How Do You Manage Work-Life Balance Interview Questions And Answers Award-Winner Interview – Nicola Stokes, ANZ

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Award-Winner Interview – Nicola Stokes, ANZ

At the end of April, Nicola Stokes – formerly General Manager Shared Service, ANZ Bank – was honoured as APAC 2008 Thought Leader of the Year. Now we catch up with Nicola to find out a little more about the qualities and achievements which distinguished her from the competition – and to hear about her plans for the future, and life after the financial services industry.

Q: How did you become involved with ANZ’s shared services program?

A: I was appointed General Manager Shared Services in 2005. There was probably about two-thirds of the organization that exists today in place when I got there; the organization was all based in Melbourne at that stage. I think the most striking feature for me when I arrived was probably that the people didn’t really understand why they were all put together in a shared service; each piece was run quite separately, and was very much a cost-driven service-delivery focus.

Q: What functions are in place now?

A: Basically as ANZ Shared Services exists now, we are responsible for HR Operations such as recruitment, remuneration, learning and development, pension/superannuation; Finance processes such as payroll, accounts payable, reconciliations, indirect taxes, information and reporting; Strategic Sourcing (IT and business services); and ANZ Environmental sustainability program and system. We’ve expanded quite a lot over the last couple of years. We have a team of 400 now, half in Melbourne, and the other half are in India, in Bangalore with our captive center there. The clients are based in various geographies, Australia, New Zealand, India and SE Asia. The headcount for ANZ is about 35,000, and the 400 of us service all of them.

Q: That does sound like a major expansion. So was this planned when you came in, or was it as a result of your own strategy formulated after your appointment?

A: When I went in, you could just see the opportunity; I looked at ANZ’s strategy, where it was going with its five-year plan, and it was definitely based around having a very efficient and effective and high-quality infrastructure to support its planned expansion. ANZ had a captive center in Bangalore for nearly 18 years, and it was used for software development; my boss at the time – Mike Grime, managing director of Operations Technology and Shared Services (OTSS) – understood we had a huge competitive advantage in India and we weren’t using it. So I looked at how we could use the captive for shared services and started to move the transactional elements of our service offering to Bangalore, with great success. We kept the roles that interacted with the client in the same country as the client – a hub and spoke model. I also looked at overall cost, because obviously in all SSOs cost is an important factor, but we had quite a different way of approaching that I think. ANZ’s products are not the cheapest banking products on the market, but they are cost-effective, and so the question was, how could we match the cost-effective nature of shared services to meet that sort of customer delivery.

When I talk about “customers” I mean the customers of the bank; my “clients” are my internal customers, if you like. Sometimes when you use the term “customer” for your internal clients, you create a kind of master-servant relationship within the organization. That doesn’t actually do any good, because in the end what we’re trying to do is all oriented around the end customers, which for us are the retail banking and institutional customers.

My strategy involved using the Heskett model of the service-profit chain, to help my own staff understand why they were all in a shared service: basically if you can deliver an excellent level of internal service, that will enable the front-line staff to deliver a similar level to customers. Indeed Heskett’s model shows how front-line staff can ONLY deliver the level of service they receive on the inside of the organization. So that gave everybody a bit of vision as to how all the pieces fit together given everything we were responsible for was about the internal operations of the Bank. It also helped our clients understand what else we could do for them and what would or would not be effective. It was also important that we did not become the dumping ground for things the rest of the Bank did not want, so if a process/service was customer-facing or revenue-generating it did not belong in Shared Services. Then when we started to demonstrate this strategy/model to our clients, and to articulate our value proposition, that’s when we started to grow and we started to take on more work for them, which was wonderful.

Q: Does the SSO have any clients beyond ANZ or is it still all internal shared services?

A: It is still all internal shared services.

Q: Was there the plan eventually to sell services to other organizations?

A: It’s a really interesting question. Sourcing and partnerships are one of the strengths of what we developed, but a lot of shared services entities start to fail when they start to take on third-party work, because they’re going against the reason they were set up in the first place. What in my experience you need to do is draw a line in the sand – and then if you decide that now it’s about revenue generation, ANZ then becomes a client. There are many documented cases where this had been attempted and has been a failure as the shared service starts to believe it exists for its own revenue-generation – and the business we are in is banking. If this step is to be taken the most successful ventures I have seen are when the shared services is sold or JV’d.

