You can't have Learning without Development

If we break it down into its basic form, Learning & Development is quite simply the way of helping people learn new skills, enabling them to be motivated and productive at work and allowing an organisation to get the most out of their people.

This all sounds simple enough on paper. But how do you apply this across an organisation as large as Ulster Bank, and still be able to positively influence the working lives of colleagues at every level of the organisation?

I spoke to Joyce Walsh, the Head of our awarding winning Learning & Development team at Ulster Bank to see how she has made such a positive impact to Learning & Development that it can be felt across the whole business.

It’s more than just a team, it’s a movement

Joining Ulster Bank 14 years ago having already worked in banking for 14 years, it’s safe to say that Joyce considers banking to be her profession. It was this background that set Joyce apart when she joined the Learning & Development team in 2007, being appointed as the Head of Learning & Development only two years later.

“Having someone in Learning & Development who really understands the business can add a lot of value, and that’s what I bring.”

Joyce leads a team of ten, collectively known as the Learning & Development Academy. They’re responsible for Learning & Development across the whole of Ulster Bank, starting with new joiners on their induction, right through to the development of our Executive Committee.

“We’re there with new starters for every step of their journey. Our aim is to train them well enough that they can leave, but treat them well enough that they want to stay.”

The integration of a Learning & Development team as a crucial element of the business, there to help achieve our strategic goals is something that has improved over time - no longer siting in the background, but working in collaboration as learning partners in their own right.

“Our goal is to be seen as strategic enablers, and partners with the business. We work hand in hand when studying our bank strategies to determine the learning requirements necessary for these to be achieved – it’s all about talking to the business and its people.”

The approach the Learning & Development Academy take is very holistic, moving away from the classroom environment to favour a 70/20/10 approach – 70% of learning from experience, 20% from mentoring, and just 10% based in a classroom.

“Even in the classroom we invite senior professionals from the bank to talk to new joiners about their experiences, before we physically take them out into the business, visiting branches to provide everyone with the most rounded learning experience possible.”

Joyce takes the time to introduce herself and speak to everyone on their induction, setting her own advice into motion – that it’s all about building networks and the induction is just the start of that. Groups are set up for new joiners on Workplace, Facebook’s professional networking service for internal communication, allowing them to not only keep contact with each other, but direct any enquiries they have straight back into their peer group as a discussion.

The individualists of the bank

The Academy likes to think of themselves as the mavericks of the bank, where they have their own brand, their own identity and their own voice.

“It’s all about making learning relevant to people, allowing them to resonate with the brand and the faces behind it. We get out into the business a lot, so branding is important to us.”

The Academy have their own internal website to support our staff in every way possible, whether its reading newsletters, looking for a course to help progress their careers, or just wanting to buddie with someone to gain a wider understanding of the teams around them.

The Academy is also one of the first to utilise text alerts. Running courses throughout the year that cover topics such as communicating with impact and presentation skills, the team will text any member of staff who has signed up for alerts to let them know of availability on the courses.

“The website is our portal to everyone; the text alerts and newsletters allow us to interact with everyone.”

The members of staff the Academy interact with come from all levels of the bank. At an organisational level, they look at the big five improvements for the bank based on any gaps in our capability to make sure we accomplish our strategic goals.

They also create learning opportunities specifically tailored to the different functions of the bank; project management skills in our Change function, credit skills in our Commercial Banking function or sales skills in our Retail function.

“We start planting the Learning & Development seed in induction - your development is about you, your line manager and where you want to go, not necessary about spending days in a classroom. It’s about taking responsibility to see where your own gaps are, and working with your manager to develop these.”

Roll out the red carpet

While it’s easy to talk about all the innovative ways a team operates, having the trophies to prove it is another story altogether, but something the Learning & Development Academy can do…literally. Last year, the Academy was shortlisted in four categories at the annual Irish Institute of Training and Development (IITD) awards.

The team were shortlisted for four of their biggest achievements; their overall professional qualification strategy, a new professional qualification they developed for our agriculture sector in conjunction with the Institute of Banking, their coaching programme, as well as for the innovation and transfer of learning around their text alerts

“We were shortlisted against very strong organisations across Ireland, and we actually didn’t win any of the awards we were shortlisted for, we thought we were coming home with nothing.”

But these could be considered the appetisers of the awards. Joyce and the Academy walked away with the final awards of the night, the ‘Best Large Learning & Development Department’ and the overall ‘Best Learning & Development Organisation’, two awards that don’t have a shortlist and consider every organisation involved.

“For me it was a real acknowledgement of the Academy and the work we do from an industry perspective. We’re a very small team, and while a lot of organisations now outsource Learning & Development, we don’t, we keep it in-house where we’re very much part of the bank.”

Out of the limelight, into the future

As we move forward, it would seem we need to be more and more mindful of new generations that are coming into the organisation, while never forgetting the older generations currently with us. Being the individualists they are, The Learning & Development Academy have harnessed this persona and have recently started running an innovation masterclass and will soon be launching an innovation eHub.

“Innovation is a big thing for us and it’s really given people the techniques and tools to realise that they can problem solve and innovate themselves, that it starts in your head, not with people sat in a room. For me, when we look at the organisation as a learning function, we’re trying to create movement and a community around innovation”

Learning will soon become an environment where people want to pull the information for them as and when it’s convenient, not one where learning is pushed on them in a classroom. People will want to access training material on their smartphone or tablet so they can learn on a bus on the way home, or on a Saturday morning while lying in bed.

It seems that Learning & Development’s success can be attributed to their ability to keep one eye on the skills required in the future from a banking perspective, one eye on how Learning & Development trends are evolving, and how we can innovate to bring the two together, all while being mindful of different generations. They make it look easy, but it’s making sure we’re meeting the needs of all these diverse learners that will provide them with the challenge to think differently.

“Even though we’re a small team, we don’t just hire Learning & Development professionals any more, we look for people who think a little bit differently, can move with the times, and see that learning is constantly evolving.”

There is never an end to learning, only evolution

2017 is still in its infancy, yet the Learning & Development Academy have already been filling up their trophy cabinet. On the 3rd of March, the Academy walked away from this years IITD Awards as the winners of the ‘Excellence in Coaching’ and the ‘Best Consultancy’ awards for their Client Centricity Programme, winning two out of the five awards they were shortlisted for. They were also finalists in this year’s CIPD awards in the ‘Organisation Development’ category.

While it can be hard to know if you’re doing the right thing for the future, it’s clear that Joyce stands by her decisions when it’s for the good of the business and the good of the people, and it’s this certainty in herself that has lead to the Academy’s efforts and success being acknowledged at the highest possible level.

If inspiring training and your own personal development is what you look for in a new role, then have a look at our careers page here. Just remember, no matter what level your future role may be at, it’s the hard work, determination and innovation of the Learning & Development Academy that will help shape your future.