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Star Interview
Star Interview

Liz Ashford,
HR Director,
TSB


TSB is a UK banking stalwart, with a history spanning more than two centuries. The bank’s HR Director, Liz Ashford, talks to myGrapevine magazine about the value of a robust and agile culture, the power of upskilling, and why great managers are the key to thriving in uncertain times…

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We all know that the world of work has changed drastically over the past few years. Policies have updated, new platforms have replaced old. However, it isn’t just remote working policies and digital transformation that have taken up HR’s precious time. Those tried-and-true bedrocks of the function’s remit – learning and development, culture, values – these things have been through a drastic development too. In fact, SHRM’s Professional Development Report 2022 discovered that 62% of HR leaders have struggled to maintain a healthy company culture in a post-COVID workplace, whilst 59% stated that it has been ‘imperative’ to ensure their values were strong throughout this time.

For TSB, culture, learning and employee experience are at the heart of its present and future plans. The bank, which has heritage stretching back across 200 years, services more than five million customers across the UK. With the business shifting and progressing rapidly over the last few years, and with a vast number of its staff being customer-facing, it’s been imperative for the bank to ensure that workers not only see the value in its culture, but also have access to top-notch learning. Liz Ashford, HR Director at TSB, tells us more…

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Liz's CV

Experience

TSB Bank
HR Director
Aug 2019 – Present 

Aviva
HR Director, Global Investors and Group Functions
Mar 2017 – Jul 2019 

Aviva
HR Director
Apr 2014 – Jul 2019 

Kleinwort Benson
Head of Human Resources
Apr 2011 – Apr 2014 

Ashford Consulting Ltd 
Owner
Sep 2010 – Jul 2011

RWE
Head of Human Resources
Aug 2008 – Aug 2010

HR Consultancy Business
Consultant
Mar 2004 – Aug 2008

ABN AMRO Bank NV
Executive Director, Human Resources
1997 – 2004
Liz
Do you think the progression of HR has changed how companies view their people?  

If you look at recent history, I think businesses have wised up to the wide-ranging benefits of having a strong people culture. At TSB, we’re very serious about listening. We have a group of colleagues that provide the Board and Executive team with feedback regularly. It’s a meeting that is taken seriously and is often a catalyst for change in direction.

 
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"Most organisations really care about people issues, and boards are now more accountable for their culture than ever before."

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Why do you think getting culture right is essential?

We don’t have any choice but to be very serious about our culture here at TSB. When people are dealing with our customers in our branches, on the phone or using our digital channels, you have to have them at their best; doing their best work, genuinely driven by servicing customers brilliantly. When colleagues feel appreciated, and listened to, they have the confidence to be their best selves.

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Getting to know Liz Ashford

Why did you embark on a career in HR?

I started my career doing graduate training at Harrod’s. I started on the shop floor and we trained as assistant buyers. We rotated around different areas, and I ended up doing a rotation at the distribution centre, where the people team was based. I loved it. I loved the difference that a good HR function could make. That was where I formed my basic philosophy, which is that everyone spends too much time at work for it not to be a good environment to be in. I’ve spent my career since ensuring that good companies, with good people, make sure the experience of their people is top notch.


In your time in the role, what do you think has changed and shifted?

When I started my career in the city, HR in many ways was a service function and didn’t have a seat at the table. I think now, most organisations right from the top down understand not only how effective a good HR team can be, but also what a benefit to the overall business it can be. Most organisations really care about people issues, and boards are now more accountable for their culture than ever before.


What is something that you’re extremely proud of at TSB?

One of the things we do very well is recognition. We have something called Pride of TSB, where we recognise those who are role models. We have thousands of submissions from across the company, where people reach out to those who have inspired them and say why they believe they should be recognised. We also have a recognition platform that we implemented two years ago, where people can share their successes, or shout out another team member.


WHO IS TSB?

TSB is a retail bank with heritage stretching back to the start of the savings bank movement 200 years ago. The bank offers ‘full-service banking’ to more than five million customers across the UK. TSB is also part of the Spanish banking group Sabadell. In 2019, the company announced its ‘Do What Matters’ plan, which aims to ‘bring together social and environmental commitments to deliver a long-lasting and meaningful impact for customers, colleagues, suppliers and communities’. The plan includes goals covering sustainability and ESG, building a more representative workforce, and promoting fair business and shared values.

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What do you think about the concept of ‘cultural fit’ in recruitment?

Unashamedly, we’ll always want to hire the best person we can for any role here at TSB. When people join TSB, we pride ourselves on the fact their career with us can be flexible and cover a broad range of topics. We want people to be able to move around the organisation and grow and develop with us. So, we hire for ‘TSB’, not an individual team.

 

"Recognition is really built into the fabric of what we do."

How do you make sure that line managers are living the company’s values in their own teams?

We’ve got brilliant people working for TSB, who are entitled to, and deserve, brilliant leadership. Our leaders being exemplary is fundamental. So, we have all sorts of modular programs that push education on being a brilliant leader and we make sure each individual follows those programs. We’ve also introduced coaching development, to help them build out their coaching capability beyond traditional performance management, which we found had become process over substance. This helps our leaders continually have good quality conversations with their people.

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"If you want to ensure that your people are current and relevant, you must continually reskill."

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Has your culture had to become more flexible as a result of the changes to the way we work over the past few years?

At TSB, we are a purpose-led organisation. If I cast my mind back to 2019, we’d just refreshed our strategy. We took feedback from over 10,000 customers and then the Executive team explored that feedback to create our purpose. That purpose hasn’t changed. Our challenge, however, around the pivot we’ve all made to working so differently, is how we bring people to that purpose. How we ensure people are informed, and that they’re living that purpose. If you have a strong purpose, it will outlast changes to the way that work happens.

Emphasising the point around flexible careers within TSB, why is upskilling such a key point for the organisation?

The research will tell you that digital skills are pretty time-bound. There’s a three-year shelf-life for many digital skills now. Therefore, if you want to ensure that your people are current and relevant, you must continually reskill. As we’ve evolved over the year to keep up with how our customers are banking with us, and launched new channels like video banking and web chat, reskilling has been a fundamental part of our business.

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