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Cultural transformation in the biggest Scandinavian bank

Cultural transformation in the biggest Scandinavian bank

During my carrier as a Holistic Management Coach I met many leaders, who were eager to transform their organizations. As a transformation person I try to discover the integrity behind every person. Great leaders stand behind their principles no matter what. Integrity for me means the ability to walk the talk and behave according to your principles even though it might cost you a chair in the company.

I was lucky to meet Francisco Lendinez (Paco), the Global Service COO of Nordea Bank. The man whose inner wisdom and integrity helped to start the cultural transformation in the biggest Scandinavian Bank NORDEA with more than 30.000 employees across 17 countries. Such a company is ‘a huge ship’ to change the direction and Paco is willing to share his experience.

Paco, you are one of the leaders who has really touched me deeply. I remember vividly when we met in Copenhagen in 2016 and within one hour of drawing holistic transformation we made the connection. That connection was not about the corporation only, that connection was coming from the mutual integrity.

You worked across the Globe and had all the opportunities to stay in manufacturing industry in a warm country. Why did you decide to join Nordea and move to Stockholm?

- Yes, Laura, you do know that. When I told my son I was moving to Nordea, he basically said: “so, you are moving from making wonderful aircraft that are able to fly in the sky to go to a boring bank”. My decision for this shift was due to two things.

The first one was my curiosity. I tend to give myself a new challenge every three or five years. Manufacturing in general had become very predictable and I feel a need to reinvent my challenges to feel that I am growing.

I was looking for an industry with a challenge and the finance industry in general was going through major revolutions: fin tech, new regulations.

My second reason was related to Nordea itself. Nordea has 32 000 employees and for me this is the smallest company I have ever worked for. For me, that is the perfect company size where I can really contribute to transformation.

So this was a perfect combination: a new industry, the right size company, a new location. So, what a wonderful challenge.

If the CEO and the Board do not believe in the necessity of the transformation, it will not happen. There is no business transformation without human transformation.

- It makes sense. The COO position is quite invisible, yet, you are there to make a huge transformation. Such transformations cannot be even started without alignment with the CEO and the Management Board. Can you share more about the importance of such allignment?

- Well, such alignment is absolutely essential. If the CEO and the Board do not believe in the necessity of the transformation, it will not happen. There is no business transformation without human transformation. If we want to transform the business, the people need to change their behavior.

At the very beginning it was very important to set the expectations right. Personal expectations that people have from the transformation are essential. It is important that everyone understands that a transformation is a journey. You are not going to see the result immediately, you are going to see a lot of resistance.

Such cultural change requires a constant role model - all the top management has to be on-board and clearly demonstrate the transformation in their own behavior.

You are a leader with a big heart. You always emphasize that the change will never happen unless we manage to touch the minds and hearts of the people. What does cultural transformation mean for you then?

- It is the perfect connection I think. I really appreciate what you said at the beginning regarding integrity. Cultural transformation for me is all about integrity. It is all about respect for your values and the company.

When joining a company you need to ask yourself if it is necessary for you to sacrifice some of your values so that you can join the company. If the answer is “yes” then that is clearly not the right company for you. If the answer is “sometimes yes”, then I need to decide. And for me that is transformation - it is aligning my purpose with the purpose of the company.When you have this alignment, then you know that you are at a place where you can grow as a person and as a professional.

Yet, we do not always have a perfect alignment between the values of the individuals and the values of the organization. That is when we need the cultural transformation.

 Aligning individual’s values and values of the company - that sounds very powerful. Seems like transformation would require plenty of energy and a strong inner belief. What gives you energy and what drains your energy during a transformation?

- Obviously that happens, you give and get the energy in the process. You just need to be aware that this is going to happen. So you need to be aware that when you are at the peak of your energy, you will not be there forever.

Personally, I could not think of a more rewarding time than that moment you see the eyes of the employees shining. I then know that my work is giving results. We need to work with a full heart and love with a full heart. And, if you are able to do that at your company, you will see people grow.

What drains my energy is when I see people with personal agendas. That really drives me crazy.

Do you mean ego-driven agendas?

- Yes, exactly - ego-driven, short term view. I understand that we do need to take different decisions and sometimes we need to take a short term resolution. Yet, we have a problem when those short term resolutions lead us to sacrifice our long term goals. That leads to a lot of waste: wasted time, wasted opportunity, but most importantly - wasted passion.

There is a wide discussion about why operational excellence or LEAN fails. The way I see it, management systems cannot be changed unless the top management changes their thinking models. Most of the waste in an organization is created by the management, and it can take a while for them to understand the consequences of their own decisions. How do you see it?

- I think that you are right, and I like that IMPROVEMENT talks about holistic transformation and you call yourselves holistic coaches. That is an important part or maybe even a key of success. I mean many companies do not succeed in LEAN transformations or operational excellence because they are focusing on the technicalities and the tools. Yet, LEAN transformation is all about learning, getting the mental models adapted.

So, if we integrate our LEAN approach with our leadership and culture, then we have more chances that this transformation will be successful. However, if we use the wrong tools, it will not work either. You need both.

Unfortunately, the thing is that you need very good experts in tools, process, and the approach. However, all of this will not work if you fail to get the top management to understand that this is a question of thinking in a different way. First of all, we need to challenge our way of thinking and reinvent our management systems.

That's why it is difficult and that’s why only few companies are able to do it well. Often, we just want to find an apply a quick and proven recipe. That is exactly why cases of successful LEAN or holistic transformations are so rare. People are applying recipes and not not transforming the company DNR.

Often, we just want to find an apply a quick and proven recipe. That is exactly why cases of successful LEAN or holistic transformations are so rare. People are applying recipes and not transforming the company DNR.

However, not that many COO’s are lucky to be in the position where the senior management is directly involved in the transformation by being clear role models. What would you recommend for the COO’s who do not have this opportunity and are more or less working alone on the entire transformation?

- I believe that one should not try to transform the whole company from the get go. It may be good to initially just get a small island. Find the people with the passion and work to liberate their power. Start coaching for the new thinking, use the LEAN approach and operational excellence and do not worry even if you are not an expert in all of that. I don’t care. Just experiment for some time with those passionate people and then you have their fantastic island that is going to a spread if you let them. This island is going to be a fantastic place where you can bring the people that need that touch. So take the hand of some of your colleagues that don't believe and just take then there, take them to your island. Take your CEO there and tell then nothing, just let them see the potential that they have in their organization.

No, this island is not a key for success but is going to give you a possibility to continue the journey. Keep doing that.

I like this analogy of the island. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

- Well, I would like to share one other thing. This helps me and maybe can help your readers too. We often think that organizational transformation is all about those big words like values, purpose and culture. It is. But, transformation happens when it becomes a daily task.

So, one of the things that I do at the end of every day is I write a small note with what I have done what I have achieved. I collect those notes and look through them at the end of the month. This helps me see if I am doing what I am supposed to do, if I am dedicating my time to the things that are important. Often, this is a true eye-opener for me. It is important that we become the drivers of the transformation and this is just a small thing that helps me. The transformation happens by acting different every day.

In Nordea, cultural transformation started with a clear definition and communication of the organizational purpose and values.

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