October 2019
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October 2019
TD Magazine

Digital Transformation Starts With People

Friday, October 4, 2019
Digital Transformation Starts With People

BMO Financial Group: 2019 BEST Award Winner, #2


Helping employees build future skills—starting today—is critical for making BMO and its people more resilient for the long term.

It's no secret that the coming decade will bring unprecedented opportunities and challenges as the financial services industry strives to get ahead of changing workforce demographics, the disruption of traditional business models, and rapid technology shifts.

"To stay ahead of the curve," Gina Jeneroux, BMO Financial Group's chief learning officer, says, "we need to be bold on talent, creating the conditions for human and machine partnerships and building and nurturing a culture that sparks engagement and encourages learning, growth, creativity, and innovation."

Learning and loyalty

Career is the number 1 reason employees choose to come to BMO, and it's among the top reasons they stay. Employee survey results suggest that the company's intentional blend of formal and informal learning opportunities plays a key role in this focus on careers: equipping employees with the skills they need to grow in an industry that is rapidly changing because of automation and shifting customer expectations.

Upskilling and reskilling are key priorities at BMO. This year, the talent development team launched a blended learning program called BMO Forward, which helps employees build the technical skills they will need for a digital future, including artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, data science, cybersecurity, and digital acumen. The program also includes "human skills," such as empathy, resilience, judgment, and cultural intelligence to differentiate people from the technology they're building and using and forge stronger connections between individuals, teams, and customers.

BMO Forward's goals are to raise the water line for all employees, help experts stay at the top of their game, and equip leaders to lead in a new context.

"BMO is not a technology company, but we need to think and work like one," says Jeneroux. When it comes to digital transformation, BMO is thinking long term. "Digital, data, and AI technologies are key accelerators. As we transform how we work, having the right talent with the right skills will be critical for driving more intuitive, seamless customer experiences."

Pre- and post-assessments from the pilot program showed positive shifts in how participants perceived the content's relevance to their jobs, their commitment to apply the skills they had learned, their curiosity to keep learning about the topics, and their interest in pursuing a future job in that field.

After they completed the learning, 100 percent of participants joined an informal online learning community to keep their learning alive and share topics and resources and have discussions with other employees.

Building a culture of learning

In June 2018, the talent development team launched BMO U—a new mobile, anywhere, anytime learning platform—and immediately saw increased engagement in learning offerings. One year later, more than half of all BMO employees are active on the platform.


BMO U offers bite-size, high-quality content, such as podcasts, articles, videos, e-books, and a range of online courses. The company reports that employees like the variety of resources and the opportunity to follow curated learning pathways. For every resource, the talent development team posts an estimated time for completion up front, so employees can fit the learning into their busy schedules.

Elements of social learning that are embedded in the digital platform have also helped with adoption. Employees can follow other users, track learning, and customize a personal news feed. The creation of employee groups around specific learning topics has generated the most engagement. Key ambassadors in each line of business lead and design those groups; they share relevant best practices and insights, answer employee questions, and host informal brainstorming sessions.

The team has noticed that individuals who join social learning groups are more engaged, learn at a higher rate, and complete more pathways than those who are not part of a group. The most popular groups focus on topics such as diversity and inclusion, which has more than 6,000 employees enrolled; making sense of big data, with more than 1,000 employees; customer experience, with 1,000 employees; understanding and presenting data, with 950 employees; and building data solutions, with 900 employees.

"BMO U brings together all the ways in which employees learn—for today's job, for tomorrow's career, and as they pursue their personal passions," Jeneroux states. "And it helps them build the learning agility they need to be successful."

Connecting employees with learning experiences

During the past year, the talent development team has been piloting another innovative approach to informal learning that offers employees new ways to apply their skills and gain fresh career experiences. Called #HelpWanted, it's a virtual job board where managers can post short-term projects or challenges with which they need help and where employees can volunteer to take on gigs that match their skills. The talent development team vets the projects to ensure they align with program goals. Participants who engage in the projects complete surveys to share their perspectives, which help influence program strategy and direction. The team is ramping up the program to test it at scale, opening it up to more than 10,000 employees over the next year.

"The program is great for leaders, because it enables them to form fast teams for new projects, new priorities, and emerging business needs in an easy and nimble way," Jeneroux says. "It's also great for employees, because it empowers them to develop new skills, build their network, work in cross-functional teams, and gain experiences as an internal gig worker without formally leaving their existing job."

View the entire list of 2019 BEST Award winners.

About the Author

Stephanie Castellano is a former writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD). She is now a freelance writer based in Gainesville, Florida.

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