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Standard Chartered Bank

Leading aross boundaries

Embedding leadership culture at Standard Chartered Bank

By Drew Watson and Steve Mostyn

The unexamined life is not worth living

Socrates

This article analyses the design, impact and evolution of leadership development strategy for both Standard Chartered Bank and Saïd Business School through the Leading Across Boundaries (LAB) programme for senior leaders at the bank.  The LAB programme has been running in partnership with Saïd since November 2002.  The partnership with Saïd and Standard Chartered while both productive and deep has also evolved continuously throughout the period.

History of the Standard Chartered Bank

In 1600 Britain was concerned about the monopoly of the spice trade by Holland and Portugal.  The East India Trading Company was formed in response to enhance British interests in the Asia Pacific region.  By the mid-19th century there were concerns that the banks of the East India Company were not representing the interest of British trade, not least through the manipulation of foreign exchange rates.  In 1953 Queen Victoria decided to charter a ‘trustworthy’ bank to represent the interest of British trade, and the interests of the host countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.  A Scot, James Wilson, founded the bank in 1853 and had opened the first branches in Calcutta, Mumbai, Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong by 1859.

More recently the Standard Chartered had a difficult 1990’s and moving into the new millennium it was clear that strategy and performance had to build on the existing strong culture and values of the bank.  With this in mind the then CEO, Sir Mervyn Davies (now Lord Davies), approached Saïd and asked for help in creating fresh thinking and alignment around performance.

Subsequently, and during the last nine years the bank has made record profits and growth year-on-year and was the only bank during the current financial crisis to be upgraded by all three of the main rating agencies.  In 2011 the bank lodged a strong $6.78bn profit.  During the same period the bank partnered with Saïd with a remit to help leaders build capability, think outside the box and shape the future of the bank.

Working in partnership – Leading across boundaries

The original programme design was sponsored by the then CEO Davies and was created to allow leaders to reflect on their personal role as a leader and their commitment to change the bank.  There was an early recognition that the programme had to be a working partnership focused on transformation and not simply the dissemination of academic theory.  There was, quite simply, too much at stake.

An early programme was attended by Mike Rees, currently CEO of the Wholesale Bank.  The challenge was thrown down by a Professor to the delegates,

express the strategic intent of the bank and all that underpins it on one page.

This proved more difficult than it appeared at first and brought about much debate on organisation ambition and alignment.  During that session Mike was part of a breakout team that became known as the ‘group from hell.’  They challenged the strategy and approach of the bank to the core and focused on the question in an unrelenting manner once they returned from the programme.  This was exactly what Mervyn Davies had been looking for when he instigated the programme.  The debates and outcomes provoked by Saïd were changing the fortunes of the bank.

They challenged the strategy and approach of the bank to the core and focused on the question in an unrelenting manner once they returned

Mike Rees is now a passionate sponsor of the LAB programme and sees it as a means of creating an understanding of context, a view of the future and the creation of a common language that enables the Bank to retain its identity as a leading international bank in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.  For a geographically dispersed bank with no home market it also provides a forum for 28 international executives to come together, build a bond and strengthen their internal network.  Since 2002 over 1100 executives have attended the six-day programme that runs four or five times a year on campus.  During the same period the bank has grown from 25,000 people to 90,000 people.

The evolution and nature of the programme

Constant and visible sponsorship of the programme coupled with the recently introduced concept of ‘leaders as teachers’ working alongside Saïd faculty has cemented the programme impact further.  In addition external learning coaches have been appointed to work with small groups of delegates before, during and after the sessions to ensure that people are prepared in a way that helps them get the most out of the experience.

The programme also puts equal value on the corporate journey and the personal journey.  It is a time to refresh business awareness but also to spend time in personal reflection of the past, the present and the future.  The bank’s most senior executives come and share their personal lifeline, thoughts and vulnerabilities.  This sets a tone for the open and candid conversations and deeper reflection on “where am I in all of this?”

The LAB programme has three distinct elements

  1. Pre-programme

  2. Programme at Saïd

  3. Post-programme coaching

Pre-programme delegates are nominated to attend from global talent reviews, this appears a cultural ‘rites de passage’ and cultural initiation into the senior leadership’s shared values of the bank.  Delegates are encouraged to work with their manager in terms of development priorities and they then commit these online and as precursor to attendance.  Delegates attend a pre-programme conference call held by the bank’s Head of Executive Development and the Program Director from Saïd.

Delegates represent the geography of the bank globally and as a result 80% of delegates come from Asia, Africa or the Middle East.

Programme content

The spirit of Leading Across Boundaries is focused around provocation, reflection (led by leading faculty) and discussion and mirrors the tutorial system for Oxford University Undergraduates.

The elements include:

Leadership storytelling

The programme content has evolved over the last decade and now reflects a head-and-heart design.  Delegates arrive on a Sunday and are welcomed by a senior executive from Standard Chartered who sets the scene by telling his or her leadership story.  This is supported by faculty – Professor Kurt April has challenged delegates to consider ‘The New Leadership Challenge’ by quoting from the Aspen Institute:

That ineffective leadership is seldom due to lack of ‘know how’ or ‘know who’, insufficient business skills or rusty techniques – but is caused at a deeper level, rooted in inappropriate assumptions, attitudes and beliefs.

April’s challenging provocation is made more real with his recital of his own leadership struggle growing up in apartheid South Africa.

The combination of the Standard Chartered executive declaring their leadership story and April’s story sets the scene for delegates to tell theirs.  This not only provides a strong structure for self-reflection but appears to build a deep trust amongst delegates on the first day of the programme.

