We have been working with the National Australia Bank (NAB) since 2005. Training their leaders in the use of organisational storytelling for a variety of applications. The NAB understands that storytelling is a key tool to not only engage their employees but also their customers and the wider community.
When Cameron Clyne took over as CEO in 2008, he took on a mission to change the community’s negative perception around the banking industry and to focus on ‘Doing the Right Thing’ and providing ‘Fair Value’.
The bank did not want to go out with promises that they knew would be met with scepticism. So they went out with action. The very first public act of doing the right thing and providing fair value was to abolish overdrawn fees on personal bank accounts. This was going to result in a reduction of over $100 million off their bottom line. The news was received very well by customers and the community, with all the other major banks in Australia forced to follow in some way.
What Clyne and others underestimated was the enormous internal employee engagement effect this had. Employees for a long time that had been experiencing the brunt of the organisation’s perceived ‘greed’, suddenly felt proud of what their employer was doing. Clyne, speaking at the Australian Israel Chamber of Commerce in March 2009, declared this about the NAB’s employees ‘That over 24,000 employees in Australia and 40,000 globally work very hard. I owe it to them to ensure they work for a company they can feel proud of”.
Clyne wanted fair value and doing the right thing to go beyond fees. A fair value team was established and headed up by Anthony Waldron. Waldron had come from MLC where internal stories of doing the right thing were more common. Waldron commented “It was a noticeable difference when I joined the NAB. Coming from MLC I would often hear stories about the good things that the company had done in the past. This was becoming part of the culture there. One such story was about during the war when MLC stopped charging soldiers for their life insurance but still paid out on it. Everyone knew these stories but I noticed at the NAB that no such stories existed”…..Or did they? Waldron and his team knew the stories existed they just needed to be found and shared.
NAB, recognised the need for training and sharing of stories as a way of influencing the internal cultural development. The team embarked on a process of finding stories about employees providing fair value and doing the right thing. We worked with them to find these stories through facilitating specific ‘story harvesting’ sessions. One such story was about Ben who worked in a call centre. Upon ending a regular call with “Is there anything else I can help with you today?” he had the customer break down on the phone as she talked about her current battle with cancer. Ben listened and treated the person with respect and compassion. He asked if there was someone there with her, or someone she could contact? He ended the call by saying that his prayers and thoughts were with her and hoped everything worked out. What Ben did was not driven by average call times, it was not following process and procedure. What Ben did was the right thing and he was acknowledged and praised by his team leader.
These stories and others like them, once found, can then be shared throughout the company.
One such leader Matt Ricker shared a powerful story that has gained a life of its own throughout the NAB. This is Matt’s story. “Twenty years ago when I got my job at the NAB I rushed home to tell my family. I was so excited. I remember my Nana saying to me ‘That is great because if you work hard, one day you will become a bank manager and they really mean something in society’. When I reflect back on my last 20 years of my career in the banking industry and I don’t think there are too many Nana’s out there that are proud of their grand children working for a bank. What I hope to achieve with our Fair Value and Doing the Right Thing agenda is to make sure there are alot of Nana’s out there that are proud of their grandkids for working for the NAB”.
What Ben’s and Matt’s examples show are that stories are a powerful leadership and communication tool and absolutely critical in bringing a strategy alive. Critical in ensuring that an agenda or concept as broad as fair value and doing the right thing is made real.