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Human capital 02 Jan 2020

The purpose of corporate culture

A few years ago when BBVA decided to define its purpose, one of the intended goals was to foster a common corporate-wide culture based on a shared vision and values. This is no easy task because the profile of any large multi-national business will reflect the different backgrounds of its individuals: different nationalities, ages, etc. Young people today demand more from a job and are more aware than ever of the values that companies project. During the application process, companies will also weigh whether a job applicant fits with its corporate values. Some companies, like BBVA, are even beginning to define incentive plans to encourage alignment to the overarching corporate culture.

“The definition of our corporate culture was concurrent with a time of change in society as a whole and in the finance industry specifically,” says Enrique González, BBVA Head of Culture and Employee Communication. “BBVA spearheaded the digital transformation process that has taken over the sector. A change this great must be complemented by an accompanying cultural transformation. Building a culture that is aligned to the type of company you want to be,” he adds.

With a workforce of 126,000 employees spread across more than 30 countries and a long history of mergers and acquisitions, BBVA accepted a significant challenge when it decided to establish a shared purpose to serve as a single banner for the entire company. “We have a wide range of generational and national diversity at the bank, and the question we grappled with was how to make all employees feel a part of something greater,” González explains.

The approach adopted by the bank was to involve all employees in the definition process from day one. It seems to have worked: 26,000 employees participated in specifying the bank’s purpose. “The first step in defining the purpose entailed pinpointing the concept that would embody what we want to be.” Thus the origins of the bank’s purpose: ‘To bring the age of opportunity to everyone.’ Thereafter, three values were defined to support the bank in living up to this purpose: ‘The customer comes first’; ‘We are one team’; and ‘We think big.’

“Making it a participatory process was fundamental. We had the full support of senior management, and the help of the Talent and Culture department in developing all the necessary activities,” Gonzalez explained. Another key factor was to apply our values across all the corporate processes: “The Executive Chairman and executive team can embrace the values in their statements; teams can shape their dynamics based on the values; but, in organizations the size of BBVA — with more than 100,000 employees and a footprint that spans more than 30 countries — it is essential to embed these values and behaviors into our processes,” he adds. Using the company values as a filter when interviewing candidates and appraising — or even incentivizing — employees are only some examples of the processes where the corporate values come into play.

It has also become more evident, especially among young people, that people are increasingly interested in understanding the values a company emphasizes. Society changes, and the work environment must follow suit in order to keep attracting the best talent. The corporate purpose, bolstered by its values, represents a powerful tool in setting oneself apart from the rest.

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