Want to fix banking? Make HR Great Again

July 25, 2018
Duena Blomstrom
3 minute read

Who has “soul” on their P&L?

Let me tell you what HR does in most banks today: PR/Internal Communication and Admin. Loads and loads and loads of admin.

Recruitment and selection is a series of process driven tasks with little to no input from good old fashioned intuition; retention, talent management and performance are antiquated exercises in paper pushing with no understanding of market context that are designed to meet a quota and have no expected transformative results, and leadership development plans are almost never a profiling and bettering honest exercise but mostly ticking a box or at best, a recreational activity, etc. In essence, they do what a future version of Sage or Xero will accomplish with little to no human intervention very soon.

Now let me tell you what HR *should* be in charge of: the health of the organisation and its people. They are the keepers of its soul.

So if the organisation needs to be something aka “Brand” or be something else aka “Transformation”– they ought to be in charge of driving that. Not Marketing, not Service Design, not the Change departments (!!! – yes, some banks have separate divisions), not Operations. How this fundamental truth has gotten away from us in many big organisations but particularly in banking is the tragic mystery.

Why HR ever said “Yeah sure, you go ahead and fundamentally change people – decide on how they should work and what they should be like, I’ll be over here putting out ads and calculating vacation pay” is beyond me.

Today HR has no seat at the table when the bank talks about strategy and consumer and that’s outrageous. How will the bank deliver any of its promises to consumers if not through its greatest asset – its people? Who is the one who brings in the right people and makes the people they have right? HR. The reason lies in the above. No one thinks of HR as more than an admin function today, including themselves.

This needs to change and change fast.

Culture – less about equal gender pay, more about the DNA of the shop

Real change to the very bone counts as basic hygiene in an organisation as complexly stuck as a bank.

If you want the thinkers and the imaginers to work out how a certain financial operation can be turned into a fun one from a drab, painful one, or how a customer may be spared pain and discomfort and instead be given (gasp!) joy by a banking product (remind me to tell you about an excellent session about “Squirrelling” we had with a bank the other day) then they need to have the fundamental freedom to do so unencumbered by the organisation.

That’s not to mean design thinking ought to take place in this vacuum of suspended reality, on the contrary, just as it’s necessary to turn everyone in every department into a designer, it’s crucial to employ designers who understand the numbers, the resources, the internal and external hurdles and opportunities.

Building a strong, clean, genuinely honest and collaborative internal culture doesn’t mean removing all impediments, but it does mean making sure none of those impediments is politics, office ego or systemic negativity and fear. This last one is where the HR of the future has its biggest challenge: how to extract fear from the organisation. Not by removing any regard for risk and throwing caution and process to the wind but by using those as foundation to let people know it’s ok to be themselves, to care and to build.

In with the New…

Almost none of what we preach at Emotional Banking is about new people. We like a challenge so we spend very little time with banks’ HR discussing our core attributes – Knowledge, Passion and Courage in the context of new employees because that’s simply a reframing then logistical challenge in the recruitment process and it’s an easy one to fix. Once the Banking Superheroes and Heads of HR are in place, they can fix recruitment to pipeline only that right type of individual in easily, by simply setting the tone.

A bigger challenge than recognising the seeds of those core attributes in new comers, is finding them in the thousands of existing employees and then cultivating them and making them grow while ensuring them they live in a brave new world and not a PR exercise and that this world, is fundamentally better for themselves and the consumer.

…NOT out with the old

There’s no contest that the core attributes we advocate are sine qua non conditions of success and that having them be pervasive part of the culture and deeply ingrained in every individual, would project us into functional organisation heaven but the bulk of the work for that to be achieved, is in the existent employees.

No organisation has the luxury of a tabula rasa where everyone gets out and only those with the brains and the heart to match what they are building gets back in. That would make it too easy would it even be desirable which we don’t believe it is.

While you’ll hear some banks claiming they have attempted to clean their plate – in particular in light of the Agile reorgs where everyone’s job is open and up for grabs once a year, on close inspection this invariably proves to be a lot closer to a reshuffle than it is an honest clean-up and sadly the only people who don’t return into a position or other, are often those who get courageous enough to admit they want real change and are fed up with the charade.

One of the most infuriatingly puerile lines of discourse in our industry -almost as absurd as the advocacy for digital flanker brands as the answer- is the “bankers are dinosaurs – they can never comprehend this new reality where technology lives and ways of work enable it, thankfully many are not going to be around much longer so let’s wait them out and replace them with these new kids who get it“. Anyone insisting on that is far more interested in the sensationalist nature of the proclamation and possibly too intellectually lazy to explore the complexity of it being the wrong premise and the wealth of experience and knowledge these banking “dinosaurs” have being invaluable to progress.

Acquiring new stuff is always easier than fixing the stuff we previously had but should we buy the Primark jacket instead of sewing the loose button on the Burberry one?

Fastening worthwhile buttons. Battling invisible demons – the inner workings of a sick organisation crippled by years of paralysis and office politics while finding the beating heart of dinosaurs and constantly ensuring the foundations can support them jumping and reaching and taking off for flight is the only job bank HR has. Easy.

Whose job is this?

Today HR in banking is a support function with administrative tasks. All about the forms and the numbers. None of it about the growth levers of passionate human beings and the way they interact in a healthy and productive constellation.

There are only two parties that can make HR great again: management and HR themselves.

To change, HR must recognise its current position in the team first. Admit they’ve been benched and are intensely replaceable and go back to their core skills that are impossible to replicate by machines then advocate them to their respective organisations to better the perception of their role.

They must enter those boardrooms where the strategic real conversations are happening and announced they have arrived and why they must be there to drive branding and change and keep the soul of the organisation. And once they do, Banking Superheroes need to pull out a seat at the proverbial table and have their own Commander Troi’s help them “boldly go where no one has gone before” – to a bank who truly puts people first.

Guest Author: Duena Blomstrom
Duena Blomstrom is the author of “Emotional Banking: Fixing Culture, Leveraging FinTech and Transforming Retail Banks into Brands”. She is an entrepreneur and Angel Investor, a mentor for Startupbootcamp and Techstars, the founder of FinWinners – a Finovate coaching company, a blogger with cutting edge opinion style, an international keynote speaker at industry events and the inventor of the Emotional Banking and EX concepts and runs the Emotional Banking and PeopleNotTech boutique consultancies.