Senior manager for career development at the Nationwide Building Society
Helen Busby explains an exercise in matching employees’ emotions with business
success to Lucie Carrington
Pride is what it’s all about at Nationwide Building Society, where chief
executive Philip Williamson wants staff to feel proud of where they work and
what they do.
In February 2002, the board formally launched its ‘Pride’ initiative. It’s a
simple statement designed to encapsulate what working at Nationwide is all
about. No matter where they are in the business, senior or junior, Nationwide
people put members first, rise to the challenge, inspire confidence, deliver
best value and exceed expectations.
The launch bordered on the emotional, says Helen Busby, senior manager for
career development at Nationwide.
Williamson chose to set out the importance of Pride when he presented the
annual corporate plan to managers.
"Previously, these presentations have been dry affairs," Busby
says. "But not this time. Philip just stood up and talked about how he
wanted everyone to feel proud of what we do. People were really moved by
The framing of Pride was the result of a chat over a pint between the
personnel director and the head of external affairs. "They were trying to
work out what they wanted people in Nationwide to feel and how to bring that to
life, rather than being a personnel and development initiative," Busby
says. This was how they hit on the notion of Pride.
Nonetheless, the initiative is being driven from the top, Busby insists.
"We are a well-known brand and we have always been very focused on member
value," she says. "But when Philip became chief executive, he decided
it was time to focus more attention on employees."
Following the launch to managers, Williamson has been up and down the
country making similar presentations to other staff and expounding the virtues
However, Pride is not just one big warm, fuzzy emotion – it is very much
rooted in business aims. The priorities for the Nationwide are increasing
cross-sales and hanging onto existing customers as policies come up for
renewal. The values outlined under the Pride initiative echo these business
Employee satisfaction, which also lies at the heart of Pride, is another
hard-edged business affair. The Nationwide’s own research at the back end of
last year showed a direct correlation between employee satisfaction, customer
satisfaction and sales. It is not surprising, therefore, that Williamson wants
Nationwide’s staff, or its ‘people’ as they are now called, to feel as
important as its members.
In addition, while shared values are core to Pride, it is also about what
staff do and how they do it. So for each Pride activity, from putting members
first to exceeding expectations, there is a set of half a dozen or so
behaviours. Unlike the basic values, these are not the same for all staff. Each
of the five job levels in Nationwide – from front-line staff at level one to
directors at level five – has a separate set of behaviours. It’s still a very
simple system, Busby says. Unlike the competencies of five years ago, the whole
lot can be explained on one side of A4 paper.
Pride maybe a board level initiative, but it is up to Busby and her
colleagues to make sure that it informs the development opportunities available
to staff. This meant a massive overhaul of training provision, but training
tools and courses are being reworked to incorporate the values and behaviours
of Pride, Busby says.
It may have a more fundamental impact on Busby’s own area, succession
planning and career management. If Pride is now how Nationwide works, then it
also has to be about how it develops its talent and future leaders. "We
take personnel planning and succession management very seriously and we grow our
own," Busby says. ‘As a general rule of thumb, people can expect to have
two career moves within Nationwide before making it to level four or five.’
She has spent a lot of time since joining Nationwide four years ago reworking
the performance management system.
"When I joined Nationwide, there was a plethora of competencies saying
that we wanted people to do x,y and z, but nothing about how we wanted people
to behave," Busby says. "It made it hard to recruit consistently and
hard to assess a person’s potential." As a result, she introduced a set of
six behaviours which were then called ‘Nationwide’s Approach to Work’.
"The aim was to keep them simple and succinct," she says, and much
of it has been incorporated into the Pride behaviours.
What is more, these behaviours are written into managers’ performance plans
and managers are measured against them. So when it comes to assessing someone’s
performance-related pay, one-third is based on business targets, one-third on personal
development and one-third on how they match up to the approach to work (now
Pride) behaviours. People have to do more than just achieve great sales. Busby
says: "It’s quite a shift, especially in the financial services sector,
which is very sales-focused."
Busby and her colleagues are also using these behaviours to determine who
should be in the Nationwide talent pool. These are the managers from level two
upwards who have it in them to make it to the top in the business.
When Busby began reworking the performance management system, senior
managers sat down to discuss what behaviours Nationwide’s business leaders
should have, for example, being motivated, driven, communicative, and so on.
