‘HR isn’t just reinventing itself – it’s reinventing the bank’

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At most companies, HR departments have long been seen as unimportant – at least from a strategic perspective. Directors and managers who joined HR were often in the twilight of their careers. But Frank van den Brink, Managing Director of Employee Experience, says these ideas are outdated. Indeed, he’s proud that it’s his very own department at ABN AMRO which is charting a brand-new course for the bank.

In the end, all these HR initiatives serve a single purpose: to transform the bank. Frank van den Brink Frank van den Brink Managing Director Employee Experience

Leading by example

With the appointment of Kees van Dijkhuizen as the bank’s new CEO, the winds of change are blowing through the organisation. One result is that the way we work at the bank is being overhauled. The aim? To create a more agile organisation, put more emphasis on IT-based smart working, and embed more decision-making power at every organisational level. Frank says, “HR wants to be at the forefront of this transformation. Traditionally, the department’s role has been to facilitate change in the rest of the organisation and then bring up the rear, so to speak. Now we’re breaking with that tradition. We think it’s important to lead by example, showing the rest of the bank what this new way of working is and all the advantages it brings.”

Intuitive apps and data-driven work

Frank and his colleagues are hard at work promoting the upcoming organisational changes. “We’re developing a simplified service model, for example,” he explains, “a single, easy-to-use digital environment which will allow staff to do everything from requesting days off to posting job openings. We’ll be offering them practical, intuitive HR apps. After all, it’s important that staff enjoy the same online convenience as our clients do.” HR also wants to make more effective use of smart data. “These days, there’s so much we can measure. And we should be harnessing all that data to hone the services we provide and formulate HR policies which promote the bank’s strategic objectives.”

The battle for talent

ABN AMRO needs talent to meet its goals. Frank continues, “If we’re serious about recruiting talent, we have to change our recruitment strategy. Posting a job opening and waiting around to see who applies has long ceased to be an effective approach. Now we have to actively seek out that one student backpacking through Australia who can make all the difference to us.” Frank says this strategy is particularly effective for sourcing specialists to fill functional and knowledge-intensive positions in Compliance, Finance and User Experience. “We’re up against some stiff competition here – not just from other banks, but also from different players altogether like tech companies.” He believes that’s why it’s crucial to focus on employee experience, the way in which staff experience their career at the bank. “Since 1 April, we’re doing all we can to make that experience even more appealing through our Employee Experience Centre. That experience starts with the very first job interview, all the way through discussions about pay and promotion throughout an employee’s career, to the leaving do on his or her last day. That way, we hope staff will continue to serve as ABN AMRO ambassadors even after having worked at the bank.”

Back seat

In the end, all these HR initiatives serve a single purpose: to transform the bank. Unfortunately, though, this also means the department will have to make sacrifices. One-third of all HR staff now have to look for a new job, for instance. “That may sound rather draconian,” Frank admits, “but the change is necessary if we want to play a leading role and meet our objectives.” He says the change is important because it gives the department the perfect opportunity to prove its strategic value to the rest of the organisation. “HR has traditionally taken a back seat to departments like Finance, and, as a result, we’ve played a much smaller role in comparison. Now we have a chance to shatter that image and truly make a difference.”

Helping to define bank-wide themes

Frank is convinced that HR can stand out by smoothly guiding the bank through the transformation and showing the whole organisation how smart HR policies can empower the bank to meet its business objectives. “We’re now helping to define key bank-wide themes,” says Frank, “such as reforming our organisational culture and implementing agile working. But first, we plan to lay a solid foundation by changing the management structure, asking questions like how do we reduce the number of managers to create more room for other staff, and what profile should the managers who stay on have to meet. Contributing to these discussions is an excellent opportunity for HR to boost its credibility and impact throughout the bank.”

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