Citigroup: Changing its DNA

Citigroup: Changing its DNA

Challenged to take dramatic steps to reclaim its core values, Citigroup has, in a short time and through intensive effort, begun to embed cultural change at every level of the organization. Citigroup set a goal to become the world’s most-respected financial services company. Through advanced communications and training techniques, the company has leveraged the ideas, energy and experience of senior managers and all 300,000 employees. Now the task is to change the “DNA” of the company, and the entire HR and training organization is focused on this essential goal.

If you can change a cell’s DNA, every time the cell splits, the new entity carries at its core the changed DNA. That, in essence, is Citigroup’s task: to make sure that every new client relationship is nurtured and every new employee who comes on board is imbued with the company’s new DNA.

The Five Point Plan has served as the roadmap for change. The plan encompasses expanded training, an enhanced focus on talent and development, a new balanced performance appraisal system, improved communications and a new approach to managing controls across the enterprise. No single element of the plan is the secret to success in creating culture change. In fact, the individual elements of the plan are far from revolutionary. The differentiating factor is the powerful and consistent combination of HR, controls and communications initiatives, all thoroughly aligned and supported, month after month, by the CEO and his senior management team.

Citigroup’s chairman and management committee, as well as the executive development program, participate in a bi-annual 360-degree survey and executive coaching, using a tool that was designed around the behaviors aligned to the company’s shared responsibilities. The same tool and process also are used at more junior levels across the company. Internal coaches are required to become certified in the tool and model, while external coaches are required to participate in monthly training on the tool and model.

Goal Setting and Performance Management
Every senior manager must set and work toward common goals that are expressed in terms of the shared responsibilities. Managers are expected to balance these qualitative goals with their quantitative goals. Performance standards and compensation are linked to the accomplishment of these values-based goals at every level of management.

Expanded Training for Senior Managers
Citigroup hosts an annual “Franchise Forum” for all senior managers. These day-long forums provide a structured opportunity for peers to deconstruct case studies of actual Citigroup business situations. Last year, the focus was on “responsibility to the franchise.” Case studies illustrated how important intangible issues, such as reputation, can be to the company. This year’s theme is “responsibility to the client,” and the case studies show how to create a consistently excellent client experience in every part of the company.

Expanded Training for All Managers
The same concepts are integrated into training for the next level of leadership, approximately 30,000 managers around the world. Each fall, these leaders participate in online learning, available in 14 languages, or attend an instructor-led training session that reinforces the themes explored by their senior managers. In addition, every new manager in the organization participates in a four-day leadership course where the shared responsibilities are the cornerstone.

Values Alignment for All 300,000 Employees
Every employee participates in an online reinforcement of Citigroup’s code of conduct. New hires also attend an in-depth orientation on the history of the franchise and the importance of its shared responsibilities.

The learning programs are making a difference. In the annual “Voice of Employee” survey, 69 percent of employees responded “favorable” to the statement that “I can report unethical practices without fear.” This is an improvement of four percentage points over last year, and it is up seven points from two years ago. Other recent Citigroup pulse surveys reveal:

  • Ninety-six percent of senior managers and 91 percent of all employees feel that Citigroup management has made it clear that unethical behavior will not be tolerated.

    • Ninety-nine percent and 95 percent, respectively, understand what constitutes “ethical business practices and conduct” in their job. And, 96 percent and 92 percent, respectively, know how to report unethical practices. Changing the DNA of a company does not happen overnight, but only over time, through consistent, focused and inclusive messages and programs. At Citigroup, HR and learning organizations are playing a critical role in creating cultural change and then making it a core part of everyday business.

      Scotland King is the director of the global office of learning and development at Citigroup. She can be reached at