The one with the bank that had the best Superheroes


We held a couple of workshops lately called “A  Banking Superhero’s Guide” and as I was constructing the last one I had the chance to reflect on when I included the Intrapreneur workshops in the Emotional Banking™ method. It was a clear cut necessity from the get-go to address courage in the same way that I was addressing language and honesty if I wanted us to achieve lasting change in banking and see the consumer achieve his well deserved MoneyMoments™.

Banking needed more brave, internal Superheroes. I knew there were plenty around, I talk about the Michal Panowicz’s of the world often, but I also knew that their numbers had to grow fast for the challenges ahead. After all, all the sensible voices in the industry were asking for First Principles-level redesign and a new paradigm of understanding one’s customers and that required an army of Superheroes.

In a world where we truly want to make the consumer’s experience radically different and finally pleasing, the non-Superhero has to be the exception not the norm. It was imperative to create bravery at scale.

Nonetheless, courage is not the only quality an intrapreneur needs to have. To win at any corporate game one needs deep knowledge, strength of opinion and a relentless willingness to pursue them. Most importantly one has to have hefty amounts of nearly all-consuming passion. Being half interested in a topic won’t do. Being remotely down for innovating won’t move any mountains. Being somewhat of a catalyst of fast growth isn’t possible.

As with every other workshop and program in the method, the first initial ones were constructed with the banks that were going to use them and while they could easily see the needs for the “Everyone is a Designer” ones and were excited about the “Money Moments™ not Banking Products” deep CX dives, the “Intrapreneur Factory” was the hardest to “sell” to my existent Superheroes.

Some couldn’t understand the need for new Intrapreneurs at all. They claimed they had enough of them starting with their own hat thrown in the ring. On closer inspection, this proved to be them being fiercely protective not of their own position, but of their people and what treacherous road being an Intrapreneur was going to be.

A handful of other banks just didn’t want to touch the term at all while some couldn’t reconcile the idea with that of cultural transformation. Superhero X once told me: “We shouldn’t have to build more risk-takers with an appetite for rapid change if our whole ethos changes and we are all courageous and innovative from cleaner to teller!“.

It was an argument that gave me pause. If an Intrapreneur is someone who manages to create meaningful internal awesomeness in horribly stagnating huge organisations why not believe that role would be superfluous once those organisations were transformed?

And perhaps it would be, eventually, but while our industry is in the throes of change as it is today, that dichotomy of creating individual impact while working towards overall impact is perfectly necessary, our work too vast to allow any less, so I went back to Superhero X and said we needed all hands on deck if we wanted the change of DNA he hoped for.

We then set out to figure out “how”. In speaking to the HR in Bank X, while they had never had “courage” and “initiative” as stated goals, they believed strongly that they were “part of all job descriptions”. They also couldn’t point to anything to have practically encouraged these qualities in particular outside of generic compensation and retention techniques.

So we got to work and while we rolled out a powerful internal communications campaign heralding this new era where we’re looking for “Bank X’s Next Best Intrapreneur” in a fun X-factor-style and scheduled hackathons and ideas-making sessions across the organisation, we frantically worked in the background to identify what to do, to make this more than internal PR.

Our main task was to underpin the “Intrapreneur Factory” by heavy internal anchors and the ones we came up with were:

  1. “(Psychological) Safety First”
  2. “Emotion and Courage  – The KPI Edition”
  3. “Our Superheroes are the best Superheroes”

The first one was surprisingly, the hardest. The concept of Psychological Safety at work is vastly understudied but is the sine qua non condition of building high performing teams as underlined by studies such as the one Google performed a few years ago. The concept does what it says on the tin, one has to feel safe to experiment and grow. According to one definition, it is “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career”. (Kahn 1990) Sadly, while most organisations understand the necessity, few have an answer as to how to effectively create it.

Employee engagement programs today, as the modern day equivalent of old school retention and talent management techniques seem to stop short of being efficient in this respect. In Bank X, one of these employee engagement programs was just being designed at the time of this story, but when I looked at it, it seemed to reflect the self-inflicted second-rate-citizen status HR seems to content itself with, in that it listed all kinds of courses, fruit basket and bean-bags additions and karaoke nights to build the teams, but touched on none of the big themes of how to create an environment where people feel safe from being fired or being ridiculed. It wouldn’t be fair to Bank X to give you a blueprint of how they sorted this, but suffice it to say they used the other two anchors in an intently smart way that gave them a whole new perspective and a steady foundation.

The second part was straight forward. Thankfully, Bank X understood fast that they had to change the mindset around measuring the output and results of their people and instead of the P&L numbers they were scrutinising at the time, they had to instead, measure for emotion and courage. This didn’t mean scrapping all the performance indicators they had previously, but rather think of them again in light of the immense speed of ideas and execution the new agile ways of work were bringing and then add to them tangible KPIs around new areas such as “creativity”, “risk-taking”, “innovation spirit”, “emotional investment”, “authenticity” and more.

The “Our Superheroes are the Best Superheroes” anchor was the most hotly debated. There’s a strange sense of modesty in banks these days that serves no one. Perhaps born as a counter-reaction to the horrible image problem banking and bankers in particular have found themselves stamped with over the past few years, these days, everyone shies away from blowing their own trumpets, Banking Superheroes included.

I knew that was the case by how every time I would speak about one, they would invariably cringe and wish I stopped. Many were entrepeneurs-come-intrapreneurs and there, a sense of non-belonging to the banking world kept them from being “out and loud”, while some were indeed afraid to lose a position that requires a daily act of tight-rope-walking. Most were just run down by the sheer effort of upholding the hardest type of change – that from within the belly of the beast, but collectively my Superheroes suffered from a lack of willingness to talk about their achievements and daily struggle. This meant that they couldn’t model their winning behaviour and their tremendous passion to their people and as a result they couldn’t attract other Superheroes and it all snowballed in a soup of relative mediocracy inside the organisation when what we were after, was the opposite – excellence.

To help fast, we rolled out emergency “Build-a-Voice” Emotional Banking bootcamps where we basically gave all our existing Superheroes the forums, tools and most importantly support to build their own brand and comfortably, openly and laudably, be their awesome selves. That added a much needed extra layer of security to build passion on top. Clearly knowing your worth is liberating and necessary to have courage and strength of opinion in a healthy work environment.

We then asked them to roll it out with their own teams and “Pay the cape forward” to new sets of Superheroes. We also came up with #BoastingIsHealthy #MeritorcracyFTW hashtags to reward pride and encourage a winning mentality while in the boardroom we asked the tough, politically incorrect questions of “What does “the best people” mean and how do we get and keep them before our competitors?”

If I told you who Bank X is in today’s episode you’d know them. It would be an “A-ha!” moment which is to say, if you’re in the industry you’ve likely noticed their growing armies of Superheroes coming out of their “Intrapreneur Factory”. They’re poised to show you even more winning to the consumer than most other banks (one of their mobile efforts in particular will be a game changer, I would bet the farm!) and hopefully one day they’ll tell you their own story about how they’ve found their inner warrior and how their bank gave them a cape and let them grow their b….ravery.

They didn’t have all the answers at Bank X but you know what they had? All the courage to try and find them.


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