Article: COVID-19 made it vital for companies to know where they are heading: Ruth McGill, CHRO, ING Bank

Strategic HR

COVID-19 made it vital for companies to know where they are heading: Ruth McGill, CHRO, ING Bank

In a pre-COVID-19 world, many organizations already realized the value of being purpose-driven. As a result of COVID-19, it has become even more vital that companies know where they are heading. Having a clear purpose statement can help translate the strategy into a clear direction for the workforce, says Ruth McGill, CHRO, ING Bank.
COVID-19 made it vital for companies to know where they are heading:  Ruth McGill, CHRO, ING Bank

Ruth McGill was appointed Chief HR Officer in January 2020. She leads the global HR function and is the advisor on people matters to the CEO and management board. In view of the priorities following from the Think Forward strategy, she focuses on several large programs including HR Unite and HR transformation, a companywide leadership program, the Continuous Listening program, Global Job Architecture, and the development of talent and organizational capabilities across the bank.

Ruth is an international HR professional with more than 25 years of experience in HR and organizational change, having previously worked at Standard Chartered Bank (responsible for over 40 countries in Europe, Middle East, Africa, and the Americas), GlaxoSmithKline, and other international and UK companies. She is passionate about working with teams to drive business success through a transformational people agenda.

Ruth joined ING in 2015 as senior HR director Challengers & Growth (C&G) Markets to take responsibility for the C&G HR portfolio. In this role she significantly strengthened the HR function within C&G. Ruth introduced people metrics, helping the business to become increasingly more strategic in people planning. Her achievements also included improving job rotation and succession planning among leadership in the region, and significantly increasing employee diversity levels.

Aside from her work, travel and experiencing different cultures is her passion. She is based in Amsterdam.

Here are the edited excerpts of the interview.

The year 2020 is over but we still have uncertainty. How do you see the current business landscape and how are reinventing your business?

Last year, most businesses focused on dealing with the immediate aftermath of the crisis; keeping customers and employees safe. This was of course the same for ING. We have 57,000 employees in over 40 countries – by mid-March last year an average of 80 percent were working from home. In a very short space of time, we managed to set ourselves up to work this way, from IT infrastructure to fully virtual learning programs and online one-to-one coaching to support managers and leaders to help them with the challenges that they suddenly faced. 

However, we realized that new challenges arose when people are working from home full time. Juggling work-life balance, not having face-to-face meetings, and not being able to go to the office in some cases for more than a year can have a significant impact on our employees. We have taken action and are providing well-being programs across the world. We are coaching our managers and leaders on how to best respond to this. 

We are still in the midst of a crisis but at the same time, we are also looking ahead, focusing long-term bearing in mind the challenges that the business is facing. Our role as an HR function is more important than ever. We need to make sure we have good quality talent pipelines in place as well as having the right capabilities to deliver on our strategy.

How can HR organizations uncover new sources of value and shape a sustainable post-COVID-19 world?

The sudden changes and restrictions imposed upon us by COVID-19 will change the world forever. The digital revolution has accelerated at an astronomical speed. This will change the way we work. Right now we’re looking to learn from these experiences to create a "new normal". What does this mean? We’ll create a new way of working where we look to balance the advantages of working from home and with the advantages of working from the office. 

We are taking a measured step-by-step approach to this, testing and evaluating as we progress – to make sure that we’re making the right decisions each step of the way for employees, our stakeholders, and ING as a whole to ensure this is sustainable in the long term. Based on the initial analysis, we anticipate that in the future our employees will work around 50 percent from home and 50 percent from the office. 

Colleagues will be empowered to work much more flexibly. This is not set in stone but is an indication of our current thinking and our starting point for the "new normal". It will require re-thinking many aspects of the way we work – for instance, office space, collaboration, travel – and we must look carefully at this and test initial conclusions before making final decisions and moving forward with the roll-out. 

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Secondly, I can’t emphasize enough how important the role of excellent leadership is right now. Leaders are the ones that will drive changes within the organization and it’s up to them to help translate our strategy to lower levels within the organization and steer their teams in the right direction. Leaders are the amplifiers of change.

Leaders need to guide people in knowing where they are heading and what’s expected of them – to provide clear direction and guidance and alignment. It’s also about promoting personal responsibility and accountability within their teams, holding each other accountable, speaking up when things don’t go well, and celebrating and recognizing when they do. We, therefore, equip our leaders with the right skills and capabilities so they can support their teams. They need to guide our people where they are heading and what’s expected of them. 

For example, we have introduced the big 6 capabilities within ING. These are customer experience, data fluency, leadership, non-financial risk management, cybersecurity, and operations management. We believe we need to improve on these as an organization and encourage all our people to develop in these areas. 

Do you think the toughest leadership test is looming now that businesses are striving hard to rebound from the crisis?

Any crisis such as this is a real test of leadership. In my previous jobs, I have had to deal with many different types of crises for instance a health crisis, war/civil unrest, and hyperinflation. Unexpected situations will always arise, and this requires leaders to step it up. This is a long-term crisis that is really going to place demands on our leaders. Again, this is why we focus on leadership programs and coaching to drive performance through our leaders and help support them to be at their best. 

