Bank Of America: Back To School
It's never too late to go back to school, and that's exactly what Bank of America's most promising IT talent do to develop the skills needed to become the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank's next IT leaders. Since 2009 Bank of America ($2.12 trillion in assets) has been partnering with the Darden School of Business and the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia to train its brightest young IT stars and turn them into leaders.
"One of the primary drivers for this partnership [with the university] was our desire to be one of the leading technology organizations in the world. To do that we knew that we had to partner with intellectual leaders in this space," says Bill Pappas, Bank of America's CIO for global wholesale banking technology and operations. The program has proved so successful, Pappas says, that the bank is now partnering with the University of Michigan on a similar leadership program for its operations leaders.
The IT leadership development trainees are all Bank of America employees who are nominated from within their divisions in the IT organization. Those nominees then go through the bank's 360 Feedback process to develop a sense of their strengths and areas where they can improve as leaders. The participants can then take advantage of external leadership coaches through the university and Bank of America's training personnel in its human resources department.
The trainees take a combination of classroom lectures, case studies and learning projects in different IT competencies at the bank, such as risk management, architecture and IT-business integration, according to Pappas. "The participants gain a greater sense of the strategic impact they can have in their roles as technology leaders and shift their perspectives to think more broadly about technology across the organization," he says. "They are encouraged to innovate and develop solutions that make interactions easier for our customers and clients and help drive competitive advantage."
Bank of America decided to partner with the University of Virginia on the program so that "the school sees the caliber of leaders that we're developing, so they're inclined to send us their best and brightest, and we're leveraging the school's resources to take our top talent to the next level," Pappas says. It also helps the trainees to step away from their everyday jobs and go to the university to gain a different perspective on the work they do at the bank, he adds. The program emphasizes communication and finance skills to help develop the business knowledge and teamwork capabilities that IT needs to work successfully with the bank's lines of business.
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The key to a successful leadership development program, Pappas notes, is a combination of breadth and depth in the training: "Breadth in terms of exposing individuals to the bank's businesses, innovation and technology, and depth in terms of how these elements fit together and the importance of networking."
That combination will help take the program's participants to a different stage of their careers where they add more decision-making and teamwork skills to the technical skills they've already developed, according to Pappas. "The individuals selected for this program are in a critical turning point in their careers. As they advance to more senior levels, they are asked to lead beyond their specific organizations and shift their mindset from being a deep technology subject-matter expert to thinking more broadly about technology and its strategic value across the enterprise."
Leadership Training Best Practices
- Connect trainees with senior-level executives. Young IT professionals like to be heard and share their ideas with today's leaders.
- Set them up with mentors who are like-minded and are comfortable talking on a personal level about their roles and their future career paths.
- Put them to work on projects that are strategically important to the organization's goals. This will make them feel valued and invested in the organization.
- Use internships to recruit potential future IT leaders who are still in school. A short internship gives them a taste of the bank's culture and keeps the bank active on college campuses.
- Rotate trainees through different parts of the IT organization and different lines of business. This helps them network with people across the organization and get a bigger view of the bank's strategic direction.
- Help them learn their strengths and areas they need to improve on in terms of communication skills and business acumen. For instance, they can take an evaluation test to determine those strengths and weaknesses before starting their development program, which should be tailored to their individual needs.