Winter 2017
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CTDO Magazine

Creating a Platform for Change Is Not for the Faint of Heart

Friday, December 15, 2017

A new leader faces opposition to a change effort from long-tenured employees.

As business leaders, we are required to act quickly and take strategic risks. It is up to us, in ever-changing times, to rally stakeholders, evolve organizations, and ensure future growth. One of my observations, no matter the organization I am working with, is that too often we take comfort in the stability and status quo of our current environment.


Growing customer expectations and the rise of financial technology have put a newfound pressure on all financial organizations to embrace innovation, speed, and customer centricity. For TD Bank Group, a 150-year-old bank with more than 85,000 employees and 25 million customers worldwide, adapting quickly and being nimble is a challenge and not necessarily a key area of strength.

It takes courage to propose change, and even more to drive change with speed and impact. But our success depends on it.

This is a story about creating a platform for change and the challenges that come with it.

An eye toward the future

In my first few months at TD Bank Group, my colleagues were in the midst of refreshing the leadership development program at the request of our CEO and senior executive team. The organization had been attempting to build a pivotal leadership development program for more than three years, with limited progress. My experience taught me that any talent strategy, including developing leaders, must be grounded in identifying and developing critical capabilities, setting expectations, and modeling the behaviors that will enable your business strategy.

It was during a discussion with the senior executive team that a single question sparked a special opportunity: Did TD Bank Group's existing guiding principles align the organization around leadership expectations that would ensure our future success?

Through the ensuing dialogue, it became clear that our guiding principles didn't encompass the critical elements that we needed people to focus on, the behaviors our senior executives wanted to see in our people. We couldn't build a meaningful leadership development program without understanding the capabilities that would ensure future success.

Time for a change?

I recommended changing a set of principles that have guided the bank successfully since 2008, including navigating the financial crisis. Our guiding principles had served us well and attempting to change them meant convincing colleagues to reinvent something that, in their eyes, didn't need fixing. I was challenging the beliefs of long-tenured leaders and redefining the purpose of an organization with a rich and successful history.

Which raises the question that many of my stakeholders asked me: Why do we need to change it at all?

While the senior executive team was warm to the idea, the real challenge was to help long-tenured employees at the peak of their careers visualize the future possibilities that a refreshed set of core values could bring. Several of these people had been involved in authoring the original guiding principles.

And although leadership's views and interpretation of our new framework were important, they were ultimately not the intended target audience. The most senior leaders understood the shift we needed to make. It wasn't necessarily their behavior that we were trying to influence through the framework; it was vital that the framework resonated with our 85,000 employees.

The challenge was to broaden perspectives while at the same time establishing personal credibility and trust as a new leader to the

In most cases, what got us here isn't the answer to how we need to lead into the future. Change often is about infusing your future direction with your organization's history of success. Resetting our organization's purpose and how it should behave was fundamental to finding our "happy place" of consensus on the new framework. To deliver on that, I required deep insights from tenured colleagues to ensure we preserved what makes us uniquely TD Bank Group, while infusing a future focus.

But it wasn't up to me to convince the leadership team, my role was to help them visualize the possibility. And I couldn't do it alone, especially being new to the organization. Seeking feedback from leaders and employees across the organization was essential to getting the job done. We needed views across all businesses, geographies, and levels to understand what our people needed in terms of guidance and direction and, more importantly, what would truly engage and inspire them today and tomorrow.


Challenges aside, we successfully refreshed the guiding principles, developing and launching the new framework in just under five months, a change that can take years for some organizations.

The new framework provides a road map of how we will succeed, as colleagues and as an organization. But changing words on a page—even really important words that inform our talent strategy—is just the beginning of our journey. There are two things I would do differently next time:

  • Concurrently develop a road map for talent. While we are proud of the speed at which we launched the new framework, in retrospect, I would have preferred to better integrate it into all HR programs at launch. Simply being faster out of the gate with a plan to embed the framework in how we recruit, reward, and recognize our colleagues would have ensured a clear understanding of the behavior change we want to see at an individual level.
  • Identify measureable outcomes from the start. It was rewarding to see the organization rally around the new framework, to hear it become a part of our colleagues' day-to-day language. Among my favorite anecdotal feedback was hearing that the framework motivated an international hire to come to the company. Yet, post-launch, I do wish we were at a place to begin to measure outcomes of the adoption versus relying on the limited qualitative feedback we have today.

To truly drive change in how an organization operates, it is critical that every employee knows and understands what that organization stands for and what it expects from them every day to be successful. If we want our people to embrace change and act with speed and impact, we need to refresh what we tell people is expected of them.

Today, the TD Bank Group's new framework clearly articulates the expectations we have for our colleagues. Our next task is to make it less aspirational for our organization and the new reality.

But we are up for the challenge.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Tara Deakin is senior vice president of talent at TD Bank Group

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