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October 2013
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TD Magazine
In Training, Sometimes Less Is More
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In Training, Sometimes Less Is More

The key to meeting performance goals does not always involve training. At BB&T, a new program pursues a holistic approach to problem solving.

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There are times within any organization when unsatisfactory performance does not reflect a lack of knowledge by personnel, and where the appropriate remedy lies outside of training. Yet training departments, and the clients they serve, routinely opt for more instruction rather than seek the root cause of the problem.

At BB&T University, executives have turned the page on that parochial mindset. "We've pushed back on the idea that the solution to every problem is more training," says Will Sutton, the university's manager, executive vice president, and senior leadership team member.

Heretical thinking from a chief learning officer? Au contraire. "The role of the university is to improve the performance of our employees," says Sutton. As the university matures, it needs to become a full partner that helps the bank's business units achieve maximum success, he explains.

In late 2011, the university rolled out an initiative called Performance Architecture (PA). It serves as a performance consultancy for the enterprise that addresses organizational needs, including—but not limited to—knowledge and skill. PA seeks to capture a holistic view of business units by identifying systemic opportunities for improvement.

BB&T's performance improvement model was adapted from both Gilbert's Behavior Engineering Model and the International Society for Performance Improvement's Human Performance Technology framework, a popular method of performance analysis. The Gilbert model was modified to emphasize the bank's unique culture and its dispersed workplaces, says Sutton.

Here's how it works: When approach­ed by a department for a new training initiative, the university's PA team—a tiny squad within its curriculum design group—selectively responds with an array of options. If the situation warrants, it might ask the requesting executive for time to examine the elements holistically and reply with a plan that may or may not include training.

"We might look at data, incentives, knowledge and skills of personnel, and culture," says Sutton. One standard weapon in its arsenal is a gap analysis.

It didn't take long for the program to earn its stripes. The bank's wealth division, citing the need to improve performance, asked the university to develop and deliver a broad new curriculum to train its employees on eight different competencies. In reply, the university requested 90 days to examine whether a training initiative would actually improve employee performance.

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The result: "We found zero correlation between how the division's personnel performed on their assessments and their actual success as wealth advisors," says Sutton. The team felt the division's needs reflected other opportunities, not skills or training ones, and so it responded with a solution that did not involve the requested training.

"We wanted the business unit to understand that once individuals reach a core level of knowledge, which its people have, simply layering on more depth in a topic gets you no leverage in performance," says Sutton.

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Another request from the bank's small business division was for the university to develop a commercial credit training initiative for midlevel regional managers. A PA review interviewed and observed 90 lenders and 40 regional managers to determine the current state of performance, among other moves.

The team also analyzed how components of the performance system affected each other. It concluded that the unit could maximize productivity by leveraging organic best practices and other nontraining initiatives. It offered 12 recommendations to senior leadership.

For Sutton and his team, the PA program is another demonstration of the university's role in shaping the corporate culture of the organization.

"We're trying to change the mindset of training for training's sake. This is a journey," he says. Fortunately, it is also an easy sell.

"When we tell people we're going to help them understand exactly what's driving their lack of performance, their eyes light up."

In addition, the training unit is expanding its social learning repertoire with an innovative mobile learning app aimed at helping people develop their leadership skills.

The app is an externally developed video game that helps individuals understand the tenets of leadership. It reflects CEO Kelly King's desire to share the bank's own internal leadership model with all associates, as well as the general public, especially those in the tech-savvy Millennial generation.

Inspired by the video game series "The Legend of Zelda," it is a medieval role-playing game that teaches leadership skills through interactions with key advisors.

BB&T's 44-year-old leadership development program is itself a demonstration of the bank's emphasis on preserving its corporate culture. The program is aimed at attracting high-potential talent and preparing them for long-term leadership roles. A rigorous, nine-month program provides future leaders with a strong foundation in corporate culture, philosophy and values, and more.

PH
About the Author
Paul Harris is a freelance writer in Alexandria, Virginia.
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