Opening Pandoraís Box

Even the basic range of HRís responsibilities is enormous, but with the addition of vast transformational goals, conceiving its scope can invite a serious headache. No wonder then that in a challenging business environment, the undertaking of cultural change can seem more trouble than itís worth. It is so much easier to bury oneís head in the sand than commit to tackling complex issues like employee engagement, strategic alignment and the development of Level 5 leaders, but the HR team at AIB (Allied Irish Bank) did it anyway.

On 23rd April 2015, The HR World was joined for a lively round table debate by Orlagh Hunt, Group HR Director of AIB, and number of senior HR professionals interested in learning from AIBís rejuvenation (as well as sharing stories from their own experience).

After the crisis faced by AIB and so many others during the recession, a bailout from the Irish government meant that the bank became 99.8% state owned. Morale plummeted to its lowest point in the companyís history. After understanding and accepting that they could not begin rebuilding a house by starting with the roof, Orlagh and her team began an Odyssey to return to a profitable, trusted organisation. They decided to challenge how things were done by asking themselves what Ďgreatí actually looks like, when and how HR needs to take the driverís seat, and how to balance the need for collaboration with the desire to achieve the best solution.

Being a driver of change can be a lonely and uncomfortable place, especially when colleagues habitually retreat behind the veil of email rather than voicing a problem, so for Orlagh and her team a communicative, collaborative approach was key. If change is to be sustained and become the fabric of the organisation for years to come, then HR cannot be seen as the drivers and keepers of these initiatives going forward; the entire business needs to adopt them. There are, of course, trade-offs to using a collaborative strategy, but once the basics are in place and the business adjusts to its new rhythm, HR can begin transitioning from pilot to co-pilot.

After three years of moulding a very challenging environment, Orlagh and her team have enjoyed enormous success at AIB. Demonstrating what a well-oiled engine looks like effectively helped their leaders, and offering a patient, friendly ear to employees has dissolved the previous culture of mistrust.

The next challenge is to find the balance between audacious thinking and a collaborate approach to bring customer and employee experience together.

From pessimist to optimist to opportunist

For the Ďglass half emptyí types, the outlook of three years ago was almost too bleak. For the Ďglass half fullí types, success was a (very) distant hope. But for those smart enough to actually drink from the glass, it was a chance to prove themselves, to set an excellent example for HR, and truly turn a business around.

The HR World Debate will be followed by the sixth in our series of white papers, which are available to download here. The next instalment is due for release in early July 2015, when you will be able to read (or listen to) the conclusions drawn by the Debate.

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