Culture is the interaction of human beings – Simon Sinek
I think you’ve come to know from my blog posts and tweets that I thoroughly enjoy the topic of leadership. In particular, I believe in transformative leadership, one that breaks down the stereotypes of how leaders interact, speak, how accessible we are, and how transparently and authentically we operate… It’s a type of leadership that reminds us that we are all human beings, learning from each other, inspiring each other. Frankly, the job of a leader is to never stop learning. This is why I find organizations like The Art Of to be very helpful for leaders like me.
This past fall, I participated in an executive panel moderated by Ron Tite at The Art of Management in Toronto about various leadership topics, from culture, innovation, management etc. With 2000 people in attendance, it was a great opportunity to share some insights about what I’ve learned in my career. But I also wanted to learn, from leaders I admired throughout my career. In particular I wanted to hear from Jack Welch and his views on management. It’s one thing to read and be inspired by someone’s books, but to hear from them directly is yet another experience.
I was also especially excited to hear from Simon Sinek who has made an impact on many people within our organization, including myself. We have always believed in the importance of culture and it was a great confirmation for our colleagues in attendance to hear from someone so well regarded about that very topic. Start with why is such a simple concept, yet many continue to miss the importance of it. I was inspired by how well Simon articulates his why, and was excited to hear about his new research related to how human biology and anthropology influence how we live and work today – an area of huge interest to me.
So I was truly honoured that Simon agreed to chat with me and I am thankful to The Art Of for the opportunity. I hope you’ll enjoy this video of our conversation and that you’ll take away at least a small bit of inspiration as I did.
People often look at me funny when I ask them in an interview … who are you? It is excellent to meet people who have a sense of themselves. There simply is no better value than self-awareness. I also believe in the saying “Hire character, train skill” a well-articulated sentiment by Peter Schutz.
We are very lucky at ING DIRECT to have hired some excellent people. Many of them tend to know who they are as individuals, bringing a level of awareness that removes potential roadblocks to success. People who are more self-actualized and recognize the strength in change and in their own personal evolution are likely to be successful and frankly are a great bet for us when hiring.
You see, leaders ought to approach the hiring of people with a view of abundance rather than scarcity. I obtained this perspective from Christina Attard, a social media connection. She expressed this so well in her response to one of my tweets about a teammate leaving the organization. Christina has inspired this blog post.
Consider for a moment how our decisions might be different if they are made coming from a basis of fear (scarcity) versus a basis of trust (abundance). We enter a working relationship based on some information and a great deal of trust. We have a general understanding of the person’s professional abilities and the mutual growth we are both hoping to achieve.
This relationship is far from a one-way street.
It’s crucial to remember that businesses are run by people – people with dreams, aspirations, ideas and expectations. People, who you hope, want to grow, and learn more about themselves. And you should help them do just that. Get to know your people!
It is in the best interest of a business (and its people) to develop a culture of abundance. Many leaders hold back because they fear that the better your people become, the greater the risk that they will leave you. For most, it is this thinking that almost guarantees that your best people will in fact leave you. Investing in each other will almost certainly lengthen the relationship, improve the performance of the person and the business and create loyalty that will last for a lifetime.
The last thing you want is for people to resent their jobs, their manager and your business because you haven’t spent the time understanding who they are, what they want, and because you’ve refused to acknowledge their potential both inside or outside your organization.
Let’s consider that despite all the openness, support and growth opportunities you’ve provided, a trusted loyal employee will still decide to move in a different direction eventually. I can tell you from the experiences we’ve had at ING DIRECT, that the commitment to each other stays strong, and the loyalty is unwavering. These former employees are often our biggest evangelists. And they are out there cultivating businesses, fulfilling dreams and driving better leadership models, I’d like to think in small part because we were not afraid to help them grow.
We all learn from each other. We inspire and are inspired. We take, share, apply and grow. So as a leader, I would propose that the next time you think of measuring your success, consider counting a different number, that is the number of great leaders (inside and outside your organization) that you helped nurtured and helped to create!