"We are now three years into the process and the people who
demonstrated those behaviours well are generally those who have progressed
their careers," Busby says.
It’s a tough system. If someone is to progress from level two to three, then
they will be assessed against level four criteria, and if moving from three to
four, they will be measured against level five. "We are honest with
people. We make it clear that we are measuring them against their leadership
and not just their management behaviours," Busby says.
Performance management isn’t just for tomorrow’s leaders in the Nationwide,
directors are also put through their paces. "Under the Financial Services
Authority regulations, all directors have to be fit to practice and competent,
but Philip has insisted all Nationwide directors – including himself – should
be subject to performance management too," Busby says.
They therefore have their development needs assessed fairly regularly
through appraisal and other assessment tools. "We are looking at their
individual needs," Busby says.
As a result, development tools on offer could be a business course at, for
example, Harvard, Insead, or the London Business School.
It could be personal coaching sessions, using an external coach, or it could
be highly-specialised training, as in the case of one director who moved out of
retail operations and into electronic channels, and attended a training course
This sort of senior executive development requires a lot of research. Much
of it is done by Busby’s team of consultants but, like her boss, John
Wrighthouse, she likes to keep her hand in. This entails lots of evening
reading, although last year, Wrighthouse went to Harvard to check out the
programmes it was offering, and next month Busby is doing the same at Insead in
Convincing board members that they would benefit from development isn’t
always easy. "It’s about building relationships," Busby says.
"People have to trust me, I have to be credible and honest. So if I don’t
understand what people are talking about – derivatives for example- I have to
say so, but be prepared to find out."
However, at the same time she admits she is in a very privileged position
for a senior training manager. "I am talking to executives all day and I
have direct access to the chief executive and the board," she says.
As Pride kicks in, it is perhaps not enough for directors to say they share
the same values as the rest of the workforce – they have to be seen to live
those values. This means getting out and about. So the Nationwide is about to
launch the concept of Pride pioneers. "These will be very senior business
managers who will be assigned to various areas of the business to talk about
how we live Pride on a day-to-day basis. They will be looking at what and how
things can be improved," Busby says.
"We are looking at what senior managers can do differently. And we are
trying to move towards the idea of them being out there, not talking about the
old dry targets of mortgage rates and market position, but discussing how
people feel about the business," Busby adds.
Busby believes that the Nationwide’s status as a mutual, owned by members
rather than shareholders, will have an impact on the success of Pride.
"People talk about mutuality as a brand but it is one of our values has
well and I think it makes a difference to our internal culture," she says.
It is certainly one of the things that attracted her from the NHS, where she
had spent seven years working in personnel and training.
However, she is not sure that chief executive Philip Williamson would agree
with her analysis. "Philip’s background is in banking and he is very
commercially-focused. He would probably say that being a bank or a mutual
shouldn’t make a difference," Busby says.
Perhaps one of the great things about Pride as a culture shift is that it is
not forcing Busby and her colleagues to rip up all the work they have been
doing on succession planning and director development over the past few years.
If anything, it has formalised what they have already achieved. "Pride is
an evolution from what was in place. But rather than being driven by personnel
and development, it has got some sound commercial reasoning behind it and is
being driven by the chief executive," Busby says.
There has been an important change in corporate language too. It’s now much
more inclusive: Nationwide staff are Nationwide people and there is a lot more
of ‘us’ and ‘we’ where once there was ‘you’ and the line manager.
"I believe this sort of engaging language is very powerful," Busby
says. "We need to feel good about ourselves at work, we need to feel
stretched and motivated. If we can’t get that right, how can we be sure members
are as delighted as we want them to be?"
Graduated with degree in biochemistry from University Of
1986 Research into coronary heart disease lead to lecturing GPs
and hospital medical teams on health promotion 1987 at Barking & Havering
1989 Joined Barking, Havering & Brentwood NHS trust
training team. 1991: Training and
development manager. 1995: Senior personnel manager 1996: Assistant director of personnel
1998 Moved to Nationwide as career development consultant in
2000 Appointed senior manager, corporate career manager
Pride of nationwide
Put members first: creating long-term relationships by showing
our customers their interests are our first priority
Rise to the challenge: committing ourselves to making
Nationwide first choice for all our customers
Inspire confidence: motivating customers through our attitudes
Deliver best value: delighting our customers with superior
products and services
Exceed expectations: wowing customers by demonstrating the