• Branded Culture – People, People, People Makes Good Business Sense

    I have a confession to make. I’m a fan of Irene Dorner. It’s not that

    she is one of the most powerful bankers in Malaysia. It’s not that she

    had a highly successful banking career with HSBC in the UK,

    spanning Marketing, HR, Treasury Operations and has led a 400

    branch region in the UK from number 4 to number 1. It’s not that she

    has blazed a trail to become HSBC Bank Malaysia’s first female

    CEO in over 125 years of operation. While these are definitely

    remarkable, what is most impressive is Irene Dorner herself. She is

    warm and approachable. She can be humorous. She is a great

    communicator. She influences through who she is rather than

    through the position that she holds. She can make the tough

    decisions when she needs to. And, since arriving on our shores in

    2007, Irene has certainly made a positive difference to the HSBC

    brand in Malaysia.

    Branded Customer Service

    ©2009 TMI Consultancy Sdn Bhd | www.tmimalaysia.com.my.my | Page 2 of 5

    HSBC is a highly successful player in the Malaysian banking market.

    I wanted to explore Irene’s thoughts on how to build a culture that

    delivers a great customer experience and that delivers positive

    financial results at the same time. As I found out, the “secret” starts

    with “People”, and it ends with “People.”

    In fact, Irene’s message, which is weaved throughout her

    communications to staff and in her presentations to the outside

    world, is “People, People, People.” Nice and simple. We explored

    this in more depth.

    There have been a number of “aha” moments in Irene’s career that

    have led to her people-based philosophy. She related how she had

    been working in the Marketing Department for HSBC Bank in the

    UK. A burning question was, “How do we engage our customers and

    make them feel special?”

    She explained how First Direct, a subsidiary of HSBC in the UK, at

    the time a call-centre based bank, was renowned for delivering a

    great customer experience. First Direct customers used exactly the

    same ATMs as HSBC customers. When First Direct customers were

    surveyed about their experience with the ATMs, they would say it

    was fantastic. However, HSBC customers, who weren’t that ecstatic

    about the bank’s service, rated their experience with exactly the

    same ATMs as being much lower. “The difference was how the

    customer feels when approaching the ATM,” she said.

    “We came to the conclusion that having a clean branch gave you a

    ticket to the game. What the customer wanted was to be known as

    an individual, to be treated equally, as an adult, to be recognized

    across all touch points – electronic, phone and in person.”

    Irene moved to HR where she realized that the needs of customers

    are the same as the needs of employees. “They are people needs,”

    she said. “Treat me as an individual, treat me as an equal, know

    what I need. This is what employees want.”

    “Others say that you should put your customers first. I say that we

    should put our people first,” she said. “If our people don’t feel good,

    they won’t give their best. Giving them a good working environment

    is one thing. But it is more important that you know them as

    individuals, provide them with good development opportunities and

    that they feel that they count. If they feel that they count, they will

    bring enormous energy to work.”

    Put your

    people first

    The “secret”

    starts with

    people, and

    it ends with

    people

    ©2009 TMI Consultancy Sdn Bhd | www.tmimalaysia.com.my.my | Page 3 of 5

    “If you ask employees what they do outside of work, you will

    discover an astounding amount of talent and creativity. People do

    amazing things such as playing musical instruments and dancing.

    Over here, there is a lot of talent in karaoke. Amazing talent. But, for

    some reason, when people come to work, we expect them to

    unscrew their heads and ask for a different set of behaviours.”

    Irene explained that the problem is that, in most cases,

    organisations ask, ‘How much do I need to make?’ rather than ‘How

    do I get my people right? “Yes, my people definitely come first. If you

    can get them fighting fit, then they will deliver great service. They will

    engage the customer. And it becomes a virtuous cycle – the

    customer will give positive feedback to our employees,” she said.

    Another defining moment came at a business breakfast. The HR

    Director of a major global brand was present. This brand was

    associated with fun and entertainment. The HR Director explained

    that things were not like this at all on the inside of the organisation. It

    definitely did not sound like fun to work in this company! “I realized

    that there was a major disconnect between the internal brand and

    the external brand. This would be reflected in poor people

    engagement surveys and, eventually, lower levels of customer

    engagement.” Irene said that it would not happen overnight – but it

    would happen over time. This led to a strong philosophy: “We are in

    the people business. People’s needs – whether employees or

    customers – are fundamentally the same. What we project to the

    outside world must be the same as what we project to the inside

    world. If there is a disconnect, things will come unstuck –

    eventually.”

    HSBC Bank Malaysia has invested a lot of time and resources to

    engage its people. “Our ON-Brand initiative had a major impact in

    releasing the energy and ideas of people.” The key challenge for

    Irene was to focus this energy to create business results. This was

    implemented through the development of a simple aspirational

    communication that included “+5+5” ie plus 5% in employee

    engagement and a plus 5% increase in customer.

    The third “People” is the community. Irene said that an organisation

    like HSBC cannot make the profits that it makes and not put

    something back. “We owe it to the people in the community.” she

    said. HSBC Malaysia puts its money where its mouth is through an

    active Corporate Sustainability program, encompassing education,

    the environment, community involvement and the arts.

    If you get

    your people

    right, they

    will deliver

    great service

    HSBC

    invests a lot

    of time and

    resources to

    engage its

    people

    ©2009 TMI Consultancy Sdn Bhd | www.tmimalaysia.com.my.my | Page 4 of 5

    The road to progress is constantly under construction. And it has to

    be paved with good communication. “You have to communicate

    consistently, constantly and simplistically,” said Irene. “HSBC senior

    management has held roadshows in 2008 and 2009. The

    aspirational message was the same, as was the message of People,

    People, People. This is reinforced through our weekly TeamTalk

    process, in my speeches and presentations. The strategic message

    has not changed in 18 months. We have changed the format, but we

    have not changed the message.” And rest assured that HSBC CEO

    Roadshows around the country in Malaysia are not boring! This year

    the message was wrapped around a game show theme. It’s certainly

    serious business, but it doesn’t mean that senior management can’t

    deliver the message in a fun way!

    The key challenge after that, Irene explained, is to walk the talk.

    “You have to put a lot of your own person into this. People then feel

    that it’s okay to do this,” she said.

    For change to happen, it’s important to have senior management on

    board. I asked Irene how she achieved this. “You must have honest

    and frank conversations about their behaviour. For example, I might

    say, “Did you realize that when you speak you come across as…?

    Some accept your views, while some may not. But I don’t back down

    from my view.”

    So what of 2009? Irene said that the bank will not deviate from its

    People, People, People mantra. “If we deviated, it would be

    calamitous!” she said. Irene explained that it is now important to give

    people tools to play the game well. They need to be provided with

    certainty. Their interest needs to be maintained.

    And finally, what about the legacy that Irene Dorner wants to leave

    behind. Irene had thought about this before taking on the position in

    Malaysia. “I want people to say that this is a better place since Irene

    was here, but she didn’t buck the hard decisions.”

    Communicate,

    consistently,

    constantly

    and

    simplistically

    ©2009 TMI Consultancy Sdn Bhd | www.tmimalaysia.com.my.my | Page 5 of 5

    There’s more that I can tell you from my interview with Irene. Her

    belief in senior management visibility, the importance of trust. The

    importance of taking the hard decisions when necessary, and more.

    Let’s wait to read about these lessons when, I hope, one day, Irene

    writes her best-selling book, People, People, People. Until next

    month.

     

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