The people dynamics usually make or break the outcomes from a major change programme. For AIB (GB), those dynamics were complex and difficult, as we sought to find a way out of the perfect storm.  Questions of Difference brought hard won experience, objective insight, practical tools and an absolute determination to make a difference. More than facilitators, more than consultants, Questions of Difference were game changers in our efforts to align hearts and minds with necessary change.

Ger O’Keeff, Head of Allied

We would not have got off the ground to deliver these results if people did not grasp the need to change. We only survived the financial crisis by being bailed out by the EU and Irish taxpayer. As a state owned bank we had a mountain to climb – you helped us engage people and make change happen.

Steven Cochran, Head of Allied Irish Bank (GB) Customer Proposition, Products & Channels

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What was the challenge?

The recession arising from the global banking crisis hit AIB hard and the Irish Government stepped in, acquiring 98% of the Bank’s shares. After years of hard work to ensure adequate corporate governance and capital controls were in place – AIB’s GB business – AIB (GB) – needed to return to profitable growth to ensure its survival within the Group.

Analysis showed that 90% of AIB (GB)’s income was generated by 10% of the Bank’s customers. A major reorganisation was planned to ensure that every customer was offered high quality service, in line with the value of their business. Market research ensured AIB (GB)’s products were structured to meet the needs of their niche market for Owner Managed businesses to enable both AIB (GB) and their customers to benefit from the changes planned.

Leaders recognised that the success of the change programme demanded that their staff supported, committed to and led the changes required. However, years of mistrust of the banking sector, clampdowns on control and a lack of investment had left an inevitable legacy of low morale, cynicism and lack of belief that things could really change for the better – and the reality was that, to achieve the benefits required, the reorganisation would lead to a reduction in staff numbers. Questions of Difference were engaged to ensure that the significant organisational developments were matched by the cultural change required for the value of the investment to be realised.

How did we work together?

The partnership with Ger O’Keeffe – Head of Allied Irish Bank (GB) – and the change programme project team was key. They articulated their vision for the culture required and committed to invest time, effort and resources to genuinely engage their people. Questions of Difference designed a process whereby employees could understand and commit to the vision and develop a personalised action plan to contribute to the change.

What impact did we achieve?

AIB (GB)’s results for 2015 were outstanding:

  •  New business lending up 60%
  • Net Promoter Score increase from 14% to 31%
  • Net profit increase of £74 million
  • Gallup engagement up 0.36 (taking AIB (GB) from 18th percentile to just under the national average – an improvement that only 3% of Gallup clients have achieved)
  • Best Service from a Business Bank for the 3rd year in a row

Senior leaders recognised that the Vision and Culture work lead by Questions of Difference was a fundamental factor to achieving these results (see quotes provided).

Our impact was also measured through participant feedback, which was similarly positive. We engaged 306 people through this process (representing) 65% of the GB business).

When asked the following questions, their mean responses were:

    • Overall how interesting and valuable have you found this event? 4.4*
    • To what extent do you think the work we have done will have a positive  impact?  4.4*
    • How effective have the facilitators been? 4.8*
*On a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 is minimum and 5 is maximum)

Our impact was recognised in other ways too:

  • The project team often commented that it was easy to see when people had participated in the Vision and Culture Programme as the difference in their engagement and support for the change programme was immediate and stark
  • Most simply people described the impact as a mind-set shift and said there was a new sense of possibility; recognition of opportunities ahead; a belief that not only was change possible but that their ideas were valuable and they could make a difference
  • As a result of the shift in attitude people are more openly speaking up and challenging internal processes which are seen as not adding value or impacting negatively on their ability to meet customer expectations. Over 350 potential process improvements have been identified for the the Banks’ Internal Review and Challenge Project. One example of success was the removal of 60,000 statements per annum from the network
  • There is a strong sense of ‘one team’ in branches and evidence of new networks being established across the GB Business. Because these connections are in place, when day to day problems arise people pick up the phone and deal with issues proactively rather than just leave it to someone else to sort out

What did we learn from this experience?

  • People need confidence to have the courage to change. Introducing a culture where people notice what is working and use their moments of success to challenge the status quo builds self-belief and has a profound impact – way beyond the immediate practicalities of a change programme
  • Communication is not ‘done’ when the roadshows have been completed and the news has been published. People hear things in their own time – when they become personally relevant. Establishing a forum to allow invaluable insights about the word on the street enables change agents to support and challenge their colleagues to take responsibility for the change
  • People look to their leaders to decide whether they mean it when they say change is coming – authenticity is the single most powerful catalyst for change. Therefore leaders need to be part of the change – not observers of change. They need to do more than personally commit to change themselves, they need to ensure their actions, their successes and even their failures are visible to give others the belief to try something different
  • It is nonsense to say that ‘it takes a long time for culture to change. If culture is simply ‘the way we do things around here’ when we create the chance for people to take action and challenge the status quo, culture can change in a matter of weeks or months

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