TalentLearning & DevelopmentHR Distinction Spotlight: Transforming leadership and learning with Santander

HR Distinction Spotlight: Transforming leadership and learning with Santander

The world of finance is changing at a dizzying pace - how can People Leaders ensure their employees are fit for the challenge? We take a closer look at Santander's hugely effective transformational learning initiatives and why they were so successful.

Many organisations strive to go through a transformational journey and guarantee global success. To overcome these challenges, businesses must undertake numerous changes over many years. This can heavily impact culture, talent, and strategic focus.

Through these monumental changes, HR plays a key role in maintaining and aligning a consistent experience for their workforce in times of uncertainty. This week, we look at Santander’s leadership journey. They set out to transform the culture of leadership.


In the midst of a rapidly changing banking industry shaped by huge tech companies, Santander needed an urgent widescale organisational change strategy. Transforming the culture of leadership and learning at Santander would be a key enabler to achieve its 2025 vision.

Santander set four main objectives when looking to improve its leadership and learning strategy:

  • Enhance personal and digital leadership capabilities.
  • Incorporate an agile leadership culture.
  • Embrace a smarter working ethos.
  • Manage or influence diverse, virtual teams.

To achieve these objectives, Santander designed learning objectives for each module that were grouped under the three capabilities of learning, imagination and change. To compete with digital giants, the financial services company outlined a vision to transform into a fully digital bank.

“The leaders within our organisation who lead 20,000 colleagues were pivotal to our success. However, their roles, workplace and customers have changed,” said Nathan Bostock, CEO, Santander.

“Traditional training programmes were no longer suitable to prepare for the future.”

To prepare their workforce for workplace agility and digital disruption, Santander created an innovative programme called i25, to equip game-changing influential leaders with the skills to spark widescale organisational change.

To implement this strategy, the company created a balanced programme where participants would consume the programme through both face-to-face and digital interactions. It combined technical skills, personal development skills for leadership and change, and real-life problem-solving issues.

“Framing the 12-month development journey were two modules called The Spark and Brave New World, which provided a disruptive, immersive mixed-media experience,” continued Nathan.

“We partnered with Impact as their experiential learning methodology is proven to deliver long-lasting change, along with a forward-thinking leadership action and change proposition that resonated well with our ambitions for the programme.”

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There was also an endured focus on wellbeing throughout the strategy. This highlighted the importance of humanity, individuality, kindness, gratitude, empathy, wellness, and happiness. Prioritising this from the start meant that leaders prioritised maintaining wellbeing through changes to agile and digital elements.

The first module propelled participants through an innovative and exciting experience, giving individuals the chance to gain insight into how they collaborate with others. This module put imagination into action to create sustainable change.

The module ‘Brave New World’ included a four-week virtual learning journey, including a two-day face-to-face experience, using Impact’s unique approach to virtual learning. The programme combined social learning and business projects with challenging learning experiences.

There have already been many positive results only three years into Santander’s leadership and learning strategy.

“We surveyed participants and their direct reports about leadership, group dynamics, performance and wellbeing. The results demonstrated behavioural changes in both groups in alignment with our objectives,” continued Nathan.

Through accomplishing these objectives, Santander saw the following key improvements to its workforce:

  • 100% of participants more digitally confident.
  • 81% are more experimental, willing to fail fast and move on.
  • Working with community partners has had a profound effect on our participants.
  • There is a greater sense of wellbeing – an increase of 8.29%.

Santander also saw drastic improvements to productivity, transformational leadership skills, and job satisfaction.

“Compared to similar surveys in other organisations, leadership scores are in the 90th percentile, illustrating that this approach to leadership development is extremely effective,” says Nathan.

“Evidence shows that, as a result of the learning encounters and leadership skills development experienced on the i25 programme, our leadership community is now viewing the world through a lens of customer-focused, digital innovation.”

Throughout the process, there was a significant increase in satisfaction and togetherness, which was crucial in creating a positive relationship throughout the whole workforce.

“Until I went on i25 I didn’t have the ambition or ideas to be thinking about making significant changes to the business. It opened horizons for me,” said a participant of the programme.

Since 2016, Santander has seen huge improvements to the digitalisation and agility of the business. Not only is the organisation now able to compete with the bigger tech companies, but they now also have a much more engaged and talented workforce, eager to contribute their worth towards the business. They are well on their way to reaching their vision for 2025.

Businesses that invest time and resources into developing their workforces and technological presence could successfully shape their employees for future success, driving culture, productivity, and engagement.

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