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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This is the last post about my Abbey National days. I will specifically deal with two major projects that I was responsible for and also the reasons why I left Abbey National which is related to one of these.
Financial Advisers Activity Review
This project came about because overall figures for product sales had been showing a downward trend for the past 3-years and there was a suspicion by the Sales Director that Financial Advisors were not spending enough time selling. Without any real evidence of this, I was tasked with undertaking a comprehensive review of their activities. It was agreed that the project would be conducted in 5 separate phases:
- Fact Finding.
- Stage 1 – to identify key Financial Adviser activities.
- Stage 2 – to gain an overview of the amount of time spent on these key activities and to map their key processes.
- Task Analysis. To review the information and determine where the inefficiencies were.
- Process Re-design. To design a process that would drive down non-Sales activities thereby creating time to concentrate on Sales activities.
- Pilot Implementation. To pilot the new processes to determine if they had the desired effect.
- Full Roll-out. If the pilot was successful then to roll-out the redesigned processes to all Branches.
Between each phase, there would be a “quality gate” to ensure that the findings and recommendations were acceptable to move to the next phase.
To establish the key activities undertaken by Financial Advisers, I designed a questionnaire and undertook structured interviews at a number of selected Branches. Following a review of questionnaire answers, the following were the key activities that were decided should be measured:
- Sales activity e.g. Face-to-face customer interviews.
- Lead Generation activity.
- Prospecting activity.
- Sales Administration activity.
- Non Sales activities e.g. general Branch meetings.
- Other e.g. Training.
Having determined the key activities, I then needed to establish the average amount of time spent on each of them through a data collection exercise. However, before embarking on this, I first of all had to decide which Branches I wanted to visit. This was done using the following information:
- Sales figures for all Branches for the past 6-months.
- Identification of Branches that had a good, average and a not so good record of product sales.
- From the above select a cross-section of Branches which were the ones to become part of the data collection exercise.
Having done that out came my map of the UK to plan my country-wide campaign.
Anecdote time… Of course, my primary consideration was that I get to the right number & mix of Branches in order to ensure that the data I collected was representative. However a secondary consideration (hum hum) was paying less tax. Sorry … come again? My company car was regarded as a taxable benefit and there were three mileage tiers associated with that e.g. 6,000/12,000/18,000 (not sure if that’s correct but you get my drift) and the higher the mileage you traveled the less tax you had to pay. So my aim was to hit or surpass the 18,000 miles to ensure I paid minimal tax. I got there by the way… hah!
Anecdote time … talking of company cars (specifically the Mondeo) I clearly remember the annual Abbey National Sports weekends at Loughborough University which was an excuse for well-paid bankers to behave like hooligans for a couple of days. At one of these weekends, one night someone, in their wisdom, decided they didn’t like my company car so they smashed the glass sunroof and poured beer into the car. Many years later I found out that it was the same individual who was found to have dishonestly appropriated a not insignificant amount of money through the re-location process mentioned in my last post. Back to the “judgement of my Process Improvement Manager” observation in my previous post.
The other thing I remember was that I was shot put champion for 5-years running – I normally only had to take one put and then wait to see of anyone could get near me. Normally they didn’t so I just sat and watched the proceedings whist smoking and downing a few beers.
In the words of Mary Hopkin … Those Were the Days
So, back to the project. I decided that the best way to measure activity was through a technique called Activity Sampling (a statistical technique for determining the proportion of time spent by workers in various defined categories of activity). Given the number of Branches that were selected for data collection I implemented two Activity Sampling approaches:
- Self-Recording (recording of activities by the individual who is actually performing them)… this involved designing a simple sheet of paper which contained the activities down the left-hand side and random times of the day across the top. All the Financial Adviser had to do was, at the pre-determined time, just put a tick against the activity that they were undertaking. I can hear what you’re thinking now … Self Recording? They will not tell the truth! Moving on to the second mechanism …
- Direct Observation (recording activities of the individual by a third party through observation) … a very similar approach to that of Self-Recording the only difference being that I was doing the actual recording rather than the individual. Because of the potential vagaries of Self-Recording this was also used as a “check & balance” to determine the validity of the Self-Recorded data.
This two-pronged approach allowed me to gather a good representative sample of data. And before you ask … YES … the Self-Recorded data and the data collected through Direct Observation showed no significant variance on final analysis.
In addition to this I also undertook some high-level Process Mapping to record the key processes and the interfaces and hand-offs between Counter Staff, Financial Advisers and Sales Administration to add that additional perspective to the data collected.
Having gathered all of the necessary information it was now time to undertake my favourite activity … the number-crunching. As you can imagine having all that self-recorded and directly observed data on hundreds of sheets of paper I had to enter it all into a spreadsheet … time for my favourite phrase … “mind-numbingly boring”.
Having entered all the data into spreadsheets and done an amount of analysis the findings showed that (as far as I can recall):
In effect, nearly half of a Financial Advisers time was spent on non-sales activity.
In addition, using the various processes I had mapped at the Branches I visited, it was evident that there was no consistency in the way Financial Advisers undertook their Lead Generation and Prospecting activities and clearly did not spend enough time on it. However some Branches were far better than others which reflected in their sales figures.
On presenting this information to the Retail Sales Director, it confirmed his suspicions and I was given the “green light” to go onto the next stage which was to focus on the following:
- Reduce Non-Sales activity.
- Increase Lead Generation activity.
- Increase Prospecting activity.
This was based on the premise that by doing the above it would have the effect of increasing Sales activity.
