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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Here we go then… the final post in my Abbey National Years series…
So, why exactly did I resign from Abbey National?
There were two main reasons but both are connected:
- Being passed over for promotion (yet again).
- My desire to go independent.
Being Passed over for Promotion (Yet Again)
With the change from Process Improvement to Profit Improvement came another promotion opportunity. So, once again, I duly applied and hey, guess what, along with a few other candidates, I got selected for the interview process, which consisted of:
- A paper based exercise.
- A Q&A session on the paper based exercise.
- An interview.
In the paper based exercise, we were give a scenario about a business problem and asked to make recommendations on how to tackle it which I had no real problem with this. During the interview, I was obviously asked many questions, including some related to the paper based exercise, which I thought I answered well.
Anyway, I never got the job!
So, inevitably, I asked for a meeting with the Profit Improvement Manager to discuss why I wasn’t successful.
- I was given some really positive feedback about my paper based exercise, such that I was the only person to “read between the lines” and give recommendations based on my answers. OK, good start.
- One of the interview questions asked was what papers I read, to which I detailed several “tabloid papers,” such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. I was told that the answer they were looking for here was perhaps one of the “broadsheets,” such Financial Times or Daily Telegraph. I was a little perplexed at this, because I couldn’t see the link between reading a “tabloid” and being able to do my job… but who was I to judge!
- I was also told that one of the other contributing factors to me not being selected was the fact that I didn’t have a degree or an MBA, which was not necessarily a pre-requisite, but a highly sought after qualification for Abbey National’s Senior Managers. Mmmmm would having a degree or MBA made me a better consultant/practitioner? No, it bloody wouldn’t and it didn’t!
- And, finally, another question I was asked was where I thought Abbey National should position itself within the next 3 to 5 years, to which I answered that I felt we held a unique position in the marketplace (the first Building Society to convert to a Bank) and that we should consolidate that position through core activities, such as Mortgages and Retail Banking. It was explained to me that the answer they were looking for was the need for Abbey National to diversify!
Well, in relation to the last question, guess what… look what happened to Abbey National as a result of diversification:
- 2002 – Ventured into the wholesale loans business.
- 2002 – Bad loans in the business led to Abbey issuing a profit warning.
- 2003 – Dubbed “Shabby Abbey” (or “Shabby National”), it was in the doghouse with many of its customers over its cost-cutting plans,
- 2003 – Out of favour in the “City” after reporting a near £1bn loss following an ill-fated expansion into risky financial investments–it lost millions on the likes of Enron and WorldCom.
As a result, the bank’s bosses pledged to focus single-mindedly on traditional high-street banking. Isn’t that what I suggested way back when? And, so the story unfolded… from Abbey National to Abbey to being taken over by Banco Santander.
Call me a “visionary” if you like. LOL.
My Desire to Go Independent
Abbey National had a habit (pardon the pun) of using many External Consultants on projects, which was evidenced by the use of the 3rd Party Consultants for the Benchmarking work. This really irked me, because it seemed I was doing all of the work and then they came along, took over the reins, and were paid handsomely for it.
So I thought… I can do that.
As a first step, I set up my own company, Leeman Associates Ltd and outside of Abbey National’s time, started touting for business. This paid off very quickly in that I managed to get a good level of interest in two potential Benchmarking Initiatives:
- Barclays Bank who wanted to benchmark Current Account processes.
- Halifax Building Society who wanted to benchmark Home Surveyors processes
Let me give you a brief synopsis of what happened with the two initiatives:
Current Account Processes
I developed the Benchmarking Invitation Pack and was about to send this out to Barclays preferred benchmark partners when, without any prior warning, Barclays decided to pull out of the initiative and was never told why (I will reveal all later).
Home Surveyors Processes
Again, I developed the Benchmarking Invitation pack and got to the stage of holding an inaugural meeting with about 8 interested organisations.
Anecdote time… I prepared a comprehensive slide deck using acetates and an overhead projector. Remember them?
It was an art form taking one off, putting one on, then taking that one off, and then putting another one on, and not breaking the flow of the presentation. Oh, the memories.
