Case Studies

A Quest for Behavioural Shift at a Bank Debt Review Centre

Aug 2016

A leading South African bank’s debt review centre has the purpose of rehabilitating customers who have defaulted and assisting them to avoid being blacklisted, regain their creditworthiness and re-join the credit market.

Early in 2015 the centre’s leadership took a number of steps to achieve this purpose. The steps included a project, with Legitimate Leadership, to maximise employee engagement by enabling leaders to examine their intent and make changes in relationships with their staff. But the project included a second, more unusual part: training of their staff to understand what is required of each of them to truly make a contribution to the organisation’s goals.

This dual approach – “from both ends” – improves the chances of the initial behavioural shift which typically occurs immediately after an intervention, taking permanent root.

The debt review centre includes telephone consultants as well as legal experts and negotiators.

The Legitimate Leadership Model has the objective of cultivating trust and loyalty in relationships between leaders and employees, and ultimately unlocking the willingness of employees to contribute to the goals of the organisation. But this requires leaders to have a sincere and genuine concern for their people’s welfare combined with a commitment to enabling their people to realise the best in themselves.

To this end, during 2015, all leaders of the debt review centre attended a number of leadership workshops (the two-day Legitimate Leadership Introduction as well as more specialised modules) to show them how they could apply the model in their relationships and, more importantly, how they could shift their own intent from focusing on getting results out of people to caring for and growing their people to fulfil their potential.

The key was not just for each leader to understand the importance of the shift but for each to translate this into his/her everyday work relationships via the application of a set of tools and techniques. This training of the leaders was completed in early December 2015.

In 2016, the focus shifted to their staff. One-day Grow to Care workshops were done with all staff during the first part of 2016, providing all staff with an understanding of what is required of each of them to truly make a contribution to the organisation’s goals.

The Grow to Care intervention is based on the premise that while the role of a leader is primarily to serve his/her people by caring for and growing them, the role of those in the “front line” of a business is being there to serve the customer – and it is the quality of their contribution that ultimately determines the quality of the customer’s experience. And, flowing from this, it is the direct impact on the bottom line result which ultimately accounts for the sustainability of the organisation.

These workshops add impetus to the leadership intervention by helping staff members to consider their own intent and what they need to change to make a real contribution. This helps them to realise that it is their full engagement and commitment to the organisation that accounts for its ultimate success. They learn that it is their daily choices not to focus on their own needs but rather to serve customers (internal or external) that will fulfil the purpose of the organisation. Staff members also learn that they have the capacity to play a role in building a strong, collaborative team around themselves by constantly setting each other up for success.

Content Comment
Core Criterion For Excellence

The intention to give or to serve accounts for excellence at the level of the individual, the team and the organisation. 

Personal Excellence

  • The criteria for a successful life.
  • What being here to give actually means.
  • The implications of being here to give, or to take, for what all human beings seek: security, fulfilment, significance and harmony.
  • The two forms of giving: generosity and courage.

Team Excellence

  • Powerful teams give more than they take.
  • How members of teams can give with generosity and courage.
  • The benevolent intent of the team and the task.
  • What motivates individual team members and how this relates to the benevolent intent of the team. 
The Grow to Care workshop is aimed at enabling individual, team and organisational excellence or contribution in those who make a direct contribution to the organisation’s results. Participants are people in the organisation who are not in command positions – those who do the work which accounts for the bottom line of the business.The workshop explores the core criterion for excellence or success at the level of the individual (personal excellence); group (team excellence); and organisation (service excellence). The core criterion in each instance is the intent to give or to serve.

Beginning with personal excellence, the insight is gained that a successful life is concerned with “giving”, not “taking”. More specifically, it is what people contribute to others, rather than what they accumulate for themselves, which accounts for their excellence as human beings. The programme then makes it clear that teams succeed to the degree to which their members give more than they take. Giving, in the context of a team, means that team members are prepared to suspend their self-interest for the bigger interests of the team; they put the team first. Secondly, it means that the interactions between members of the team are primarily values-driven rather than needs-driven. At an organisational level, the point is made that a successful organisation is one which serves a customer. Supply exists to serve demand, not itself. Organisations which do not add value to their customers cease to exist over time.

Grow to Care workshops were run in the training room on the same floor as the rest of the business. After some scepticism in the first few days, delegates began to share their enthusiasm with colleagues awaiting their turn to attend a workshop. By the end of the first week, the office was abuzz with what was happening and staff were overheard challenging one another’s intent. While this may have been light-hearted initially, it may be one of the keys to shifting behaviour in the long run.

During and after the workshops, employees talked about feeling more connected to the business and each other; some said that they would be serious about helping colleagues, sharing their knowledge, training new people to get up to speed, and going the extra mile where they found the opportunity.

Some said they realised that they were the architects of their own life experience and that it was their choices about their own lives that made them happy or unhappy. They said that they realised that it is a victim who continually blames others for where he/she is in life. They said that they could escape this miserable state by placing their attention on what they could control in their work environment.

