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A culture of collaboration at Santander

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Since Ana Botin became CEO in 2010, Santander has been heavily investing in embedding a new culture centred on the customer – underpinned by three key objectives: to be simple, personal and fair. Group HR director Simon Lloyd tells Mary Appleton what this means from a people perspective.

Culture and people

“We knew that the culture had to start with the people first,” explains Simon Lloyd, group HR director. “If you have really engaged people, then you will provide great service for customers.” 

Lloyd is clear that the ‘simple, personal and fair’ adage punctuates all HR activities (“if you don’t align your HR strategy to the business, it’s just not going to work,” he says) and is particularly focused on ensuring the behaviours to support this are embedded throughout the organisation. 

“If you want to progress here, you need to be modelling the right behaviours, and we need to take visible action if this is not happening,” says Lloyd. “If you can take action with the person who is performing well but displaying the wrong behaviours, that’s very powerful and a true test of whether you are getting the culture right.” 

Part of this has involved ensuring everyone has responsibility around risk. “We want people to be part of an environment where they feel encouraged to speak up. We tested this in an employee opinion survey last year and were pleased that most people felt that was true.” 

Recruiting for behaviours

Santander UK is made up of 24,000 employees who work across more than 900 locations, and the bank uses a balanced scorecard approach that is called Santander Compass. This comprises four elements: people, customers, shareholders and communities (Lloyd explains that the bank has been particularly focused on engaging with the latter in the past 18 months as part of its efforts to rebuild trust in financial services).

While Lloyd acknowledges the distrust of banking in recent years, he says this has not affected the organisation’s ability to recruit talent. “Last year we had over 100,000 applications for about 5,000 positions, so there’s no shortage of people who want to join us,” he says.

But rather than relying on identifying skills to benchmark talent, Lloyd says there is now much more emphasis on recruiting for attitude and behaviours. 

“You can train the skills you need,” he says. “We want to ensure we have the right people to help us focus on the customer.”

Growing internal talent

Investing in internal talent is a major priority for Lloyd, who recognises the importance of building a robust future pipeline. “Having people who know your culture and organisation and can move forward through it is very exciting,” he says. 

As part of this investment, an initiative around individual career conversations was launched 18 months ago “so we can understand what exactly people want out of their careers”. Based on conversations with managers, tailored development will be put in place to help individuals move to the next stage of their careers. 

Lloyd also hopes to leverage technology to help educate people about the opportunities available within the bank and enable cross-functional and cross-divisional moves. 

“Someone in a branch may not know what a person in head office does, but I want people to be able to access our intranet and find out what certain roles involve, what skills are needed and then map out how they might perform against that.”

An internal global job posting board has also been deployed, with a view to encouraging talent mobility between its offices worldwide. 

Next on the agenda is to link these platforms up with relevant learning programmes to help talent reach the next stage. And against a backdrop of continuous change, in a world where people are time-starved, Lloyd acknowledges the importance of providing development content in ways to suit everyone. “People learn in very different ways these days,” he says, “so you have to give people a variety of opportunities to learn in the way they want to.”

Lloyd wants to place particular emphasis on developing people – something he believes the industry as a whole has neglected in recent years. He is keen to point out that this does not mean “training people to do their jobs” but rather offering comprehensive development opportunities in things like soft skills. “We need to help people build on their people management skills, influencing skills and strategic thinking capability,” he says. “This will help us retain the best talent for the future.”

Looking to the future

While Lloyd is clear on the importance of “getting the operational basics right”, he is also keen to extend Santander’s ability to understand the workforce better and would like to become more sophisticated in predicting talent gaps and potential ‘flight risks’. He highlights the importance of meaningful data in achieving this. “At the moment we do talent reviews, but it’s about taking meaningful action based on the information we get. Data is a predictor and indicator that allows you to take actions so we can’t afford not to do it,” he asserts.

He’s unsure how the future of banking will evolve, but says that everything Santander does will be as a result of dialogue with customers. More generally, he anticipates many organisations shifting from traditional structures towards a more collaborative way of working, and the rise of flexible and home working. “What does a bank branch of the future look like? Will it be people or screens you deal with? Part of the question for us is working out what our customers want and that will impact on what work looks like,” he adds. 

While banks were once paternalistic organisations where people spent most of their careers, Lloyd recognises the shift in expectations of future talent and anticipates more fluidity between employer and employee in years to come. 

“I’m not sure you will have traditional careers in any discipline going forward,” he says. Indeed, Lloyd began his own career as a lawyer and says this has served him well in his current role. “I encourage people in HR to move outside the function and pull in talent from other parts of the organisation. It brings different perspectives, which is hugely helpful.”

The power of feedback

Lloyd is positive about the progress that has been made in the past two years and says the chief executive’s involvement has been crucial in getting buy-in from employees. “Our CEO has gone out and spoken to people and customers, and their feedback has informed the cultural approach. It’s not a diktat, it’s reflecting the views of a lot of people,” says Lloyd.

He is mindful that there is still some way to go on the journey and is adamant that Santander will continue to engage the wider organisation, with plans in place to hold regular roadshows and crowdsourcing initiatives to ask people for their ideas. “We want people to be empowered to speak their minds.

“Some people think innovation is about inventing things,” he adds, “but it’s actually about doing something different. Some ideas can be really simple but if they improve processes and make people’s experiences better, that’s hugely powerful.”

Simon Lloyd, group HR director, Santander UK

Simon LloydSimon was an in-house lawyer for Lloyds before joining Bristol & West plc as company secretary. He joined Alliance & Leicester in 2003, became group secretary and HRD in 2007 and is now chief people officer and general counsel for Santander.

Mary Appleton

By Mary Appleton

Changeboard

Mary is Changeboard's editor in chief.

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