Part of the vision that we had for shared services was that we would enable the Bank’s growth whether organic growth or through acquisition. Shared services traditionally get involved after the acquisition has been decided, whereas what we believe is that because of the responsibility placed in our shared services organization – we had financial stewardship of A$4bn- we would become part of the decision-making process about what we would acquire because we would be able to demonstrate that we would enable the benefit delivery of the M&A by getting things up and running and integrated more quickly. So, my strategy was to ensure that shared services would move from a purely cost-focused, internal transaction operation to something that was a crucial part of the growth and development of the Bank through operational excellence and energetic and agile service delivery.

Q: Before we move on to talking about your role as thought-leader for which you’ve been recognised, can you tell us a little more about the environmental sustainability department you mentioned?

A: Absolutely. It’s quite unusual within shared services. Part of ANZ’s strategy under the previous CEO was ensuring the bank became more environmentally sustainable; there was quite a big community and employee engagement plan, but the environmental sustainability area, our understanding of our consumption, was still in its infancy. We started with the basics: we designed and implemented an environmental management system, around creating baselines and understanding performance. If you look at the other pieces of shared services – especially the procure-to-pay process and the responsibility for the supply chain, the processes and methodologies we used, we could control the type of things the Bank consumed.

Our next step was to further understand how we could become carbon-neutral. We started working on a strategy and education program, internally for bank employees and all the way through our supply chain. We started to only select environmentally sustainable products for the catalogue; we worked with current suppliers so they could get to a benchmark with us; and we stopped doing business with people – new work – if they didn’t understand their own footprint. We taught our suppliers things and they taught us things.

And I was actually voted onto the United Nations Environment Program Finance Steering Committee, and went to Geneva representing ANZ. I was voted onto the committee by 80 of the banks globally who are members of the UNEP-FI. And our crowning glory was that in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index we, ANZ, became the number-one sustainable bank for 2007/08 – pipping WestPac at the post – which wasn’t the aim! But it was a wonderful outcome, and it’s now embedded in the way that the bank does business. We can now monitor everyone’s buying behaviour on an ongoing basis. It was quite a wonderful achievement: a lot of hard work – and a lot of scepticism – but one of the great examples of shared services being able to demonstrate that its value is much more than transactional or purely operational functions.

Q: That’s a very impressive achievement. Congratulations.

A: Thank you. We’re very proud of it.

Q: You deserve to be. Let’s move on to your award. Why do you think you were honoured as Thought Leader of the Year?

A: Two things I think. Firstly the leadership program I put I place and secondly the strategy, business plan and implementation methodology I designed and used to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of shared services in ANZ.

The leadership program that I put in place was a three-year rolling program for all of the leaders in shared services – so not only the leaders in line management, but my direct reports and their direct reports functionally. And then we added people who hadn’t worked in a bank, because they bring in all this other experience. Shared services is full of young people, so we picked out all the older people with experience in life, and knowledge, so the whole leadership forum could get that sort of balance.

We used a Human Synergistics tool called Life Style Inventory which is very well-known in this part of the world, and it talks about moving from passive-aggressive or defensive-aggressive styles to constructive styles, and their tools show that the constructive styles lead to increased share price and profitability. We ran that over the first year of the program, putting 38 people through this: we launched it for the whole 400 in Melbourne and Bangalore because when people see shift in their leaders they get concerned, they don’t know what’s going on – so we simply articulated what was going on. I employed a leadership coach and for six months the 38 each met with me every eight to twelve weeks and with the coach every four weeks, working through the program – so they sort of practised for six months and then went up to implement for the next six months.

Then Year 2 of the program was positive psychology: this is a way of thinking and discussing what’s good in life, and doing more of it, rather than as most organizations operate – on deficit, grading performances on what you haven’t done or what you’ve done wrong. This research is quite phenomenal. It’s run as a course at Harvard, and it’s the most attended course. [Martin] Seligman did a lot in relation to happiness, and what he’s actually shown is that it’s not about being happy but being happier, and the effects on the physiology of the brain and what that does for individuals and therefore the organization. By rolling this program through, we got the biggest shift to constructive profile that Human Synergistics have ever seen in their history and they’re actually doing a profile on us, that’s out in the next couple of months.

The Heskett service-profit chain model worked really well for us; I’m not sure if it has to be that one in particular, but it has to be something that will bind all the people who work in shared services together. And then we had a robust business-planning methodology which we developed that other parts of the bank started to use, using end-to-end process management approach, and Lean and Six Sigma, Balanced Scorecard and a lot of those basic tools that deliver an effective process but then free up the individuals in the process to think and be innovative for our clients. We automated end-to-end so we could use our ideas and our people to deliver a better service. You know, if our clients have a clunky process that takes their time away from managing existing and new clients – the consequences are quite well documented.

