Editor’s Note: Ron Leeman is a world-recognized Change Manager and author of several Change, Process, and Project training guides on Flevy. He has decided to write a series of articles that chronicle his personal “change” journey. This is the second installment (part). You can read beginning from the first piece here. You can also learn more about Ron and his approach to Change in our recent interview with him.
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To try and personalize things a little, here is a picture of where I am writing all this stuff.
Not really (LOL). I actually do my writing inside… this is a staged shot, as if you didn’t know!
OK, moving on.
Like Part 2a, this relates to my Abbey National/Abbey years between 1989 and 1996. Specifically, this part is after Productivity Services re-located from the Baker Street HQ to the Abbey National HQ in Milton Keynes.
I lived in a place called Bicester in Oxfordshire and used to travel to London by train. As Bicester was only approximately a 30-minute drive from Milton Keynes, I was nominated as one of the first people to move there. Along with that came my first new assignment… an exciting one! Not.
We had been allocated an amount of space in the building at Milton Keynes, which was to be shared with another Department (can’t remember which one), so I was tasked with designing the layout of the new Productivity Services area. A simple task you would think! Well, yes it was and working together with Abbey National’s Space Planning people, I went about measuring the area, allocating desk spaces, deciding on the number of cabinets required, defining the IT requirements, etc. Having designed the layout and had it agreed with the Space Planners and with the other Department, I submitted the final design to my Line Manager (one of the Senior Productivity Consultants who initially interviewed me). After studying the design, the only comment he made was “It looks like we may be slightly disadvantaged on space compared with the people we are sharing with”. “Slightly disadvantaged”! Huh? I didn’t realize it was a competition!
That was the end of it, I thought, and, over time, the other members of Productivity Services moved to Milton Keynes and seemed quite happy with what I had done. Well would you believe that when I received my Annual Appraisal at the end of the year the “slightly disadvantaged” comment was reflected in it! Despite the successes of the other projects I was involved in, the overall appraisal that I was given was “Satisfactory!” Well, not being one to take things lying down, I decided to appeal against this rating.
The appeals process stated that you were only allowed to submit your appeal on one side of A4! After some considerable thought and effort, I wrote my appeal, but it was over the limit, so being a bit innovative, I reduced the overall font size from 12 to 8, which did the trick. What was the result? Surprise, surprise my appeal was not upheld. This was the first time I had encountered any kind of negativity from my Line Manager. But, hey!, at least I had the satisfaction of putting forward my case. More on Annual Appraisals in Part 2c.
Moving swiftly onto the next chapter!
Abbey National had a habit of regularly reorganizing to reflect changes in the way the business was moving and also to ensure that Departments were focused on that direction and that they sat in the correct part of the wider organization.
Consequently, Productivity Services was deemed “old hat,” so they changed the name to Process Improvement. One of the problems was where this “new” Department (still consisting of the same Consultants by the way, but with different Line Managers) would logically sit within the wider organization. I think it eventually came under Retail Operations.
This “out with the old and in with the new” approach also came with a change of senior people, so a new Process Improvement Manager was duly installed. Because the two Senior Productivity Consultants didn’t want to relocate, after some while operating a fairly “lean” department, it was decided to create two new Senior Process Improvement Consultant positions, so an internal recruitment process was started. An opportunity for me I thought so I duly applied. I knew that I was in competition with a few others but having been with Abbey National for some while (although this was not a prerequisite) and having done, what I thought, was a good job to-date I thought I would at least get an interview. Guess what? I didn’t!
I think by now a lot of readers will have guessed that I have a somewhat outgoing and gregarious personality and am not afraid to shy away from things and to also speak my mind so you will not be surprised by the following anecdote which I have included, not to be critical (well kind of), but merely to help you understand the environment in which I worked.
My esteemed Process Improvement Manager decided to interview a number of individuals. One, who I had the greatest respect for got the job so no qualms there. However the other individual who was appointed had joined Abbey National after me and had really done nothing of any significance or consequence since starting but he did have a Degree which I didn’t (this will come back to haunt me … I will reveal that in Part 2c). The appointment of this second individual always puzzled me and I did question the judgement of the Process Improvement Manager although not openly!
Was I right to do that?
Yes I was because low and behold sometime later this individual was found to have, let’s just say, dishonestly appropriated a not insignificant amount of money through the re-location process. The word vindicated and self-satisfied come to mind.
After that distraction let’s get back to the work I was involved in.
The Branch Staffing Model was a tool being built to facilitate the accurate prediction of the number of staff needed to man Branches based on financial transactions. If you think about it this was kind of aligned to the Saturday Afternoon Opening project I did when I was in Baker Street part of which was based on transactional data. Unlike that project which required Branches to send in transactional data I was tasked with capturing an amount of representative transactional data from Branches to use as core information to drive the Branch Staffing Model.
So off I went travelling around the country to a number of selected Branches reflecting a number of criteria e.g.:
- City Centre Branches.
- Town Branches.
- Rural Branches.
- Branches in Shopping Centres.
Each Branch had an amount of information which was backed-up/captured onto 5 1/4” Floppy Disks and stored in filing cabinets in Branches.
On arrival at each Branch I would randomly select a number of Floppy Disks from the banks of filing cabinets, download the data into a spreadsheet and undertake an amount of analysis again based on a pre-set criteria e.g.:
- Different types of transactions … each transaction had a category code.
