General Manager, Barbara Hume

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen.

Our topic this afternoon is ‘Leadership in a Changing Business Environment’. I should say first of all that nothing I have to share today is new or in any way revolutionary. Rather, it represents a composite of best practices garnered from various sources, including my own experience gathered over the years.

Change, like death and taxes, is inevitable. We are, today, living in an era of forever-accelerating change thanks to the pace of technological innovation. With the advent of globalization, island states like Antigua & Barbuda are very much a part of these changes. It is not merely enough, however, to adapt to change in order to survive. Rather, it is those who can anticipate and position ourselves to proactively capitalize on these changes who will benefit most, rather than merely reacting after the change would have taken place. Let us take the case of one of our core businesses at ACB as an example – that of making loans. Long gone are the days when lending officers could merely sit behind their desks and respond to incoming loan applications. Competition for good lending opportunities is now so stiff that our credit officers must devote a good portion of their time to going out on the road to solicit business. This is why, for example, they are all now equipped with tablet devices so that they may meet with prospective borrowers at their business places or in their homes, input their information into our loan processing systems, and commence the loan application process right away. All this is being done with the aim of faster credit-decisioning, which is one of the bases on which ACB is aiming to compete in the lending business. An even more fundamental change that we are seeking to make is to have all our Group employees become sales ambassadors for the Group to generate high-quality business, especially loans. I would ask that you our shareholders, existing customers, and other key partners join us in this effort to grow your bank.

Of course, change is never easy. Most people approach change in the same way they do death and taxes – as something to be feared, even it if is inevitable. But again, it is those of us who are able to conquer these fears early and who seek to uncover the opportunities associated with such change, who will gain the most. That being said, our natural human instinct and behaviours are some of the hardest things to change. For example, regardless of how much enabling technology one makes available, and how many changes one makes to policies and procedures in order to achieve a desired end – if people simply are not willing to adapt their behaviours as necessary, then the pace and sustainability of change are not likely to be at the desired levels. As the saying goes “culture beats process every time”.

So, how do we get our various stakeholders – whether they be customers, employees, or other key partners – to embrace change and adapt their behaviours? This is where “leadership” comes in. I define leadership as the ability to influence others towards a desired outcome. It is related to motivation but in my opinion whereas motivation must ultimately come from within the individual, leadership is the ability to influence that desire. Leaders who are able to coalesce stakeholder behaviours around a desired goal can make a world of difference. It therefore follows that leadership does not necessarily reside only at the top of an organization – it can be dispersed, depending on both the culture of the organization, and the individual’s willingness to assume a leadership role.

Since change is feared by most people, a leader who is able to build consensus around a clear vision for the future, one who listens, who empathizes, but who is also able to take a difficult stand when necessary, is more likely to inspire trust. And trust is essential to sustaining change, especially when the road becomes rocky - when things don’t quite go according to plan. It is important to build consensus because by so doing, those whom we are consulting are given a stake in the success of what it is that we are trying to do. By fostering an environment where people feel empowered to offer their opinions and suggestions, what we are in fact doing is encouraging innovation. This is part of what I was referring to earlier when I stated that leadership need not reside solely at the top of the organization. In fact, I’ll share with you that some of the best ideas that we have implemented in recent months in our quest to grow our business here at ACB, have come from our staff on the ground who have the greatest opportunity to interact with our customers and who therefore understand their needs first-hand. And we want to keep those ideas coming, so it is important that we foster a culture where people feel free and safe to share their ideas and their opinions, even dissenting ones.

We spoke earlier about the pace of change being faster and faster than ever. If follows, then, that organizations also need to increase the speed at which they anticipate and/or react to change. Now usually, the larger an organization is, the slower is its response time. However even large organizations like ACB can increase our agility by being less hierarchical and more networked, less siloed with different departments each defending their territory and more cross-functional in our approach to problem-solving or exploiting opportunities. So, for example, the members of ACB’s management team will tell you that they are always encouraged to consult each other and other stakeholders – be they customers, staff, or external partners - in tackling issues so that our solutions are comprehensively developed with all relevant input.

