Bank X has dedicated themselves to becoming the world’s best Arab bank. The Group Head of Talent Development and Senior Vice President took on the challenge of building a culture of learning when she joined the bank in late 2008. She knew that it would be a challenging process but was determined to be bold and innovative in the way she approached the cultural change.

There was an urgent need for transformation in the approach of the retail business from a service climate, to a sales mindset and eventual culture. It was important to assure the business of its ability to compete with multi-national financial organisations in the UAE and GCC and transform the bank multinational financial services organisation.

There were a whole range of challenges facing Bank X. There was a huge variation in the skills, knowledge and ability of staff and the role of a people manager in Bank X was not clearly defined. Some long serving bank managers were very comfortable in serving customers, but not used to sales-operational focus. Managers were not skilled in Performance Management or bought into competencies, skill and behavioral requirements. The culture was somewhat hierarchical leadership style where people were used to being directed what to do – very much command and control. There were also other issues that needed to be resolved. The culture was risk averse and slow to change, there was a need to be agile and responsive to market conditions. And here was one of the biggest challenges – people were used to being told what to do, which is may be fine in a service environment, but the bank needed people to be creative and empowered in order to sell more. There was a distinct lack of individual commitment and ownership at all levels of the organisation. This meant that the managers really needed to learn how to manage peoples’ performance through coaching.

What coaching interventions did they make to support the culture change?
Bank X started the culture change process by communicating a vision and strategy around building a learning culture. Big banners were placed around the building announcing this goal.

In partnership with Senior Management of the retail business, HR implemented an Al Certification Program for Consumer Banking and Islamic Banking – a highly ambitious programme with three levels encompassing a whole range of leadership and technical development. Managers were required to be assessed and pass each level before moving on to the next level. The certification programme was designed around the core competencies required for 6 key roles in a retail Branch. Coaching became a very important part of this programme and managers were trained on how to empower people through coaching and how to have coaching conversations that managed performance more effectively.

Executive Development was introduced so that senior leaders attended the IDEAS programme, where they were taught the vision and received coaching for 3 months afterwards so that they could implement their vision of a culture in their own areas. ILM Leadership programmes provided a baseline of leadership capability and focused on executive development with coaching attached (including Emotional Intelligence Leadership profiling).

Assessment centers were introduced, plus 360 degree reporting. A mentoring programme was introduced to support the students entering the bank after their training and Executive coaching was introduced for senior members of staff.

The Bank X competency framework was designed, with profiles including education and qualification requirements to identify the behaviours required for performance. All managers were trained on how to use the framework and later on how to coach people through competency development discussions, which empowered people to take control of their own responsibility.

What obstacles did they encounter along the way?
At the beginning of the programme there were some obstacles which needed to be overcome; the learners were very inexperienced in the classroom and there were issues with getting the business to release people for training. The amount of days that people had to be released for training to complete the certification was significant and at first there was a lack of individual commitment to gaining certification. Added to this, the administration of the programme was a logistical challenge…over 200 managers attending and needing to be assessed (and sometimes re-assessed) and certified on a whole range of programmes at 3 levels….no mean feat to keep track of!

To overcome these issues HR needed to spend time gaining senior management buy-in and commitment for follow up for the programme, as well as helping them to understand the ROI. To gain further commitment Bank X linked competence to performance management and promotions (ensuring relevance to role and education). They ensured that the assessments were performed by external organisations, were robust and stated that passing the assessment on the programme was critical to promotion. A strong system for tracking was put in place and employee surveys issued to measure engagement and performance levels across teams. It took a huge amount of organisation and persistence, but the results were incredibly worthwhile.

So what difference has the culture made to the organization?
There has been a marked improvement in sales, with many branches meeting targets. The bank rose from ranking of 22 for customer service in 2009 to 15 in 2011. There has been an improvement in GPS (employee engagement surveys) from inception to date. Retention of UAE nationals, (which is a critically important initiative in the UAE) has also improved.

So where is the organisation now?
Bank X is now proud to be competing with multinationals (financial services) within the GCC in different market segments and sectors and able to benchmark themselves against them coming in at above the norm. They have a far stronger employer brand with both expats and UAE nationals and are able to attract a better quality of candidate. They used to have quite a controlling “push” style of management, now it is more empowering and “pull”, managers are coaching and delegating more, which is leaving them time to be strategic in their approach to sales. This in turn is creating people who are so much more capable and who have the tools to achieve targets – one of those tools being the belief that the changes will benefit them. They are able to manage talent more effectively and are just about to launch the ILM Level 3 Coaching and Mentoring Certificate for their managers. Learning and Development is now at the forefront of organisational development opportunities and have been able to implement best practices as an organisation – including ISO, EFQM etc. The organisational maturity level has moved forward in a relatively short period of time (3 years).