When I joined AIB back in 2012, the bank was bailed out to the tune of €21 billion and as a result, became 99.8% state owned. Customers, employees and the media had turned against us. This was a business badly in need of transformation. AIB had clear plans to turn the business around, but it would have been impossible to implement them without the right people agenda. John Stumpf, the Chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo, once said “we could leave our strategic plan on an airplane, somebody could pick it up, and it wouldn’t matter. It’s all about the execution”.

At AIB, we wanted to take care of the people who handled the execution. Turnaround plans alone were not going to be enough; we needed our people to be fired up and pulling in the same direction if we were to resuscitate AIB and build a bank our customers and employees could believe in. Back then, the business leaders at AIB typically looked to HR to help manage headcount reductions, deliver a voluntary severance programme and take care of industrial relations. While these things were important, we needed more to help AIB to viability and be seen as an attractive proposition for investors. Based on the experience and insight I’d gained from my previous organisations (including RSA Insurance, Walkers and AXA), and with the backing of our CEO, I galvanised the HR team around three key people priorities:

• Driving organisational alignment through improved

performance management and internal communications

• Significantly improving levels of employee engagement

• Building leadership capability

These were ambitious things to pursue, given that the HR function I inherited had significant challenges of its own; we were in fact five HR functions which needed to be one cohesive unit, we had to reduce the cost of running the HR function by €35 million over five years, and cut our headcount by almost 50%.Initially, some of our ideas were met with resistance by the business. One of the many questions our puzzled leaders asked us was “Why would we need to measure engagement now when we know how bad things are?” But, thanks to the support from our CEO and the courage of our convictions, we stood our ground and for a period it no longer felt like we were salmon swimming upstream.

In terms of alignment, we went back to basics. We got all our people leaders together, set out our expectations and then ran skill-building workshops so they could set SMART, outcome-focussed personal objectives with their teams which aligned to the overall strategy. This meant that people were given better quality objectives and each knew the part they played in delivering it. Our aim was for the leaders to no longer view performance management as a painful HR process, and instead, see it as a key enabler for them to deliver on strategy.

We also harnessed the power of storytelling to engage people in the company vision. We wanted to achieve more than just their understanding; we wanted to create a deeper emotional connection, which is where storytelling really helped. We are now sharing lots of stories and testimonials internally to demonstrate how our people make our strategy happen.

- Orlagh Hunt, Ex-Group HR Director, AIB

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