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Case Study: Virgin Money

 

Background

CYBG plc. is the holding company that owns Clydesdale Bank, Yorkshire Bank, the app-based bank B, and in 2019 merged with Virgin Money UK. Headquartered in Leeds the business employs 10k people.

Situation

Following the merger, the organisation had specific objectives around the transition of the business into a single entity with shared values, purpose and objectives. For company employees and leadership M&A activity is always unsettling and requires sensitive management and decisive leadership. Francis Lake is Head of Organisation Development at CYBG and Virgin Money, tasked with helping lead the organisation’s transition.

CYBG has been involved with Wavelength since 2014. 22 leaders have taken part in Connect (2014, 2017, 2018, 2019); 9 senior leaders have participated in Wavelength USA (2014, 2017, 2018) and Wavelength China (2019); Wavelength hosted a Bespoke visit to SNS Bank in 2019.

Francis was the organisation’s Sponsor for CYBG and Virgin Money in 2019, responsible for ensuring each leader and the organisation got the most from the programme. Francis also participated in the Connect programme alongside his members on the 2019 programme.

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Impact

Francis spoke to Wavelength about the impact of the programme: 

“The biggest impact of our activities with Wavelength has been getting senior leaders engaged with the concept of purpose and becoming a purpose-led company: through Wavelength USA and Wavelength Connect we created enough senior leaders who saw the power of purpose. In the deal with the Virgin Group we could demonstrate that we understood purpose and we felt it, and now eight months on we have a new organisational purpose that is making the integration of the two businesses far easier. It’s given people a North Star, a reason to believe, a way to connect with each other.”

 

There’s lots said and written about purpose – what did Wavelength do that hit home? 

“You can read articles and so on but it’s flat, remote. The execs who went on Wavelength USA could see it come to life. Similarly on the Connect programme you hear people talk about their purpose then you see it put into action, you’re getting into conversations with people who are doing the stuff, you’re hearing the stories and it makes it stand out more than reading or having a consultant come and talk.”

Were there companies who stood out on Connect when it came to purpose? 

“Different ones chimed for different people. Some talked about Umpqua Bank. Aravind Eye Care System hospitals – it’s astonishing that single-minded focus on purpose. And LEGO, the piece about inspiring the next generation of builders, that sense of going beyond the product you’re selling and the scale of impact you’re seeking. I visited SNS Bank which was outstanding. I thought they were taking a really bold stance for a bank.” 

What about individual leaders on Connect?

“Geoff McDonald [Co-founder, Minds@ work] said his mission is to create a world where everyone can put their hands up and have a mental health conversation, which is very powerful. So we’ve changed our performance management approach radically. 

On a quarterly basis every individual has a discussion with their people leader about how they’re doing, their wellbeing. We give the people leaders guidance and signpost support mechanisms for colleagues. We have around ten thousand employees and the thinking behind it is we are slowly normalising talking about well-being. 

Ironically Geoff was one of the speakers I really didn’t enjoy, partly because of his style, but I think one of the things Wavelength does is it changes your mindset. You make connections, you hear from such different angles that it gets you thinking differently. Women and leadership is another area I know that CYBG has taken inspiration from Connect.

We were already looking at how we support female careers. Around networking, as women often don’t have access to casual and informal networks, and around sponsorship where people tend to sponsor people like them, which means if you’ve got lots of broadly middle-aged white men at the top of an organisation, they tend to sponsor slightly younger white men.

 

We met Zella [King, Co-founder, Personal Boardroom] a few years back at Connect, I just happened to be sitting next to her at On Your Marks and we were talking then she then did a session on the Personal Boardroom and building people around you who are going to support you; it really struck me. So we’ve done a few pieces of work with her. She’s worked with our Career Sponsorship Group. It’s very practical, it’s very constructive, it’s not telling women to be like men, the Personal Boardroom doesn’t do that it starts off with you as a human, it’s very powerful. It’s the content at Wavelength but it’s also the connect bit – you create a connection with someone.”

What is it about Connect that helps to create impact? 

“You could look at Connect and think it’s just a bunch of random speakers – there’s somebody who runs the Women’s FA and then there’s a guy from an eye hospital in India and there’s somebody who run prisons. If you were lazy about it, you could say this is just a whole bunch of weird stuff! But it is actually really smartly curated. 

The Wavelength guys they know the themes sitting behind it, they see how the stories intersect so while people are coming from very different sectors, the stories or experiences are complementary. And then in the way they run the events the Wavelength guys will facilitate and tease out stories and make connections, encourage questions, it is really powerful. And because you’ve got 95 members from all sorts of different organisations, they come from different perspectives so the questions they ask prompt different things. It gets you thinking about things, about issues or opportunities in different ways and you’re thinking, ‘what is the lesson in this?’ not just in terms of sector or industry.”

