People & Culture Essentials Videocast with Angela Gibson & Liz Ashford at TSB

The Institute of Organisational Dynamics was designed for the modern people profession. It provides an insight and increases awareness of the principles which underpin a Transformational Culture – a culture which is fair, just, inclusive and high performing. The IooD’s first livestream event, held with TSB Bank, looked at their creation of a person-centred and values-based culture.

Founder David Liddle was joined by Head of Employee Relations Angela Gibson and HR Director Liz Ashford. Angela leads on all things employee relations, which includes the development of HR policies, and has since implemented the Resolution Framework at TSB two years ago. As HR Director, Liz has accountability for all facets of the people agenda, sitting on the Executive Committee with a great interest in culture and how it affects our colleagues’ everyday lives.

David: Culture is the greatest asset an organisation has but can also be its greatest liability if we don’t give it that attention. What does the word culture mean to you?

Liz: Defining culture is often like nailing jelly to the wall. For us, it’s about how it feels to be here and how the organisation shows up and impacts on individuals. Simplicity is really key.

David: Absolutely. And how do people feel to be part of the TSB experience?

Liz: We look at the feelings of our customers and colleagues but we also measure metrics and numbers to understand employee experience.

Angela: The biggest impact that people have resonated with us is the ability to have a conversation when things aren’t going right. A by-product of developing the Resolution Framework™ has been equipping people to have those conversations which has become the thread for our organisational development to build upon.

David: And how do you measure culture?

Liz: We get out of bed to serve our customers. To help them save for their future, buy homes and live their every day lives. So when measuring the culture of our company, we try to correlate internal sentiment with that customer sentiment. We look at a net promoter score for colleague sentiment and a nine-box grid for key components of culture and that is then correlated to different aspects of customer feedback. We also look at our risk processes – we want to understand from a critical perspective all of those cultural dynamics. Finally, we look at movement on a six-monthly basis.

Angela: It’s important to stress that ultimately we want an environment where if something doesn’t feel right, colleagues feel safe and comfortable to have a different point of view and to raise a concern. The way you do that is by normalising perspectives and listening to people. One of our behaviours is “say it straight” – we’re always looking for that positive difference.

David: Saying it straight is a powerful phrase. Do you think that the process of the Resolution Framework helps people to disagree well?

Angela: Yes. We’re encouraging a culture where people can say when things are just niggling. Whether people have strong or weak feelings, issues small or large, it’s important that people feel safe saying what’s on their mind.

David: Do you find these conversations are lending themselves to innovation, creativity and ideas through discussion? What are the benefits of a speak up culture?

Liz: Encouraging empowerment of staff means they’re more likely to speak up about anything. For instance, if they feel that systems and processes aren’t working – whether that’s on the shop floor or in the head office – they feel confident to challenge the norms.

David: Culture is often an internal system, but your version of culture really feeds into the customer. How does this work?

Angela: Given that our overall surface is about servicing customers, it would be unusual for us not to think about customers as part of our DNA. From an internal focus, if your staff are optimised and energised, then you are going to see some innovation and creativity around providing great services for customers. Put people first and performance follows.

David: How has the TSB Do What Matters plan assisted in culture change?

Angela: Two years ago, we had conversations with 6000 customers to discuss their expectations, desires and needs. With the arrival of a new CEO, all of our systems needed to be purpose-driven – using insight from colleagues and customers – to refocus our company blueprint. Off the back of our ethos, we designed some behaviours to reflect that. Do what matters is one of our behaviours, and this plan discusses five different stakeholders. It’s an ecosystem.

Liz: Recalibrating our behavioural focus has massively shifted TSB’s culture. We have regular meetings with different factions of the company and there’s now a greater intersectional emphasis on targets. These targets have been exceeded: for our work on gender balance, the ratio of females in senior leadership is 41% compared to the financial services average of 34%.

David: Wow. It sounds like you’re building for a fair, just, inclusive, sustainable and high-performing future. Any tips of creating that culture and overcoming obstacles?

Angela: We don’t have a huge amount of conflict due to the design of our organisation and so in that sense, our obstacles weren’t traditional. The “issue” was really asking ourselves: what’s our purpose of implementing a Resolution Framework? It wasn’t to solve a specific issue or resolve an inordinate amount of grievances, it was more part of the jigsaw of the culture that we were striving to build and implement within TSB. The pandemic has found us in working in different dynamics and styles – expecting challenge, turmoil and restlessness – but we’ve seen the complete opposite. People have leaned in, risen to challenges and felt energised. It was more about embedding a culture that we wanted to achieve rather than tackling systematic issues.

David: That’s wonderful. In simple terms, what is a Resolution Framework?

Angela: For us, it’s about encouraging openness without fear of retribution or challenge. But also recognising that if that safe space isn’t appropriate, then facilitated conversations are the next step which are a little more serious but still focused on joint agreement, discussion and communication. It’s about impacting people’s understanding about each other. Where interventions are needed, mediation is then really key. They step in when a third party is needed in a professional and objective manner with expert techniques to drive conversation. Finally, if conflict is very serious, then the Framework does allow for litigation which can protect the organisation in complex cases.

David: It sounds like the steps of the Framework align to your values of creating a speak up system. Sometimes people are nervous about dialogue or our systems prevent this kind of open communication – has this been a risky thing to promote?

Liz: It would be dishonest if we didn’t say that it doesn’t always work perfectly. When we initially opened up discussions about informal resolution, w e were challenged openly in front of 6000 staff. But that’s what we wanted – we want challenge, we want people to speak up, and that’s where  the helpful space lies in a progressive and forward-thinking organisation. Being on the sharp end of pointed questions is uncomfortable but it’s productive for company growth.

David: We’ve lost the art of disagreeing well and complaining well. Having adult-to-adult conversations is at the heart of the Resolution Framework as I see it. So, thinking about this as not just a HR policy but as part of a wider culture fit, do you see it on this strategic level?

Angela: These principles and behaviours definitely sit within general resolution culture. It’s part of our DNA to encourage people to speak up and be listened to, so why would we not do this?

David: What support do you provide to line managers to sustain the Framework?

Angela: We upskilled a number of our line managers to be able to mediate. We continued our leadership development – albeit virtually – to ensure a continuous upskilling and coaching. We keep reinforcing and reinvesting in our leaders so that they can live and breathe this innovative model of resolution. Managers should feel encouraged to react to circumstances on a case-by-case basis rather than following a strict policy.

David: Today we’re on a video call, but last week we were together for the Personnel Today Awards. We have to mention our success in winning the Change Management Award! How did it feel to collect the award?

Angela: It was a very proud moment to reflect on the progress we’ve made and the recognition of this by our peers. We’re not only making a real difference in TSB but also making fundamental waves in the HR world. It felt very powerful and we were so thrilled.

David: We must acknowledge mediators as the unsung heroes of organisations. It was wonderful to see them at your table celebrating with you on the frontlines. In modern workplaces, it’s so important to have that alignment between culture, employee experience and customer experience. We should always bring customer voices to the table – whether that’s a patient in a hospital, a student in a classroom or a customer in a bank. In light of this, is there any person or thing that’s inspired you to be who you are on this journey of culture change?

Angela: I like to always look ahead and draw inspiration from what is happening around me. On a daily basis, reactions and feedback to our interactions and improvements inspire me. Getting constructive criticism drives us to stretch ourselves and build back even better, so feedback is my source of motivation.

Liz: I’m a reader, so for me it’s The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. It focuses on those incremental improvements you can make in any walk of life, whether that’s in a bank, in healthcare or on a rainy morning playing tennis. That’s something we could all learn from and build upon to become the best versions of ourselves.