Anecdotal evidence indicated that most staff left the workshops happy and motivated to make a difference, and some resolved to deal with issues that were making them unhappy in order to be able to contribute as constructive and dependable members of their teams and the organisation.

On completion of all the Grow to Care workshops, feedback elicited from a random group of leaders indicated that they had noticed a shift in a number of staff taking more responsibility, owning up to mistakes, and generally taking more ownership for their contributions.

The leaders noted that a handful of people were starting to go the extra mile and taking on extra work without being asked. They said that teamwork had improved and people were supporting each other. Some individuals who had been known for doing the minimum had begun to engage more positively. In the case of one individual, his body language was notably different: instead of slouching at his desk, unsmiling and unenthusiastic, he had started to sit up straight and appeared to want to be at work.

Some leaders reported that they had been too busy to notice any shifts, and many had not asked their people whether they had enjoyed the training. Herein lies the biggest risk: time is allocated and money is spent on training and there is an assumption that after the work done in the training room, transformation will follow. But this is not necessarily the case.

What the Grow to Care workshops do is shift the majority of people provisionally from “takers” to “givers” at work. But the workshops cannot do the work of leadership.

Real transformation only happens when leaders make a habit of focusing on the right things. Otherwise the situation is (as said by Wendy Lambourne) “The pig farmer returns his clean pigs to a dirty sty and wonders why they are soon back to the colour they were when he removed them”.

So, the positive energy and excitement generated by the Grow to Care workshops among most staff bought leaders time. But it is the leaders who will bring home the real impact by ensuring they themselves are experienced as givers and not as takers in their everyday engagement with their staff, and by reinforcing the learnings that staff take from the Grow to Care workshops.

… taken from written feedback forms:

Q: Did you notice any changes in your subordinates after the Grow to Care workshops?

  • They see every day as a new challenge.
  • There is a far more positive attitude in the team.
  • They seem to take more care with their work and each other.
  • I am finding each person is taking full responsibility.
  • They seem to be committed to team’s objectives, far more than before.
  • They don’t need to have a team leader around with a big stick.

Q: Did you notice individual changes with specific people?

  • They are giving more of themselves, especially the new guys, by training, sharing knowledge etc.
  • Those who seemed to escalate everything are being more accountable – for instance, they are dealing with difficult customers and in so doing, they are taking control and are becoming stronger and more confident.
  • Handling these difficult calls/customers are seen as lessons learnt and they are growing as individuals.

Q: Did you notice any changes in the team and the way it works together?

  • There has been a noticeable shift in teamwork.
  • I have seen people collaborating, not working in silos.
  • Requests made to me are different – I have to step away and allow them to try on their own. Of course there is far more coaching from me now.
  • It is difficult to let go, but I am working on my patience!
  • I don’t spend much time on the requests to take escalated calls and instead I am empowering staff to handle the challenges that come with dealing with these calls.
  • I do have to remind them that I am not being hard on them, that this is for their growth when I push issues back to them.
  • It is interesting to note that they grow in confidence when they handle issues successfully.
  • At last the training we have done is being put to good use. After all, it is their job to handle these calls as far as possible and not take the easy way of calling on the team leader every time they are faced with a difficult customer.
  • I am only making them stronger with benevolent intent as they are learning every day.
  • I know that as they get better, this will benefit the team as they eventually start teaching others in the team.
  • One has to sometimes be cruel to be kind in order to grow people!
  • When there is uncertainty someone in the team that knows the answer will often assist.

Q: Please comment on any of the more difficult people in your team – did you notice anything different with them?

  • These staff are being far more co-operative, they are trying harder.
  • Just reminding them of the importance of the job, they found boring … but (now they are) seeing their contribution from a different angle and seeing that every day is a new day with new challenges and it is up to them to get into the habit of learning something new each day.
  • Some are offering their time to go into the other departments to learn other job functions so that they start empowering themselves with new knowledge – this is power that no-one can take away.
  • I have found some who were victims now starting to realise that they are ultimately accountable and responsible for their own doings.

Q: And the “stars”, how did they apply what they had learnt?

  • Always sharing knowledge, they continue.
  • I notice and appreciate their positive attitudes.
  • These are ones who show the way, they are leading by example by being role models.

Q: With regard to the consolidation workshops with Clarissa, what did you feel about the session and the outcome? (Clarissa had convened meetings for all teams to agree on their Benevolent Intent statement, based on what they had each done in the workshops. These were consolidated into one overall statement for the organisation.)

  • Staff were very energised and their participation was great.
  • The team came up with all kinds of slogans and mission statements on how best we can serve our customers that are under debt counselling.
  • Our example of Benevolent Intent was “Managing your debt with our HELP”. I can say that in essence their understanding of benevolent intent is clear.

Q: Do you believe that this will add value to FNB Debt Review Centre as a department, in the way that you serve your clients, and if so, how?

  • Creating powerful teams in order to assist our debt-trapped customers.
  • We are actually living the FNB statement of “How can I help you …” so that clients are rehabilitated and can go back into the mainstream of banking again with dignity.
  • We should be proud of our work, giving people a foot up to get their lives back on track.

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