I have to start by saying that I initially looked into using the system as part of this process e.g. collecting initial customer data but because of the inflexibility of the systems used by the Branch Counter staff this proved to be a non-starter.
Using the process maps from the Branches visited I set about identifying what I thought were “best practices”. Whilst I initially focused on those Branches that had the better sales figures, I also looked at practices from the other ranches that had an average or not so good record of product sales and discovered a number of processes that I felt should be included in the overall re-designed process.
So I set about designing a 3-part self-carbonating Lead Referral Slip to be used by Counter Staff while interacting with customers undertaking counter transactions. On identifying customers with a specific financial need e.g. Personal Loan, Cheque Account (for those with Savings Accounts), Mortgage, Life Assurance etc the referral slip would be completed with all relevant details required by the Financial Adviser. The three parts of the referral slip were used as follows:
- Slip 1 – retained by Counter Staff as a personal record and for use during their Annual Appraisal and for regular updates with the Financial Adviser and at the end of each week during planned meetings with the Financial Adviser to establish progress of Leads and update this on their respective parts of the referral slip
- Slip 2 – given to the Customer for reference purposes when attending a sales interview.
- Slip 3 – passed to the Financial Adviser for follow-up with the Customer to invite them in for a sales interview and also to keep a record for their Annual Appraisal.
To get an initial feel for the relevance and workability of the solution I selected a few Branches, previously visited, and talked them through the proposed new process. Feedback was very positive.
The proposed process was presented to the Sales Director during a “quality gate” who again gave the “green light” to move to a pilot stage.
All sounds simple but would it work in practice? Lets’ see shall we!
So on to the pilot stage which consisted of four key phases:
- Selection of Branches.
- 3-part Lead Generation slips.
- Design of training for the new processes.
- Actual pilot implementation.
Selection of Branches
The selection of Branches had to be carefully thought through and the following were some key considerations:
- Those that had a good, average and a not so good record of product sales?
- Those with whom I had already engaged with extensively throughout the previous stages?
- Big, small or large Branches?
- Urban or City Branches?
Because I needed the pilot to be as representative as possible I decided to have a “mix and match” of Branches encompassing all of the above. But as far as I can remember I was asked to concentrate on Branches in the East of the UK for this purpose. I also needed to ensure that we had benchmarks against which to measure the success or otherwise of the pilot e.g.:
- Have relevant pre-pilot data available from Branches involved in the pilot
- Select a number of Branches who would not be part of the pilot to use as benchmark Branches against which to measure and compare the results of the pilot Branches.
3-Part Lead Generation Slips
Having selected the pilot Branches I now needed to estimate the number of 3-part Lead Generation slips that were needed and have these printed which I had done through Abbey National’s internal Printing Services.
Anecdote time … I can remember getting a phone call from the Head of Printing Services saying that my “goods were on their way”. Well was I surprised when a guy came into the Department with a hand trolley containing goodness knows how many cardboard boxes full of printed Lead Generation Slips. My first thought was had I overestimated numbers. When I actually calculated the numbers of slips delivered against my initial estimates for each Branch it tallied … phew!!!
Design of Training for the new Processes
This was clearly a key activity in the pilot process. All Branch staff involved with the new processes had to be made aware of:
- The rationale behind the re-designed processes.
- Which other Branches were involved in the pilot.
- How the new processes would actually work.
- Details of the 3-part Lead Generation slip, who was involved and who should complete what.
- The benefits and expected outcomes.
This was actually quite a simple task because it was just a case of consolidating all the information I had gathered during the preceding stages into a Training Pack.
Actual Pilot implementation
The pilot was scheduled for 3-months which was considered enough time for Branch staff to get used to the new processes.
So out came my trusty map of the UK again to plan my campaign which simply involved driving to ach of the pilot Branches to deliver both the training and the referral slips followed by regular subsequent trips to input data from the referral slips into a spreadsheet and undertake analysis to determine results.
Having completed the 3-month pilot the results showed the following (again as far as I can recall):
All in all, a very successful outcome!
The project took about 9-months from start to the end of the pilot. Because the Head of Process Improvement felt that I had been involved in the project for too long I was given another project and the full roll-out was assigned to someone else… something I could never fully comprehend!
Anecdote time… at the end of the year, it was obviously appraisal time. My appraisal was based on two projects, this one and one other which unfortunately I can’t remember the details of. For the second project I reported directly into the Process Improvement Manager rather than to my Line Manager. Due to the overwhelming success of the Financial Advisers project I was given a Highly Effective rating by my Line Manager but for the subsequent 3-months project I was given an Effective rating. As the Process Improvement Manager had the final say I was given an overall Effective rating for the year! Whooaaaa wait a minute … so 75% of the year = Highly Effective and 25% of the year = Effective … so overall rating = Effective? Huh … even my maths was not that bad!
So guess what … yep you guessed … I submitted an appeal. Low and behold after the appeals panel deliberated my submission the overall Effective rating was overturned into an overall Highly Effective rating. YES, YES, YES! As you have probably gathered from this article the Process Improvement Manager and I never really “hit it off” and I suppose this was a kind of vindication (again) for me.
When I said at the beginning “This is the last post about my Abbey National days” I lied (again) … LOL. Describing this project has taken longer than I thought so I have decided to finish this article here and I will use the next post to describe my other major responsibility, that of Benchmarking, which, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, led to me to eventually leave Abbey National.
So, look out for Part 2d next… see you then.