November 22, 2006
Promoting effective working relationships across departmental lines, particularly those between learning and more functional or operations-based units, is one of the tasks with which senior-level executives grapple endlessly. Caryn Guinta, First Midwest Bank executive vice president and director of employee resources, has found a way to address this problem by using the company’s internal resources to develop content, which also allows her to take advantage of resulting cost efficiencies.
All First Midwest employees — about 2,100 — receive some sort of development each year, and Guinta said part of the reason the company has not exceeded its learning budget in the past 15 years is because it ventures outside its walls only to pay for vendors and learning materials if they cannot be developed in-house.
“We probably have a bigger internal training staff than some organizations, but we feel that is more cost-effective. When you start going outside to purchase training expertise and materials, it gets pretty costly,” Guinta said. “We capitalize where we can on our own internal experts. For instance, in our commercial and credit areas, I’d say that 100 percent of those courses are delivered by internal experts. We also have developed our own internal consumer lending courses, using internal expertise from both the credit and the operations side of the organization.”
Guinta said First Midwest often addresses significant business challenges with learning activity. For instance, to grow internal management talent and build strong bench strength, internal subject-matter experts have helped build a foundational management-development curriculum that has expanded alongside the company’s succession plan to incorporate a leadership academy.
“A second challenge is on our commercial relationship management or commercial sales side of the organization,” Guinta said. “Those individuals are in high demand in the financial industry. There’s not a lot of new commercial talent becoming available in the marketplace, so we have a commercial relationship management trainee program where we go out on campus and recruit, and we have a three-year training program that we put these individuals through. Some of them, it takes a full three years. Some of them, because they’re maybe on a fast track, we can develop them quicker, and this acts as a pipeline for us to be able to fill open commercial lending positions. This has been in place now for about five years. Over the last two years, we’ve really started to see the fruits of that program.”
Since First Midwest’s leadership academy was implemented three and a half years ago, the company has been able to garner significant returns on its investment that go beyond the ability to address external, industry and marketplace demand via internal resources. Those in strategic planning have begun to work closely with the learning organization to facilitate mergers and other transformative company events, as well as to educate managers about team building, increase their exposure to varied lines and heads of business, and build leadership skills, using projects that create specific business solutions for use inside the organization.
“We just had an implementation of our brand process, and our COO stood up and talked about the value and benefits that he’s seen through the leadership academy,” Guinta said. “This last year we had a major acquisition. Eighty percent of the team that worked on the acquisition were individuals that had gone through the leadership academy last year. He said it was one of the most effective and efficient merger processes he’s managed, and he attributed it to the fact that the individuals who had gone through the leadership academy had built alliances across the organization and had the opportunity to work with individuals from other lines of business that they normally wouldn’t have had a chance to team with. Because of that, they were much more independent, more efficient and effective managing the merger process than in previous years. He also felt that the competence they’d built, their own skill sets, contributed to that.”
– Kellye Whitney, firstname.lastname@example.org