“We are a 70 year-old plus financial institution. If we want to be around for other 70 years, the most resilient way is by engaging all our employees and nurturing a flexible, adaptable and highly performing culture,” so says Lorne Rubis, the Chief People Officer at ATB Financial in Canada.
Reporting directly to the CEO Dave Mowat, Rubis’ mandate is to make the over 5,000-employee company “a really great place to work, in a measurable way.”
Not an easy task for many. Happily, ATB’s culture is naturally collaborative, which makes the job less arduous. “Our belief is that the engagement and performance of our people are absolutely fundamental to our business model and key strategic initiatives.”
Among his key responsibilities, Rubis oversees Achievers, an employee recognition platform, which is the foundation for rewarding staff within the organisation. “We think that ATB needs to be a technology company as much as it is a bank. We recognise that we not only need a great system for banking, but we also need a great system for people.”
Alongside the pre-existing Human Capital platform, the SharePoint portal, and the enterprise social network called ‘Jam’, Rubis launched Achievers through a soft launch in 2012. Today, over 98% of staff use the tool on a daily basis. They post about their peers’ achievements, comment and allocate points through a system of likes and boosting. Points can be accumulated and used to make purchases.
When technology and rewards meet storytelling
Two features of Achievers mean that Rubis has helpful data to work with. First is the storytelling element. “Every time people recognise their peers, they are telling a story that is important to them. Over time, those narratives describe the behaviours that people like and want to reinforce.”
He encourages staff to be as specific as possible as to why they are recognising someone. “We would not make the statement such as ‘X individual is such a great person to work with. Congratulations, here are a bunch of points!’
Instead, he wants people to highlight behaviours, attitudes as well as why they think someone deserves to be recognised. Ultimately, this is what gives credibility to the whole exercise.
A good example comes from a colleague who recently did an exceptional job of reviewing the Human capital platform. For Rubis, she deserved recognition. “She described what was good, what was less good and lessons learned from the tool. She would also do a great financial review of the platform. She shared the document in a very frank and direct way with the IT group, the financial group and my team. On top of that, she took our core principles ‘Doing the right thing’ and ‘Getting things done’ and she applied them with absolute completion. So, I wrote a ‘thank you’ saying how much I appreciated that she took our values and applied them to that particular project.”
Another simple, yet powerful story involves a colleague with a vast knowledge in technology. He was recognised by a peer for humbleness in translating his highly technical expertise into an accessible language that others could easily grasp. “I read that story on the newsfeed, and I gave him 1,000 points – as Chief People Officer, I wanted to recognise this idea of accessibility from experts in technical positions.”
Perhaps the beauty of the tool is that most people are recommended by their peers. “It is your colleagues who are voting you; the people who really know what is happening at work. Sometimes even the best executives can be far away.”
In fact, the platform becomes an incredible way for leaders to be aware of what staff are doing from every business unit and without geographic boundaries to support the organisation.
The CEO himself takes an active role on Achievers. He typically goes to the newsfeed to read the stories. “He comments, boosts, and likes.” Not surprisingly, this has a great impact on people’s feelings and motivation. “Can you imagine, you wake up in the morning and find out that you have been acknowledge by your CEO because he saw a recognition between you and your peers?”
Additionally, a boost from the CEO sends an important message to everyone in the company, which is, “I would like to see more of such behaviour inside the organisation.”
Most probably, the same result could not be achieved by sending an email.
In addition to be a storytelling platform, Rubis likes to emphasise the analytics capability. “From the data, we can see the linkages between employees who receive many recognitions and customer advocacy, as well as linkages to financial performance.”
This reporting feature is so useful that he now wants to explore predictive analytics to start building new conversations and initiatives. “We have started to think about IBM Watson and how it could help us to move the needle.”
In fact, based on that data, he can create tailored recognition programs, which are more likely to be relevant to the specific audience. “For example, we have 600 leaders inside the company who expect great results by working through highly collaborative relationships. When we get to the individual profile of any particular leader, we can see their engagement, their financial results, as well as the amount of recognition that they give and receive. From there, we can start to shift how we target leadership development for those particular individuals.”
Other uses of the platform are tightly beneficial, such as supporting internal campaigns. This is what happened two years ago with Project Enable. This was a major initiative around engagement. At the time, the banking system for customers faced some challenges. The team behind it was struggling and the level of staff engagement dropped. Hence, there was a need to take action. “We took three top executives to lead three projects on a full-time basis. One of them was Project Enable. We brought together over 200 people to fix all the issues with customers. It lasted for over a year.”
For the duration of the initiative, Rubis used Achievers to encourage and recognise people when improvements and progress were made on the system.
“We used the tool to help those individuals focus on what they were achieving over time.
“It was very important for them to be supported and feel appreciated in that demanding situation.”
On the grand scheme of ATB’s people strategy, Achievers is a very small ribbon, but it is a ribbon of gold.
“The recognition platform is vital to who we are and how we think. Whenever we believe someone needs to be recognised, we just jump on it.”
As he puts it, “As a financial institution, we appreciate that people need a ‘Thank you!’”