Case Study: Investing in training to boost morale and motivation

RBS 1-edited
Royal Bank of Scotland Group

Since the global financial crisis, RBS has been undergoing large-scale reorganisation and this has presented challenges in terms of staff engagement, customer experience and business outcomes. In 2015, the business introduced a new leadership programme to help address its complex ‘people’ issues and ensure all employees had the quality of leadership needed to perform at their best. With 15,000 existing leaders now having completed the training, and all new leaders also going through it, positive changes in behaviour and morale are visible across the business.

Royal Bank of Scotland
Date 2017
Region Scotland
Size 1,000+ employees
Sector Banking


leadership initiatives before transformation

company-wide leadership course created after training review

leaders have now completed the training

Putting people first

In the wake of the financial downturn, and faced with reducing its workforce from around 250,000 employees to just 70,000, RBS recognised a need to develop stronger employee engagement.

There was a clear view within the organisation that an individual’s manager had the biggest impact on performance and engagement levels.

The bank’s CEO, Ross McEwan, wanted leaders throughout the company to be supported, skilled and empowered to take responsibility for managing and responding to the challenges arising from the changes taking place. He also wanted to bring back to the bank a customer-focused approach.

“A large number of changes were needed as part of the business reshaping itself, but the bank’s Board and Executive Committee realised that whatever we did, it would be executed by the people who work here,” said RBS Head of Performance Excellence, Paul Pinder. “So if we were going to be successful in making any of those changes, we needed to address the people side of things first.”

Making change visible

Every participant is given a handbook and encouraged to use this visibly with colleagues – a clear demonstration that everyone shares the same language and approach organisation-wide. This has been central to the programme’s success, according to Pinder.

“In large organisations, it can be very difficult to get a message out company-wide,” he said. “You’ve got to keep working at convincing people that what you’re doing matters for them, and to bring them on board. For employees to see that people at the top of the bank are actively involved gives the programme credibility and it also means there is practical role-modelling of the skills and behaviours we want to achieve.”

“Culturally, having all leaders involved from the top-down sends out a really important message about the journey that we’re on.  It also means there’s a pretty strong level of accountability because everyone knows what they should expect from leaders – wherever they may work and however senior they may be.”

A universal approach to learning and development is highly unusual in a large organisation. RBS chose it deliberately to create a philosophy and a framework for activity across the organisation, as well as a common language to work with.

Ensuring a consistent approach

A review of the bank’s existing training opportunities revealed that more than 20 leadership initiatives were in place, all employing different models and approaches. With no shared levels of expectation, this was making the transformation process much more difficult, and so RBS set about developing a programme to ensure consistency across the board.

Adapting materials from the Cohen-Brown management group, RBS developed “Determined to Lead”. This is now the only leadership course delivered within RBS and it involves every leader from the CEO down.

Determined to lead begins with a 90-minute awareness programme.  Following this, there are three one-day practical workshops which leaders attend with colleagues from all levels and areas of the bank.

The core of the programme is delivered face-to-face by RBS team members and the bank also provides leaders with access to an independent team of expert performance consultants who not only help them apply what they learn but also promote and support continuous improvement.

Strong leaders, big improvements

The ‘Determined to Lead’ programme set out to improve the capability of leaders so they could do a better job of engaging their people and getting the behaviour and performance shifts needed.

So far, the signs are very encouraging with clear evidence of the link between the ‘Determined to Lead’ programme, employee engagement and customer and business outcomes.

Leaders report feeling better supported, with some describing the programme as a ‘coat of armour’, enabling them to challenge behaviours and processes that might have been accepted in the past and have difficult conversations when necessary.

Staff engagement scores also reflect renewed positivity across RBS. Its latest globally-benchmarked survey results show employee engagement at a fifteen year high with results now above the global financial services norm by an average of six points.

There has been equally positive improvement in RBS’s performance in the industry-wide culture survey conducted by the Banking Standards Board, with its score rising by eleven points over the last year.


‘The structure of the programme allows the organisation to be incredibly flexible and agile because we have a way of working that now means we can respond to things much more quickly than we otherwise would have been able to’

Paul Pinder, Head of Performance Excellence at RBS

Consequential benefits

The results are also being felt on the customer experience. Analysis shows that leaders who are implementing the ‘Determined to Lead’ programme are in the top 10% for customer service results and their teams also do the best job of helping their customers. The bank’s commercial and private division now has the strongest service results and the bank is also seeing significant reductions in customer complaints.

“There are a large number of changes taking place across the bank which have all contributed to our improving performance,” Pinder said, “but we can say confidently that without ‘Determined to Lead’, this scale and pace of improvement would not have been possible.”

One bank leader commented on how using the tools from ‘Determined to Lead’, she was not only better prepared when dealing with a challenging performance management issue but also felt more confident going in to the meeting.

The bank’s new approach to leadership has also helped to facilitate more collaboration. Leaders are noticing they can now find leaders anywhere in RBS doing similar things and talking about things in similar ways.

Sustaining success

“If you want to sustain success, you have to keep doing what made you successful in the first place, says Pinder. “That doesn’t mean you don’t innovate but remembering the fundamentals or the need to continuously refine and improve what you’re already doing is crucial.”

With that in mind, RBS is building on the existing programme with new content that continues to reinforce and stretch leaders’ skills and behaviours. The “Awareness” programme (Level 1) is set to become part of RBS’s induction process. For leaders this will serve as an introduction to the wider programme, while for non-leaders it will set the standard for what they can expect.

Speaking about being awarded a Princess Royal Training Award, Pinder said: “For the ‘Determined to Lead’ programme to have had the significant impact it’s having – so broadly and so deeply – in such a short time, is something that makes us all very proud.

Receiving the Award is recognition of the hard work that so many people are doing right across RBS to make this a better bank. It provides motivation to keep working at it.”

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