The programme puts equal value on the corporate journey and the personal journey.  It is a time to refresh business awareness but also to spend time in personal reflection of the past, the present and the future

The work of leadership – adaptive leadership

The dominant theory of the programme is ‘adaptive leadership’ that has been developed by Ron Heifetz of the Harvard Kennedy School influenced by his mentor Professor Richard Pascale. For Heifetz:

Adaptive leadership is a practical leadership framework that helps individuals and organisations adapt and thrive in challenging environments.  It is being able, both individually and collectively, to take on the gradual but meaningful process of adaptation.  It is about diagnosing the essential from the expendable and bringing about a real challenge to the status quo.

The session is led by Richard Pascale, one of management’s key thought-leaders over the last four decades and author of the ‘Art of Japanese Management’.  Pascale’s approach is workshop based and co-taught with a Standard Chartered leader.

Personal reflection

Personal reflection and the self-directed use of a journal is a backdrop to the week in Oxford.  In addition, the metaphor of leadership is enhanced by a consideration of Shakespeare’s Henry V and a session with the poet David Whyte.

Taking action

As Stephen Covey said

all ideas are created twice, once as an idea and second in concrete reality.

How to take action is enhanced by more leadership stories, from inspirational leaders such as round-the-world sailor and adventurer Peter Goss, and by use of some analytical tools.

A Former Royal Marine, Goss received a Legion d’Honneur for saving fellow sailor Raphael Dinelli in the 1996 Vendee Globe solo around the world yacht race.  During a severe storm Goss turned his boat around and spent two days sailing into hurricane force winds, finally finding Dinelli in a life-raft that had been dropped by a plane shortly before his own yacht had sunk.  The reflection on ‘making it happen’ seems to resonate strongly with delegates.

A session on ‘Networks of Action’ and micro-politics is a practical input led by Saïd’s Professor Marc Ventresca that allows delegates to consider how deliberate their networks are and how they can develop them further.

The action session of the programme is enhanced by a session led by Fons Trompenaars who uses the culture diversity of the delegates to go beyond the traditional culture session and into how we can use culture differences as a positive way to reconcile dilemmas for competitive advantage.

As the work developed it became clear that the main thrust of all senior development at Standard Chartered should be on the basis of ‘from presentation to conversation’

Post-programme follow-up

Each delegate is prescribed a learning set and meets their learning coach towards the end of the one-week programme.  At this session discussions about personal change and commitment are made.  This followed up by 30, 60 and 90 day conference calls and many delegates report this is where real commitment and follow through to change is made and happens.

It is unusual for a business school to run with a client programme for 10 years but this is undoubtedly due to three main factors:

  1. Constant evolution and appropriate changes to each successive programme to keep it fresh and relevant
  2. A constructive, stretching and listening relationship between the Saïd Programme Director and the Standard Chartered Head of Executive Development that emphasises both challenge and collaboration
  3. The reputation and positioning of the programme in the organisation by those who have attended and experienced real business impact as a result.

On this last point the exclusive invitation to the LAB journey in a traditional place of learning excellence is highly valued and an aspiration for many.  The opportunity for genuine reflection and deep thought appears to bring about changes in how people position themselves as leaders of the organisation.

The partnership feeds wider design principles

The LAB programme can claim a lot of credit in its own right but by the same token what spreads from it?  What sits around it?  How does this connect to the life of Standard Chartered Bank and Saïd Business School?

From the bank’s perspective the LAB has been just that – a learning lab – a place to experiment and extend around a core flow.  As the work developed it became clear that the main thrust of all senior development at Standard Chartered should be on the basis of ‘from presentation to conversation’.  This principle was brought into the programmes that sit either side of LAB one titled ‘Rethinking Leadership’ and the other 'Leadership through Crucial Conversations’ which was later replaced by a top level programme entitled ‘Learning the Journey’.  There was a realisation that white space in a programme is a great thing – it allows for fresh dialogues and insights pertinent to who turns up.

Executive development is both about developing ‘the whole person’, and about giving a group an experience that creates a common language, tackles business issues but also builds a different outcome for each individual attending

The next step was seeing that a lot of executives spend a lot of time on business development but not necessarily personal development.  From this all senior programmes now retain focus on corporate issues but also put equal weight on personal development and self-awareness. This is not new and has often come somewhere under the terms of personal mastery or emotional intelligence. What makes the difference is the recognition at all levels that this stuff really matters when you are operating in a fast and complex world across geographic and cultural boundaries.

The third learning was that context is really important and the next balance to find was about the historical context, the current context and how that expands into the future context. The terminology of adaptive, technical and bundled issues comes to life in each of the programmes – what are we dealing with and how do we prepare for what we will have to deal with? This is again where leader as teacher comes into its own especially when combined with a proactive academic. It also means that real issues are processed and moved forward as part of the learning process.

One delegate summed-up the approach of LAB:

This was by far the best programme - leadership or otherwise – I have ever attended unique in approach, structure, and content. Most programmes try to give you a map to follow. This one, instead, gives one a compass – and the realisation that its loadstone is within ourselves.

Our conclusion is that executive development is both about developing ‘the whole person’, and about giving a group an experience that creates a common language, tackles business issues but also builds a different outcome for each individual attending. We realise that the best programmes are about a working partnership dedicated to building a critical mass of capable leaders over time. We also conclude that the best programmes are based on conversations and space, with faculty being there to stimulate thought and insight more than delver knowledge in the traditional sense. On top of this we have seen the benefits of creating networks within a geographically dispersed organisation.

For Saïd this programme points the way to how the School wants to engage clients by getting alongside and into the debate more than just being a provider of academic excellence and a centre of world class research.

Drew Watson is Head of Executive Development at Standard Chartered Bank. Steve Mostyn is Programme Director and Associate Fellow at Saïd Business School.

This article was first published in Developing Leaders, Issue 8, 2012, © IEDP, www.iedp.com
 

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