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How Huntington Bank Realized Stronger Mid-Level Leaders

Huntington National Bank

The Need

Mid-level leadership development to help the organization create a high-performing culture and position it for future growth.

The Solution

A program incorporating DDI’s Business Impact Leadership® mid-level leadership development system.

The Result

The frequency of mid-level leaders engaging in the targeted behaviors on the job increased by 55 percent.

We’ve seen tremendous movement of participants throughout the organization. They’ve taken on roles of increasing responsibility and scope, so that’s been rewarding and tied in with our succession planning process.

Dr. William Shepherd, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Huntington National Bank

The economic downturn brought many changes and challenges to the banking industry. For Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington Bank it also brought a new CEO, Stephen Steinour, who was intent on looking beyond the immediate challenges facing the banking sector and plotting a course for future growth. Among the aggressive moves he made to point Huntington in a new direction, Steinour took the lead on forming a forward-looking three-year strategic plan, a first for the organization.

To execute the plan, and do so in a way that was consistent with the organization’s vision and values, Huntington’s senior management and HR team recognized that strong leaders were needed at all organizational levels. But while considerable attention and resources had been devoted to the executive level, and also to providing frontline leaders with the skills they needed to succeed in their roles, mid-level leaders represented an opportunity for growth.

“We began the process of redefining our strategy and behavioral expectations in order to create a high-performing culture,” says Keith Sanders, executive vice president of human resources. “During that process, it became clear that our mid-level leaders were the key to creating the culture we desired.”

As it began to look at mid-level leader development, Huntington had a realistic understanding of the pressures leaders at that level are feeling.

“Our heart has always gone out to the mid-level leader, who is always in compression mode,” says Nancy Williams, vice president, talent & organizational effectiveness. “In many cases, they’re being pushed for solutions and results from both sides. That becomes your weakest point from a leadership perspective if you don’t provide them with support, resources, and the development they need to be able to deliver in this crazy world we live in where everything is at Internet speed. If we don’t commit to our mid-level leaders’ development, we won’t be able to deliver on our business strategy.”

Guiding the focus on the mid-level was the creation of an enterprise competency model intended to inform multiple talent systems, including performance appraisal, succession planning, and career development. In addition, Huntington’s efforts to develop its mid-level leaders were initially fueled by an organization-wide engagement survey of employees. The survey yielded hundreds of pages of comments in addition to the numerical ratings. Through analysis of these comments and through follow-up focus groups, themes emerged that helped to define what Huntington’s mid-level leaders needed to do in order to be successful, as well as a set of clear goals for all of the organization’s 1,100 leaders.

“The three themes that came out of the survey were the need for our leaders to listen better and value the opinions of their colleagues, the need to break down silos, and the need to keep commitments,” says William Shepherd, senior vice president, human resources. “These were important, because as part of our strategy we really needed to work on cross-selling in order to grow the bank.

We needed to expand channels. We also needed more leaders and more people to run those channels. And we wanted to promote a leadership culture defined by listening and valuing opinions.”

Development—and Support—to Transform Behavior

To help drive strategy execution and increase the organization’s mid-level leadership capability, Huntington’s HR team created a leadership development program for Huntington’s mid-level leaders. The program imparts the skills these leaders need and the support to help them transform their behavior through the application of their new skills on the job.

The centerpiece of the program is a curriculum of customized courses from DDI’s Business Impact Leadership® Mid-Level Series, which aligns with Huntington’s leadership competencies. The courses include, Translating Strategy into Results, Making Change Happen, Mastering Emotional Intelligence, Influencing for Organizational Impact, Handling Challenging Situations with Courage, Coaching for High Performance, Developing Organizational Talent, and Cultivating Networks and Partnerships.

Huntington delivers the courses in a series of sessions that extend across six months in order to optimize the impact of the program.

“We wanted to create a six-month learning process, rather than just a singular learning event where everyone came in for five days and then left,” says Shepherd. “We structured it so that the courses are delivered one day a month, but we have a lot of prework and post-work.”

To help ensure the success of the program, the mid-level leaders’ managers play an active role by nominating those leaders who should be included—an important step as the program is limited to fewer than 40 people at a time. Senior leadership also is involved. Each course session is kicked off by an executive sponsor who overviews what will be covered, and reinforces the importance of the course content and the development program as a whole.

“The executives provide personal stories from their own careers that directly tie to the content of the courses,” says Shepherd. “Their candid, thoughtful comments provide a touchstone that the participants refer to again and again throughout the program.”

To encourage the breaking down of organizational silos and promote networking, leaders go through the courses with their counterparts from different parts of the organization. Post-training, each leader also is assigned to a peer learning group of about a half-dozen people that meets regularly to discuss issues they are confronting and shares their successes in applying their new skills.

“The Greatest Thing That I Could Have Had Happen”

While Huntington continues to deliver the program to its mid-level leader population, it’s already seeing positive results.

“Although culture change is never a fast or easy process, through the program we now have a roadmap to develop our mid-level leaders, measure our results, and continue to refine our expectations using a clear, common, and consistent language," says Sanders.

Beyond the impact on the organizational culture, James Dunlap, senior executive vice president, regional & commercial banking, and one of the program’s executive sponsors, is seeing how the Business Impact Leadership program is positively influencing Huntington’s business.

“The program has allowed our participants to concentrate on becoming better at collaboration, which is the differentiator for us as a business. Its emphasis on making emotion-based connections at work has become a requirement for us to create important partnerships. Furthermore, by intentionally emphasizing effective relationships, partnerships, and networks, the program facilitates a faster way of doing business, which is helping lead to our success."

Those leaders who have been through the program are enthusiastic about the experience and the way it has changed their approach to their jobs.

“I truly believe that had I not been in the midst of this program, the transition to my new role wouldn’t have gone well at all. [The program] was the greatest thing that I could have had happen,” says Bonnie Birath, senior vice president, area risk manager, who had moved into her role just before she went through the program.

“Even though I’ve been in banking for 26 years, when it came to the coaching piece I still was able to take away some new things,” says Todd McLaughlin, vice president, retail district manager. “There were a lot things that were refreshers, as well. But I really liked the overall curriculum. I like the way it tied into what we’re trying to accomplish here at Huntington.”

“[The program] helped me meet a lot of people across the organization,” says Ron Riebe, senior vice president, deposit pricing director. “That networking aspect is very important. While I was going through the courses and thinking about my role, it was helpful to interact with a leader from another part of Huntington who might be in a more operational role with a larger number of people reporting to him or her.”

In addition to their positive feedback, the mid-level leaders who went through the program exhibited measurable change in key leadership behaviors that were targeted by the courses. Additionally, the program is fostering loyalty and raising awareness of the importance of each leader’s role.

“I think Huntington is a fantastic place to work and I’ve really been excited since I’ve worked here,” says McLaughlin. “I understand that Huntington truly wants to help develop me and they care about me and what I’m trying to accomplish.”

McLaughlin also sees how the program has the power to make leaders less likely to seek opportunities elsewhere.

“I think we’re going to be able to hold on to some people that maybe we wouldn’t have been able to hold onto in the past because they are more committed now.”

Huntington Bank is realizing the following results:

  • Mid-level leaders who have gone through the program see its value to the business and have provided positive feedback.
  • The frequency of mid-level leaders engaging in the targeted behaviors on the job increased by 55 percent.
  • Trainees and observers report financial increases between $25,000 and $600,000 in relevant business areas as a result of the training program.

Get more information on Business Impact Leadership®.