with the values we desire. One of the key ways we’ve involved our people in our new culture is asking them to make a Simple, Personal, Fair Commitment, to take action in their area that will drive positive change, and to let us know what hurdles or barriers they face in achieving this. This was initially communicated to our 3,000 managers via our annual Convention but early signs are that our people have really taken to the challenge and it’s being cascaded even further down the organisation. This is a great reflection on the success of the new values in resonating with our people and inspiring them to engage with our goal and take ownership of change in a positive way.

The last four years in particular at Santander UK have seen large scale change management processes, such as the values work, take place regularly across the bank, as we re-align ourselves to achieve our vision of becoming the best bank in the UK for our people, our customers and our shareholders. With our new vision and values in place our approach is to examine any new business initiative to assess whether the changes contribute to our goal to be simple, personal and fair. In HR for instance, as well as examining our application processes to ensure that we are very clear about what we are looking for in candidates, we have streamlined the steps in order to make it easier for individuals to apply. We have looked at all our materials through the eyes of an external audience, aiming to develop a consistent approach, with plain and coherent language.

We have reaped benefits from carrying out small scale pilots with change initiatives, allowing us to test them with our people, pick up on any issues and incorporate feedback before rolling them out across the entire organisation. With 22,000 employees we can’t afford to be amending activity once it has been launched. At the risk of making myself a hostage to fortune, the key is to plan, do, and only then talk. It is much more credible to be able to point to the success of a programme which has been running effectively, than try to blow your trumpet to wider audiences, while you are still in the planning or execution stages. For example, in 2012 we piloted an apprenticeship programme for over 16s, aimed at encouraging people from diverse backgrounds into our business. The feedback from the trial informed our processes and helped to generate positive word of mouth from the business areas involved. As we’ve rolled it out we’ve benefited from that with other business areas aware of the pilot and the positive results that were achieved and we are seeing some excellent apprentices recruited into divisions which are taking on school leavers, often for the first time.

We also make sure that new initiatives are compatible with – and add value to – other changes that have been made. First impressions count enormously, particularly on large-scale change programmes, and if employees feel that a programme does not have consistency with other initiatives, they will question the commitment of the business to it. So when we developed a new online portal for staff under the ‘Santander is you’ global employee brand we made sure that we applied the values to the project. The new site provides people with all the information they need about working at Santander in one place and it allows them to clearly see the benefits to which they are entitled and to choose their own package according to their preferences. Simple, personal and fair. We have learnt a great deal through our approach to change management but we are on a journey and I think the best lesson is to never stop assessing your progress, looking as often as you can with fresh eyes. There will always be something which can be improved, something which will make a real difference to someone within your organisation, to your customers or your stakeholders. The importance of creating, and demonstrating, value has never been greater, and not only for those of us in banking. I hope that by laying out some of our experiences it may be of benefit to those readers facing similar situations in their own businesses.

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