The combination of these two elements ensured that we were moving up the value chain and would continue to do so.

Q: You mentioned targets there; what were your personal targets? Did you set yourself specific benchmarks you wanted to surpass?

A: I had a three-year plan for shared services. My targets were around employee engagement; financials; risk; process effectiveness and client/service delivery. This was all wrapped up into an overall measure of how many new products or services were we asked to take on for the Bank. Did my colleagues want to do business with my organization? This combination of qualitative and quantitative data was fundamental for our success and progress towards the achievement of our strategy – and of course to help us stop doing work that was no longer valued by our clients.

Q: What were the biggest obstacles you encountered?

A: It’s really interesting question and I feel the longer I think about it the more I come up with, but there are a few key ones. The first one is understanding that most business units want to control their own stuff – not wanting to give anything up. If you think about why that is, in most organizations roles are scoped and scaled and paid relative to the actual size of the job – headcount is important in this equation – so by taking people’s staff we’re actually decreasing their own roles within the organization. So we began taking in pieces of work, saying “just give that to us, we’ll put it through our process and then we’ll give it back to you, and you can just run it” and they thought this was just wonderful. Eight times out of ten they never took it back, because they were still getting the credit or the kudos or whatever – we’re all human beings – for the outcome of the process running really effectively or the engagement running really well. And I think that’s something that people all over the world running any form of shared service continue to challenge. We in shared services need to keep our focus on the benefits to the whole organization, not the benefits for our own SSO.

Another challenge is that when you take on other work all of a sudden the expectations change. So somebody that’d been running their own process and had a quality score and a time rating and error rating and complaints rating, when we came into the equation the expectation changed massively and our clients want a much higher quality rating for example. So that’s where we introduced client councils, so we could say “this is what we’re taking over and that’s what it looks like now”. This started as a plan over 12 months but we were able to make traction much more quickly, achieving targets over six to eight months. This approach only works with a lot of face-to-face interaction.

Another major change – maybe not an obstacle – but the transformational change through the leadership from being a reactive organization to being proactive, so not only doing what was asked, when the answer was always yes irrespective of what was possible or not, but actually coming up with thoughts and ideas for our clients because we understood their business just as well as they do.

Q: Let’s look at the future now. What are your plans? You’ve moved on from ANZ…

A: Well… I moved from Sydney down to Melbourne to take the role, and had a three-year timeframe in my mind. And that’s what I did. I think I’m where a lot of people get at a certain time in their lives… I got very involved in the environment and community agendas, and I’ve decided that I want to work in more community-focused organizations. What I believe is that the things that I do around consolidating internal activities and organization, reducing costs while keeping service levels high, and enabling access to products and services – I want to do within a more community-oriented organization, rather than in an organization where any monies I was involved in saving or producing go back to the shareholder only.

I’ve got to this stage in my career that I want to do something with a bit more purpose to get me up in the morning! I’ve had a ball, ANZ was wonderful, and I want to do something that takes that commercial acumen that we develop in corporates into working for an organization that’s more community-oriented. It’s a pretty huge step for me. I’ve given myself six months, by the way, to see if they want me – and if not I’ll get back into corporate and will still really enjoy it! But I’m really very excited by trying to make the change.

Q: Please do let us know how you get on!

A: I certainly will. You can do so much within an organization, it’s really amazing. You can really positively impact on a lot of other people in their daily lives whether inside or outside the organization. But we’ll see how I do!

Q: So let’s wrap up. What advice could you give to an individual or a team embarking on shared services?

A: If you’re going to establish shared services you need to understand two concepts. The first one is: why, and who are the sponsors? What does an organization think it can get from shared services? And understanding if there have been any attempts in the past and what were the outcomes of those attempts. So that’s a really important piece.

The second piece is a bit about understanding the organization’s culture and life-cycle. So in a command-and-control, why would you attempt a shared service model?

The glue that keeps it all together is knowing what leadership model you’re going to bring into the SSO. Your classic line manager is one thing, but you need influencing skills and negotiation skills at all levels. Shared services clients are always there, whereas in any other organisation I think the average interaction with your customers in financial services is around four times a year; so this understanding of the client’s access is really crucial, and you need the best leadership for that. Finally, if you only focus on getting all of your transactions and processes and data perfect before you move up the value chain, you’ll never get there.

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