- How long each transaction took … start and finish of each transaction,
- What time of the day the transactions were undertaken … in hourly segments.
- Calculating and average time for each transaction.
What a mind-numbingly boring job I here you say and yes I would agree but I got to travel around the UK a lot and visit some interesting places.
With my process improvement hat on, one of the questions I raised during this exercise was why we were not able to obtain this transaction data from the mainframe which could automatically feed the Branch Staffing Model thereby doing away with all the travelling and painstaking analysis. Well what a furore that caused because, would you believe it, this was not available from the mainframe! I was told that to have this facility it would require special code to be written to enable the data to be extracted in the format we wanted it so we would have to write up a business case for it. Talk about bureaucracy! Anyway to cut a long story short we did and it happened.
This involved a team of Consultants visiting selected Abbey National Branches to undertake a programme of activity to gain an overview of how a Branch functioned, its overall efficiency and the identification of potential process improvements which was, after all, what the new Department was all about!
- Activity Sampling of all Branch activity to identify overall activity e.g.:
- Work time.
- Break time.
- Lost time.
- Analysing counter transactions e.g.:
- Cash withdrawals.
- Card transactions.
- Account Book updates.
- Sales activity e.g.:
- Financial Adviser interviews … Mortgage, Loan application etc.
- Lead generation.
- Back office functions e.g.:
- Application processing.
- Lost and stolen processing.
Some of the information gathered fed into the Branch Staffing model.
These studies normally lasted about 1-week but they were great because I was able to get out of the Head Office environment and interact with front-line staff.
One of the Branches where we did a study was Bermondsey which was in South London. I can recall having to do a 15 minute walk to the Branch from the nearest Underground Station every day for a week which involved winding my way through a number of industrial areas where there were numerous businesses holed up in old dark and dank railway arches.
In those days South London was not a particularly salubrious place and I have two vivid recollections of this study:
- Even though I thought I was “street wise” you can imagine me walking through these places wearing my best “bib and tucker” looking totally out of place and being eyed with some suspicion. I was constantly looking over my shoulder looking for potential problems and was glad to reach the Branch unscathed.
- A few weeks earlier a neighbouring competitors Branch had been the subject of an armed robbery which caused me some trepidation and didn’t exactly fill me confidence.
Finally to end this article there were a couple of other projects that spring to mind:
Current Accounts vs Term/Deposit Accounts
I not entirely sure how this project came about but it was to do with identifying Current Accounts in which customers had large amounts of money deposited to see if better use could be made of their money
Basically the premise was that Current Accounts were paying minimal interest whereas if a customer transferred a sizeable chunk of their money into a Term Savings/Deposit Account it would earn them more interest.
So off I went to a number of Retail Banking Centres to identify Current Accounts containing a large amount of money. I can’t remember what we determined as being “large” but I do remember we categorised it into amounts e.g.:
- 5,000 to 9,999 GBP.
- 10,000 to 14,999 GBP.
- 15,000 to 19,999 GBP
- Over 20,000 GBP
Having done my initial analysis I presented my findings and made a recommendation that we contact customers with large amounts of cash in their Current Accounts to see if they wanted to transfer monies to a better interest paying Term Savings/Deposit Account. This actually sparked off an interesting debate around the following:
- From a customer service perspective:
- Positive … customers would get a better interest rate.
- Negative … customers would not have instant access to their money.
- From an Abbey National perspective:
- Negative … Abbey National would be paying a higher interest rate to customers
- Positive … Abbey National would have money to use as long-term funds for other purposes.
Following an amount of deliberation the decision was to maintain the status-quo as the instances of large amounts in customers Current Accounts was relatively low so would not significantly benefit Abbey National. Mmmmmm … what about the customers!
Mortgage Redemptions Process
Abbey National’s core business in those days was Mortgage Lending but there was a considerable focus was on attracting new customers with headline rates which were normally designed to compete with the other big mortgage lenders of the day such as the Halifax (now part of Lloyds Banking Group), the Nationwide (still a Building Society), the Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley (both now part of Banco Santander who of course took over Abbey National).
At that time there was little attention paid to existing customers so I was tasked to look at this aspect to see whether there was anything that we could do to retain them. One of the early identifiers of an existing customer looking to possibly change their mortgage was that their Solicitor would request a Mortgage Redemption Statement from Abbey National. This statement would be used to calculate how much equity was in the old property which could be used to secure a mortgage for a new property. On receipt of a redemption request Abbey National’s process was merely to undertake the calculation and send the statement to the customers Solicitor!
This was a “no-brainer” really. So I recommended that before the redemption statement was issued that Abbey National put in place a simple process to contact the customer to ascertain exactly what their intentions were e.g.:
- Planning to stay with Abbey National.
- Moving to a new Lender because of a better deal.
If it was the former then no further action would be taken. If it was the latter then enter into a dialogue with the customer to get details of the new deal and to see if Abbey National could match or better it. Pretty simple really! Clearly there were no guarantees that following the interaction with the customer that Abbey National National could offer them a better deal. Whilst I have no specific details of outcomes I do remember anecdotal evidence that the new process was successful in a level of customer retention which would otherwise not have happened.
Good grief how things come flooding back. It never ceases to amaze me how one memory suddenly triggers many other memories–total recall (LOL).
That’s it. Get ready for Part 2c soon which will be the final part related to my Abbey National National years.