At the same time, we cannot lose sight of the mental well-being of our people. From a personal perspective, the crisis has reemphasized to me that it is important we care about our colleagues. For instance, I really try and be inclusive when it comes to people’s home life. I don’t mind it if kids pop into the screen or if people sit in their meetings in their gym gear because they want to go for a run afterward. We need to be flexible so we can maintain our well-being as this situation may continue for some time to come. 

What role will ‘purpose’ will play in the new world of work after the COVID-19 pandemic? What's the role of business leaders to embed purpose into business strategy? How can organizations translate their values into positive action for the sake of the common good?  

In a pre-COVID-19 world, many organizations already realized the value of being purpose-driven. As a result of COVID-19, it has become even more vital that companies know where they are heading. Having a clear purpose statement can help translate the strategy into a clear direction for the workforce. ING’s purpose is “Empowering people to stay a step ahead in life and business”. This is also supported by our Orange Code, which is our manifesto for how we go about achieving this purpose. It describes what we can expect from each other when we turn up to work each day. These are the principles we collectively strive to live up to. They are non-negotiable and designed to make ING an honest, prudent, and responsible bank. 

We have several leadership and employee programs that are designed to help our people to discover their own individual purpose. An individual purpose is all about what really makes you “tick” as an individual – what are you good at? What motivates you? What really helps driving you? Getting to know yourself better is a first step in looking at how individuals can increase their own performance and align their individual purpose with that of the company.

We had around 3000 leaders taking part in our digitized leadership programs last year. The content focused on topics such as psychological safety, micro-aggressions, radical candor, and sustainable high performance; priming ourselves and our team for high performance. These topics are even more relevant in the context of working from home and the acceleration of change we are all experiencing. In 2020, a total of 840 managers joined one of these programs called Think Forward Leadership Experience. Feedback was positive with an overall peer recommendation score of 4.2 out of 5 and a 4.6 out of 5 score in response to the question: ‘The skills and insights I gained are relevant for leaders at ING’. 

In the Netherlands, we also had 2000 people taking part in the Purpose to Impact training as we wanted to push it further than just our leaders.

What does the future of innovation look like according to you?

ING started digital banking with ING Direct and was probably one of the first fintechs in the world. Over the past years, we have brought ING’s innovation to a place where it is highly regarded in the industry. Our customer needs and expectations continue to change at an increasingly rapid pace, and even more so now because of the global pandemic. That’s why we need to increase the pace of innovation at ING by improving the execution and effectiveness of our innovation strategy even further. 

To support our execution on this we also try to ensure that people within ING have an innovative mindset. We support this by using the PACE methodology when we invent new products or services. So far, we have 10,000 colleagues trained on PACE and we use that methodology to create products across the bank. 

From an HR perspective, we’re also really committed to innovation. Digitization is the way forward. We want to become a more data-driven bank – and a more data-driven HR function. This requires high quality of data, standardize our HR processes, and streamlining our data management. Not only will this give us better insights to increase our effectiveness it will also help us to enhance our employee experience. 

Can technology help reinvent workforce learning and skilling? What’s your advice for L&D leaders to make virtual learning seamless, engaging, and impactful?

Yes absolutely. We have really made some important steps in digitizing our leadership programs and graduate programs by making them fully virtually. This is great because people can access it anywhere, anytime – and digital usage brings data that can further help drive improvement.

Artificial intelligence can really help us. The data shows for instance which learnings score well and which ones don’t and where we need to improve. One of the most important features is the “channels” with recommendations tailored to you, based on employees with a similar learning history or based on your business group and job role. Our employees can also upload something themselves. So if they have learned something outside of ING that could be relevant for colleagues, they can make a record of their ‘personal learning’. It could be a video, a conference they attended, or training they delivered themselves. 

My advice for L&D leaders would be don’t rely just on technology. By embracing this and also reinforcing our key learning programs with campaigns we ultimately aim to change people behaviors and learning to part of their daily job. As part of our self-driven talent strategy, we encourage all our employees to take control of their own self-development. Ultimately, we give all our employees the opportunity to grow and also give them the opportunity to help others.

As experts say, the role of HR leaders has changed amid all the chaos. How do you see the role of talent leaders evolve in 2021?

The world is moving much faster so we need to make sure we can quickly adapt to change. That’s why we work on having good succession pipelines to ensure we have the right people available for the right roles. 

In the past, we had the time to develop learning solutions for the bank as a whole, but because we need to act faster now, we take a different approach. In HR we try and create an environment where people themselves are empowered – just like we try to empower our clients - to stay a step ahead in life and business and drive their own development. 

Although we place the responsibility on the individual, we shape the direction of where they need to go. Our Big 6 capabilities for instance give people insight into where we as an organization need to develop and they need to upskill and improve. 

We help people drive their own development by reflecting on how they can be the best possible version of themselves now and in the future by encouraging them to complete the individual development plan. This plan helps people to plan for now, plan for the next, and plan for beyond. They can then use My Learning to upskill themselves in the areas they set out. The role of talent leaders is to guide managers and leaders so they can empower their teams.

The April 2021 issue of our magazine is out. 2021: The Year of Continuous Reinvention. Read it for free.

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Topics: Strategic HR, #ReinventToReimagine

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