(By Jacob Morgan)
“The key here was to lead by example and who better to start with than the CEO? As mentioned above ING Direct Canada also has no job titles for employees and no offices so everyone works together and nobody brings up their seniority level in meetings, instead they focus on identifying themselves by their responsibilities. All of this helped open up the lines of communication and turn it into a two way street, anyone can talk to anyone. Anyone can have an idea, an improvement, or a suggestion, and they all need to be taken seriously, particularly if the feedback impacts their customers.“
When most people think of a financial institution they usually think of suits, large offices, strict hierarchy, and a buttoned up culture. That’s where ING Direct Canada is different. Employees don’t have job titles, there are no offices, and the CEO doesn’t even have a reserved parking spot for himself. ING Direct Canada has around 1,000 employees and 2 million customers and is bringing in 100,000 new customers every year. ING Direct Canada manages around 1,800 customers for every employee it has whereas the Big Five Banks (in Canada) are only doing around 250. They also manage around $40k in assets per employee compared to $10k per employee at the Big Five.
So how is ING Direct Canada able to manage around 25-30 times the amount of customers per employee and four times the amount of assets as their competitors? Keep in mind that ING Direct Canada only has 1,000 employees while the Big Five all have between 40,000-70,000 employees? Clearly there is something special going on here.
I recently spoke with the CEO of ING Direct Canada, Peter Aceto and it’s safe to say the Peter definitely has the 5 Must Have Qualities of the Modern Manager. He has been with the company now for 17 years and during our talk Peter had no problem talking about everything from the core values of his company to his sometimes difficult relationship with his father. ING Direct Canada is a very unique company which has a strong focus on collaboration and adapting to the future of work and so I wanted to find out what Peter was doing to create this type of a unique company. Peter’s advice for other business leaders is to focus on a few key areas:
Values and the culture of the organisation
According to Peter, whether you are building a company from scratch or evolving an existing one, the underlying values and culture need to facilitate collaboration. At the end of the day values can mean different things but basically they steer how you hire, make decisions, and work. The values for ING Direct Canada are: 1. To Simplify 2. To Be Challengers 3. To Be The Good Guys. Now while “collaboration” isn’t an explicit value it’s a core part of the culture. Collaboration comes as a necessity because the above values cannot be realised without collaboration. Not having job titles or offices is part of what ING Direct Canada does to help facilitate an open and collaborative culture. In fact, according to Peter, everyone at his company is a leader and you can’t be a leader without collaborating.
Flattening the organisation
Peter strongly believes that junior level employees need to feel comfortable speaking with senior level leaders and that senior level leaders need to be just as comfortable listening to and speaking with junior level employees. It’s an ongoing process that they are working on and trying to improve. When Peter took over the role as CEO one of the things he did was completely ignore the traditional organisational chart. He walked around and talked to whomever he wanted regardless of their seniority. At first people felt a bit uncomfortable but eventually they got used it and other employees started to emulate his behavior. The key here was to lead by example and who better to start with than the CEO? As mentioned above ING Direct Canada also has no job titles for employees and no offices so everyone works together and nobody brings up their seniority level in meetings, instead they focus on identifying themselves by their responsibilities. All of this helped open up the lines of communication and turn it into a two way street, anyone can talk to anyone. Anyone can have an idea, an improvement, or a suggestion, and they all need to be taken seriously, particularly if the feedback impacts their customers.
Transparency and vulnerability
ING Direct Canada tries to share as much information as possible with employees when it comes to vision, strategy, and how the company is performing. This helps create and environment where employees can use that information to get things done; it’s the antithesis of command and control. Peter acknowledges that 100% transparency is perhaps not practical, sometimes illegal, and perhaps not always in the best interest of employees; but for the most part he shares what he can as soon as he can. As part of their effort to improve sharing they also consolidated their two corporate offices into one and did extensive renovations to focus on collaborative work-spaces. 95% of employees said this has improved how they work and engage with colleagues. Earlier this year Peter also came up with an idea to give his employees “the right to bitch.” On their collaborative portal Peter encouraged his whole company to share their frustrations and pain points with the company and with how things are done. This included everything from business specific issues to bringing back hash-browns to the breakfast menu! Peter acknowledges that while these conversations and dialogues might not be solving major business issues, they are building a culture of trust, sharing, transparency, and vulnerability. This is what eventually leads to solving major business challenges and changing the world.
Peter also told me an interesting story. When he first started working at ING Direct Canada as a junior leader, he tried to be perfect with how he communicated, dressed, and interacted with others. Peter’s boss at the time sat down with him and told him that nobody believes that he or anyone else is perfect. He was told, “Be yourself, people will trust you and will love to work with you. Be authentic and don’t try to appear to be something that you are not.” Peter found that employees were more likely to work with him when he opened up and showed who he really was. That’s how he learned that being vulnerable is OK and he encourages his whole company to do the same.
Having the right technology in place
At the end of the day collaboration isn’t a technology issue it’s a people issue. However, technology can help facilitate and accelerate collaboration while empowering employees to make things happen. Not only that but the technology can make it easier to measure process and success. Technology also enables employees to work with flexible hours and environments which greatly impacts the overall quality of life for employees. Peter is working on finding the right balance between office time and remote work for his employees but sees this as an important initiative for ING Direct Canada.
I find ING Direct Canada to be an inspiring organization and I hope more companies around the world will find Peter’s advice both valuable and actionable. If an organization in one of the most conservative industries is able to transform and adapt, then so can any other company.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”
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