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Networks and Connections

Have there been other connections like this? 

“BBC North. Paul, who was our member [in 2018], had got to know Alice [Webb, Director, BBC Children’s & Education and a Connect member in 2018] quite well and it was on the back of that they arranged a visit. 

A few of us went to BBC North and to understand more about their move, which will feed into our planning for our head office move in a few years time. And we’re planning a reverse visit – Alice is going to come and look at what we call our B-works. Steve [member from the BBC on Connect 2019] is also at BBC North and we have been talking about how we stay connected. Whether there are opportunities to do more or not it’s a sort of warm relationship that we aim to continue. Another example is Gi Fernando [Founder, Freeformers]. I heard him speak and I happened to sit next to him during dinner and we had a really good conversation which I followed up on and a few pieces of work have come from that. One is about skills for the 21st Century. Then as a serial digital entrepreneur he talked about how business banks love entrepreneurs but mortgage banks don’t! It’s really helped to understand some of the challenges for entrepreneurs as customers.” 

Can you give another example of this, where you’ve made those connections? 

“ECCO Leather. Panos [Mytaros, EVP of Global Production & Resourcing] talked about how he hates trade fairs! He described them as all the same: the coffee is rubbish, you’re in rubbish rooms that all look the same, everyone’s dehydrated and over-caffeinated. The environment of those things is almost 180% degrees opposite to the intent you’re trying to achieve.

It was a complete aside to what he was telling us but I shared the story with my team and challenged them to make our events really different. They’ve already started to make our events look and feel different, and we’ve got big plans for the next year. So that came from quite a small aside from Panos – it’s in the nature of Connect events, they create different thought patterns.”

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Experience and Results

What else is it about Connect that’s worked for you and CYBG? 

“One of the real strengths of the Connect programme is that it is amazingly human Anybody who speaks there tells the business story but at the same time they’re telling their story, the human side of it, and their personal purpose, and their personal drive comes through massively. As a result, I think you’re able to connect in a different way; you’re starting from a human relationship rather than a business relationship, and that’s much more open.

I think also that I show interest and curiosity in them and start to explore things with them. Also, with the other members, you spend quite a bit of time with them and your relationship matures a lot over time, so as you get toward Reconnect [the final event of the programme] you are kind of there with people you care about. It’s quite a remarkable thing. 

In CYBG if you know somebody who’s been on Wavelength there’s almost like a bit of a shorthand, ‘You know what I’m talking about don’t you?’, that gives people more energy to go and do things. And because the speakers you really respond to are the ones that are the most human and the most fallible, learning from that people show more of themselves. It’s almost like an antidote for heroic leadership, the old world where leaders would say‘I know everything! And I’m going to tell you what to do’. I think the nature of Wavelength shows that you don’t have to be like that, you can’t be like that, it doesn’t really work, and that’s a massively powerful thing.”

And finally can you sum up the impact of Wavelength and Connect on CYBG and on you personally? 

“I think we’re far more likely to be successful culturally because of Wavelength and we are already being that because we are moving fast toward being a purpose-led company stimulated by what we did on Wavelength. It’s accelerating integration which is massive. In May we shared our new strategy with investors. So, a big session at the Stock Exchange, four hours of presentations. Those presentations started with our organisational purpose and it was essentially framed around, ‘This is our purpose, this is our ambition, this is our strategy and we’ll deliver it through our culture’. 

Personally, some of the way I worked for a long time has felt almost at the edge, the way I think is different to the mainstream in the business and part of my role is to disrupt and create difference. Wavelength has given me a massive amount of inspiration through content – it’s like fuel for my soul. It’s also given me an awful lot more belief in my style and my approach, in what I try and do and how I try and operate as a leader. And on a really personal level it’s in the conversations you get into, whether that be with faculty or members, or the Wavelength team; getting into interesting conversations where people are willing to explore things, and do things differently, is brilliant, because lots of work is, you know, ‘That’s great but show me the numbers’.

 

There’s also a bit that Aravind talked about purpose and platform, and the alignment of your personal purpose and your company purpose, and I have the best fit of those things together that I think I ever have had in my life. So that’s a wonderful place to be.”

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"The biggest impact of our activities with Wavelength has been getting senior leaders engaged with the concept of purpose and becoming a purpose-led company. It’s given people a North Star, a reason to believe, a way to connect with each other."

Francis Lake, Head of Organisation Development, Virgin Money

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