This was a successful presentation and all organisations present were enthusiastic, so, despite the setback of the Barclays Bank initiative, I was positive that this consortium would eventually be set up with me as the 3rd Party Independent Consultant managing the process going forward.
What happened? You may well ask!
A few weeks later, I was summoned into Head of Profit Improvements office and was told that the 3rd Party Benchmarking Consultants we were using for the initiatives mentioned in my previous post had made a complaint about me, because they found out about the Barclays Bank initiative. They were also pursuing Barclays for similar benchmarking business. The gist of the complaint was that I was using their material and doing this while still employed by Abbey National, which they felt was unethical and gave me an unfair advantage. So whatever happened to competitiveness?
Anyway, I made it clear to the Profit Improvement Manager that:
- I was not using anyone else’s material, as I was the one who developed Abbey National’s Benchmarking Methodology and created the Benchmarking Invitation Packs in the first place.
- Whilst I was still employed with Abbey National, whatever I did for Leeman Associates Ltd, was in my own time, e.g. I took annual leave or worked at the weekends.
To cut a long story short, the upshot was that it was deemed a “grey area” and to avoid any further conflict of interest, and to appease the 3rd Party Benchmarking Consultants, I was told I would be relieved of all Benchmarking activity for the foreseeable future. You can guess I was not impressed. Following some sleepless nights and much deliberation with the family, I decided to resign in the knowledge that the Surveyors Benchmarking initiative was going well.
The day after I submitted my formal resignation to Abbey National, the Halifax Building Society contacted me and said they were pulling out of sponsoring the Surveyors Benchmarking initiative, as there was a change in business priorities. Mmmmm… OK, no problem, there were still the other interested organisations… or so I thought! Because of its size and standing in the Mortgage Market, the Halifax acted like a catalyst and it was the reason the other organisations wanted to pursue the initiative. Unfortunately, because of this, the other organisations started pulling out.
To this day, I am convinced this was all a result of the complaint and that the 3rd Party Benchmarking Consultants “put the boot in.”
Interestingly I recently came across a post on LinkedIn called the 7 Hidden Reasons why Employees Leave. I think most of them applied to me at the time.
Given the demise of both my Benchmarking opportunities, my reason for resigning was now completely invalid and I had nothing on the horizon by way of gainful employment. Clearly, this made me think about what I was going to do to secure some kind of job and with it an income. Having thought about it for a little while, I came to the conclusion that the only option I had was to put myself on the “contract market” as an Independent Consultant. So, I went through a process of registering my details with many Recruitment Agencies. As you will appreciate, this was a worrying time for me… no job, no income, no car. After some weeks of waiting, one Recruitment Agency came up trumps and got me an interview with Prudential and I secured a 3-month contract with a day-rate that was substantially greater than what I was earning at Abbey National.
From here on, in it starts to get more interesting.
Part 3 will be when I start recalling my days as an Independent Process and Change Consultant and where many of the “warts and all” revelations will be and the following is a list of assignments that I intend to cover:
- Business Process Consultant for Prudential Corporation.
- Business Change Programme Manager for Department for the Environment, Transport and Regions.
- Business Change Programme Manager for Raiffeisen Zentral Bank Poland.
- Business Process Change Manager & Performance Improvement Consultant for LloydsTSB Bank.
- Global Business Change Programme Manager for British Petroleum.
- Business Change Programme Manager for Metropolitan Police Service.
- Business Change Manager for London Borough of Enfield.
- Business Process Change Manager for Suffolk Council Council.
- Business Change Programme Consultant for E-on.
- Operational Business Change Manager for Network Rail.
- Business Process and Organisational Design Consultant for KBank, Thailand.
- Business Process Change Manager for Northamptonshire County Council.
- Business Change Programme Consultant for Howden Group.
- Business Process Change Manager for Aviva.
- Business Change & Engagement Manager for Essex County Council.
- Business Process Change Manager for Orange.
- European Business Change Manager for Kao Corporation of Japan.
- Business Change & Engagement Manager for Manitowoc Group, Singapore.
Please understand that I will have to be extremely careful, because I am connected to a lot of people on LinkedIn that I worked with during this time on and I wouldn’t want to go upsetting anyone (would I!).