A Felix from the flames
When I worked for the bank we went through a big regeneration program, designed to reinvigorate the sales team.
We were, after all, a loan company, rather than a bank, despite our title - Household Bank.
In an unprecedented move at the time, the company chose to close its branches for two days in order to roll-out the new sales methods. Gathered in a hotel meeting room in Harlow, several branches from our area got together to be shown how to adopt the new approach. Before we began, though, our Regional Manager, a short stocky guy with ginger hair called Dave, addressed us.
“The bank has never closed its branches before in order to give training.” he began. This was true enough. We had weekly or fortnightly emails that we were supposed to discuss in branch team meetings on a Thursday morning, but this was done with phones being answered and customers being served at the same time.
“Just imagine how much money the company is prepared to lose by closing for two days,” he continued.
Not much, truth be known. We worked on an appointment basis. If you were shut for two days, you simply arranged for someone to come in on a day that you weren’t shut, and given that our customers generally couldn’t get a loan on the High Street, they were normally prepared to wait a couple of extra days if needed.
“Not only that, but the company has invested £1m in designing this training.”
£1m. No matter how you look at it, that was a decent wedge to spend on what was essentially two days of retraining.
“We have stripped everything down to the basics and built it back up again using what we are calling The Formula. Follow this and you’ll be successful.”
This speech, which was no doubt intended to be inspirational, was beginning to wane. We already had a formula that we were supposed to follow, and scripts that we were supposed to use, but we didn’t as they were boring and ineffective.
Any decent salesperson in the company had adapted the scripts to suit them and made it work that way. Surely we hadn’t invested so much money in this project just to tell people to do what we had originally taught them to do when they first joined?
“Forget what you learnt in your two-week induction course. This is how things will be done from now on.”
Ahhh yes. The two-week induction course. Two four-night stays in a hotel in either Birmingham or Bracknell with a dozen other new recruits, which always ended up in boozy nights out and hungover lessons in the morning. It was in these induction courses that we were given scripts, told how to approach sales calls and generally shown what to do.
“The Formula will help lift the company out of the doldrums and start earning a profit again.”
Well that, and charging 30% APR on our loans, yeah.
“It will cause us to rise again,” he was getting more passionate in his speech now, his chest puffed out as he spoke loudly, “rise - like a phoenix from the flames!”
The word ‘phoenix’ was emphasised and as the speech was finished I wasn’t sure whether to laugh, applaud or just wait for Dave to continue. Fortunately someone else interjected.
“So why is it called the Felix Project, Dave?”
Dave’s concentration broke as the group waited for an answer.
“Ahh, erm. Well, when the board decided on a name…” he started
“… They decided that we would take the lead from a brand of cat food?” someone asked cheekily.
“… They decided to call it the Phoenix Project,” Dave continued, ignoring the sarcasm aimed his way, “only the woman taking minutes at the meeting misheard and wrote down Felix Project instead. By the time anyone realised, things had already started being printed, so it stuck.”
No-one thought to ask why we were so confident that we’d spent £1m doing this and yet had been unable to achieve the first step of getting the name right.
The Felix Project and The Formula were presented and implemented, and despite claims to the contrary, they were never any different to what we had been taught originally.
Two years later and the world economy collapsed, and eighteen months after that the bank, which had changed names in the same project to Beneficial Finance, closed its doors, having not turned a profit for several years.
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