I didn’t think as a lawyer starting out with ING DIRECT 17 years ago, that simplification would be the objective – no, not as a lawyer and not in banking. I expected fancy language and complex procedures, but on day one – as the 8th employee of a startup bank – how we thought, talked and executed became a serious competitive advantage. Simplicity would be one of the core values we would bring to Canadians.
Complexity, I believe, is a silent and slow killer of growth. A lot of you believe this too. And it’s easy to see why. Yet complexity remains frequently overlooked. There are businesses that choose to make things more complicated on purpose – to make it harder to compare prices, to force customers to require advice when they don’t need it. But complexity will no doubt weave problems that accumulate over time and creep into what you do, layer-by-layer.
What many miss are the key contributions to the bottom line that a simplification strategy can achieve. You ask what consumers really want, I guarantee you it is simplicity. Better yet, ask yourselves why you love some products and services. I’m certain that as we simplify our businesses we find opportunities not only to remove unnecessary headaches for employees and customers but also to save money and time! It’s a win-win situation.
Today’s consumer has no tolerance for wasting time. Which makes simplicity an absolute necessity and not a nice to have for business. That is why technology is driving much of today’s solutions – certainly not for the sake of technology – but to make our lives easier and more efficient. So why complicate things?
“I’m a client, let me in!” is the first thing our customers see when they access their accounts both on the ING DIRECT website and mobile platforms. Because that is exactly what a customer wants. Less red tape, less complexity, less steps to get to what they really want. You know the phone calls that lead to five different departments before you get the solution you need (if you ever do)? That’s exactly what we didn’t want at ING DIRECT, from day one.
More conversational type of vocabulary, more efficiency, and more convenience to fit today’s lifestyle. We want our business to be – quite simply – excellent! So much so that we formed a small team whose sole objective is to help us simplify. We often find our business leaders lining up wanting this team’s help, as opposed to trying to convince departments of the value of excellence in simplicity. Which is the case in many businesses “Whoa! Here come those guys trying to “help” us cut some costs!” You know what I am talking about.
One step we took recently was to simplify how consumers deposit cheques in Canada without the hassle of going to a bank branch, ABM or use the mail. I have to tell you, the team and I are so thrilled and proud of this milestone – for Canadians, for ourselves, and certainly the many who will benefit from this feature. I personally get a kick from the happy tweets and emails I read from customers, everyday.
Imagine sitting on your couch and using your smartphone, take a picture of a cheque and presto, it gets deposited right into your chequing or saving account! That’s exactly what we did with Cheque-In, a new feature on our award winning mobile app. With a few simple (and fun) touches you can deposit a cheque from anywhere. Not only do you start earning interest immediately, but you also save time, gas, money and reduce your carbon footprint. Yes, we save a few dollars too which we can use to pay higher interest, continue to avoid charging fees and of course make profit too. Hey, you want us to make a profit so we can keep simplifying!
We were also able to work with Government officials collaboratively to change the rules that allow this type of innovation to happen while still ensuring safety and security of Canadians’ information and hard earned savings.
This is a significant step forward for consumers, banks and the payments industry in Canada. Something our neighbours in the US had successfully done several years ago. The bottom line is, simplification that meets consumer needs is crucial to the livelihood of all business.
I’m not a philosophical guy – although I often come across some great insights – like Newton’s take on simplicity, “Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” Perfect. Well said!
“I didn’t realize it would be this exciting around here,” said one employee during a lunch I typically have with team members who are celebrating their one-year anniversary with us. This particular group included some who joined within one month of us sharing that ING Group needed to sell our business, without knowing how or to whom.
As you can imagine, this was a time of uncertainty for our employees. “Will I lose my job?” is most likely the first question most ask when dealt with a similar change. It’s natural in that sense. And surely this applies to the colleagues who have been with us for years. After all, no one likes change. True? Well, I’m not sure it is.
Many naturally believe that change is bad. “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” Said Woodrow Wilson. And we know why. People typically fear the unknown. But others understand that change creates opportunities, like one employee in particular – who joined us just prior to ‘the news’ – even if he didn’t know who the new owner would be. Or others, including myself, who have experienced change, learned its value and have become comfortable with it, even ‘love’ it.
Here’s the thing, not much is guaranteed in life other than change. Change is constant. So we either manage it, or it manages us. Take Jack Welch’s perspective on the matter when he said, “Change before you have to.”