A key question for us here in the Caribbean is “What is the best way to develop leadership in a market such as ours where talent is scarce”? Assuming that, in the first place, we have people who are both willing and able to learn and to adapt their behaviours, the answer I would suggest is “on the job”, as this gives people something to be excited about and makes the organization as a whole richer as we learn from and support each other. This takes us to mentoring and coaching, which is something that we must be deliberate about – it doesn’t just happen. It is always easier to just do something ourselves and move on to the next thing, rather than taking the time to discuss with a colleague the whys and the hows of what we are doing – but this is the only way to build institutional capacity on a sustainable basis. So, for example, the GROW model of coaching is something that we will be seeking to implement here at ACB:

It begins with Goal identification – What is the objective?

Followed quickly by a Reality check – Where are we now?

Of course, we must identify Obstacles to success and Options to be pursued in addressing them.

It ends with agreement on the Way Forward.

The above is an iterative process that coach and mentee undertake repeatedly over a period of time until the desired goals are achieved and it is time to move on to the next set of goals.

Now, what are the leadership behaviours that get the best results? You may or may not be surprised by this, but research by global consulting firm McKinsey has shown that the following four behaviours account for 89% of leadership effectiveness, including an equal mix of what I would describe as “hard” versus “soft” skills:

  1. The first hard skill is “solving problems effectively”: gathering and analyzing data, which is then used to drive decisions
  2. The second is “having a results-based orientation”: emphasizing efficiency and productivity
  3. The first soft skill is “seeking various perspectives”: taking all stakeholders’ input into account and weighing them between the most important and the least important , and I would add “according to impact”
  4. The second soft skill is “supporting others”: again, this is an essential element of building trust
Not surprisingly, it is the “soft” skills that become increasingly important as one moves up the chain of command in an organization. It is expected that one will have the “hard” skills, which are usually based in technical competence, by the time one begins to move towards the Corner or ‘C’ Suite as it is described.

At the end of it all, as we said earlier, culture beats process every time, and culture is something that takes a considerable amount of time and effort to change. Again, this is where authentic leadership can make a huge difference. Authentic leaders do the following, among other things:

  1. They connect organizational purpose with individual meaning - so says Douglas Ready writing in the Harvard Business Review in November 2015. The more employees understand their role in the organization’s overall strategy, the deeper is the meaning they are likely to find in their work and the more committed they are likely to be to help the organization meet its goals. Now, strategy – which is the basis on which a firm competes – is not meant to be static. It must be dynamic – especially in the context of a changing environment – if it is to remain relevant. This is all the more reason that as the firm’s strategy evolves and changes, individual employees must still see a place for themselves in this evolution.
  2. Authentic leaders engage in two-way communication, which means not only speaking, but also being active listeners. Remember change is viewed negatively by most people, so this makes it all the more essential to have dialogue, acknowledge issues and challenges, and work them through.
  3. They make leadership of the organization a collective effort, whereby all stakeholders regardless of level or function (not just the CEO) are accountable for the success of whatever is the strategy being pursued.
  4. And they develop their people. The CEO, with the best will and intention in the world, is still only one person and therefore cannot grow the business – especially if it is a large one - to its full potential by himself or herself. It is the people who grow the business, so it follows that if we want to grow our business, we must grow our people’s capacity and willingness to take the business in the desired direction. Here at ACB there is a big and growing emphasis on staff training. But just as important as training is the coaching and mentoring that we spoke of earlier because whereas training affords exposure to knowledge and helps to develop skills, it is constant coaching and mentoring that will foster the all-important changes in behaviour.

Antigua Commercial Bank is clearly operating in a rapidly changing business environment: one where the competitive landscape is shifting – correspondent banking being a case in point; where growing our capital base – which means maybe not paying dividends at the levels that some would desire – is a key determinant in whether we are able to participate in large, high-quality loans that will significantly boost our earning capacity; and where Central Bank regulation of the sector must, of necessity, impose additional requirements and safeguards. We are not at all daunted by these challenges – rather we see opportunities in them, and we are positioning ourselves to exploit such opportunities early. So, we are constantly reviewing our strategy (i.e. our value propositions), our processes, technologies, and most importantly, our people and their capabilities, all with a view towards opportunistically and proactively exploiting coming changes.

We thank you all – our customers, shareholders, Board of Directors, and other key partners – for your support as we continue our journey towards making ACB the premier financial institution here in the Eastern Caribbean for another 60 years and beyond.

BARBARA HUME
GENERAL MANAGER