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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Spend money wisely on training

By Rose M. Patten
Special to The Sun


Three weeks ago in the Toronto Sun Career Connection section, author Harold Stolovitch suggested that traditional corporate training departments be overhauled. Instead he advocated "outcome- based" approaches that would inevitably lead to better corporate performance.
ROSE M. PATTEN
BMO Financial Group


Corporate university

Thinking along similar lines, in 1994 BMO Financial Group (BMO) established its own corporate university called the Institute for Learning (IFL), to serve as the organization's training base and to be a visible, tangible symbol of its commitment to continuous learning.

More than 10 years later, this approach to training and development remains a strategic business priority.

BMO believes in order to have the best talent, you must invest in their ongoing development: you can't take a year off or you will fall behind.

I certainly agree with Harold Stolovitch that training should be about "behavioural change" -- which is a complex task. In an increasingly knowledge based economy, companies need to be proactive in developing their current and next generation of leaders.

Creating leaders takes time though -- it cannot be done overnight. Offering short, one-dimensional training solutions simply isn't enough to develop the complex skills that managers and leaders need in today's environment.

At BMO, we designed a comprehensive approach to developing managers and leaders -- we call it a Managerial Leadership Learning System. Over a 15-month period, this learning system covers a wide range of critical areas including: managing change, relationship building, business planning, organizational dynamics, conflict management and resolution, and developing and coaching others.

The program's principles can be modified to other workplaces. For instance, all students participate in a 360 degree assessment at the start and finish of the curriculum.

Feedback

This means that their peers, their manager and employees who report to them provide invaluable feedback, which is improved upon over the 15-month period. Really, it enables the behavioural change -- or performance improvement -- which is at the heart of this program.

BMO also offers a four-year MBA specializing in financial services conducted in co-operation with Dalhousie University. Nearly 300 of our high potential employees have participated in this multi-disciplinary MBA over the past nine years.

Employee retention

This too has been a wise long-term investment in terms of both talent development and retention: for example the retention of the employees who have graduated from this program is over 90%.

Our Institute for Learning ensured that advancements in technology were utilized in order to reach a greater number of employees.

Previously, over 50% of training was done in a centralized classroom.

Today, approximately 80% is carried out at or near the employee's worksite -- through face-to-face, electronic or paper formats -- dramatically increasing employee access to relevant learning.

Further, Human Resources vice-presidents, embedded in all of our lines of business, ensure that skill requirements are linked to business needs. By doing so we ensure that training is performance based. As a high performing organization it is imperative that this link to business produces performance outcomes.

Training effectiveness is measured annually in an employee survey. Last year's results confirmed that the vast majority of employees not only had access to training opportunities, but also that they were able to apply training outcomes to their jobs directly.

Additionally, we strive to ensure that our learning programs are directly linked to job performance expectations in order to make a real impact on the business.

Recently, Training magazine for the fourth consecutive year has ranked BMO in the upper tier of its top 100 North American companies with a superior focus on employee development (16th on the list).

BMO has been the top Canadian company on the list for the last four years running.

Strategic goals

Training magazine also recognized BMO's ability to tie training and development to strategic goals, which aligns with Harold Stolovitch's assertion: unless training is driven by business strategy and performance, it's just a set of activities.

BMO's commitment to training is such that, over the past decade we have invested more than $500 million in professional development. I believe this money has been spent wisely.

Rose M. Patten is Senior Executive Vice-President, Human Resources and Head, Office of Strategic Management, BMO Financial Group



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