We’ve certainly adapted that mentality with a number of innovations and operational changes that meet the times we live in. Change in that sense is in our control. It is essentially part of the DNA of ING DIRECT – we inherently believe that if you don’t innovate, you will be left behind. Which is why we make every effort to remain nimble and entrepreneurial, and why we in fact do our best to hire people who love change.
But perhaps dealing with a change of ownership is a little different. We didn’t choose this change. It just happened. It happened to us. So now what?
For business leaders, we need to learn how people respond to change, and their perception matters. Everyone perceives change through his or her own filters. What is 10% uncertainty or discomfort to one is 100% chaos to another.
A leader’s role is to focus on providing clarity and communication with employees so they come to understand what the change means to them. That is precisely what we did when we announced the sale of ING DIRECT to our colleagues. We are built on a foundation of trust and transparency, and there was no question that I would share whatever I could, as often as I could, to explain why this change is necessary.
Equipping employees with information is the single most important thing a leader can do. People don’t expect only good news so a leader must be straight, quick and direct with whatever he or she can share. And it’s crucial to create a safe environment for open dialogue so employees can come to a comfortable place of understanding.
My experience has shown me that people underestimate their personal capacity for change. This is true of many other attributes too. But this is where leaders are most needed, where they can have the biggest impact.
Managing change requires understanding how people perceive the change for themselves. With information, communication and trust you can help people understand the change better so everyone can get on with accepting it and making the best of it – and hopefully seeing the opportunity within it.
By Brenda Rideout (Chief Innovation Officer, ING DIRECT)
At ING DIRECT, innovation creates value for our customers and in many parts of the business through the implementation of ideas. To us, innovation implies teamwork, change and risk. Innovation happens when a team or an individual approaches an issue differently and applies a new or creative angle to their thinking. It’s a process where we problem solve by identifying and developing opportunities within complex situations, and at ING DIRECT, we do this through: open source challenges, ideation and facilitation.
We regularly collaborate with various schools across Canada on open source challenges, including the Rotman Marketing Association at the University of Toronto and the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario. And last summer we ran a Forward Banking Innovation Challenge on Facebook where Canadians were asked to submit ideas on banking innovations. These types of initiatives have helped validate our research, explore new marketing campaigns, helped generate product and service innovations and even assisted with simulating Gen Y students to start simple savings plans. We’re always looking to work together with fresh minds to identify how we can help Canadians live better lives.
Idea incubation is another critical component of our innovation program. It’s important to foster that inquisitive part of our brain which asks if there might be a better way to do something or approach a challenge. We encourage employees to readily share product and service challenges on the Orange Spark, an internal portal we created in 2008 to give everyone an opportunity to communicate their thoughts on how we can improve internally or unique ideas that will make our client experiences even better. This ideation process provides an opportunity for colleagues to collaboratively explore the root cause, prior to identifying creative solutions. Since its inception, the Orange Spark has received over 2,000 ideas, which have transformed into more than 250 implemented business solutions improving our products, processes and the overall client experience.
The quest for innovative solutions calls for a willingness to accept risk and celebrate failure. To recognize the creative thinkers who were willing to take the first plunge with an idea on the Orange Spark, each quarter we give out the Penguin award to the individual willing to put themselves out there, whether their idea was well-received or not. Without the willingness of the First Penguins to challenge us to think differently, many great solutions would go completely undiscovered. Even when ideas completely fail, there are valuable lessons to be learned and golden nuggets to be found.
Cultivating an innovative spirit is integral to our culture and truly helps us push boundaries to develop new and better ways to do things. We have a dedicated team of trained facilitators who design brainstorm sessions to assist teams across the organization with a broad spectrum of challenges, from creating new product names to the complete reengineering of a process. Over the past two years, our facilitation team has engaged more than 1,000 employees in sessions designed to utilize innovative thinking and techniques to solve challenges or capitalize on a specific opportunity. The persistent participation from our employees has defined the success of our Orange innovation programs. While innovative thinking is not the solution to all our problems, it’s a great filter we can use to challenge ourselves to approach the way we do things differently. To quote Thomas Jefferson, “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”