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Talent Comes First at Fifth Third

Fifth Third Bank is seeing excellent returns on its strategic investment in leadership development.
Talent Comes First at Fifth Third

Mary Tuuk has a lot on her plate. As the chief risk officer for Fifth Third Bancorp, with its $111 billion in assets and 15 affiliates with more than 1,300 branches in 12 states, her days are jam-packed as she tends to all aspects of Fifth Third’s credit organization and risk framework. In 2009, U.S. Banker magazine named her to its list of 25 women to watch in banking, and quoted one of her executive-officer colleagues as saying that Tuuk is “always very well-prepared” and had “made more progress in a year than we have in the last seven, eight, 10 years.”

Yet, busy as she is, when Tuuk starts talking enthusiastically about the concepts and takeaways from an executive- level course on Emotional Intelligence that she recently went through as part of Fifth Third’s strategic leader development program, there’s little doubt that the course had her undivided attention. She viewed it as time well spent, even if it was time she could easily have spent elsewhere.

“It’s always challenging, but development is a huge priority right now for our organization,” she explains. “We believe so strongly in the power of it that we realign our priorities accordingly.”

Tuuk isn’t an anomaly within the organization. Development is a big deal at Cincinnati, Ohio-based Fifth Third, which is evident in the bank’s comprehensive approach to developing all of its 4,500 leaders.  

An Investment in Talent  

When the economy went south in the second half of 2008, few industries were hit as hard as banking. The downturn forced hard choices in most financial institutions about where to commit dollars, but CEO Kevin Kabat takes considerable pride in the fact that Fifth Third continued funding its talent initiatives.

“We know and have known all along that the winners in our industry will be the companies with the best talent,” says Kabat. “That’s why Fifth Third Bank is committed to investing in our talent regardless of the business environment. We understand our employees will be what differentiates us from the competition.”

Kabat’s perspective is echoed by Teresa Tanner, executive vice president and Fifth Third’s chief human resources officer. Tanner helped lead the effort to translate that executive commitment into an executable leadership development architecture.

“Back a couple of years ago, when we started thinking through our current approach to leadership development, we understood that talent was going to be even more critical in the future than it was in the past.”

To guide its leadership development efforts, Tanner and her team created the comprehensive, four-level leadership development architecture aimed at building the skills of all the organization’s leaders—an initiative that was fully aligned with Fifth Third’s larger strategic talent framework.

Launched in 2009, this architecture is made up of four development paths that mirror the career paths of the individual leaders: Emerging Leaders, Frontline Leaders, Operational Leaders, and Strategic Leaders (the top-level executives in the company). All of Fifth Third’s 4,500 leaders participate in the path that corresponds to their leadership level. The Emerging Leader path, for instance, is designed to help first-time managers make the challenging transition from individual contributor to leading a team, while the Operational and Strategic Leader paths focus on topics and skill areas required of executives to move the business forward. The paths include courses from DDI’s Interaction Management®: Exceptional Leaders . . . Extraordinary Results® and Business Impact Leadership® leadership development systems.

Each path is designed to reinforce the organization’s core values and leadership competencies, and incorporates introductory learning, and a core curriculum that develops skills needed for success at that leadership level. It also includes an on-the-job and experiential component that includes online coaching through access to DDI’s OPAL® online performance and learning tool, as well as job rotations, projects, and mentoring. All Fifth Third leaders also take foundational courses that build their knowledge in critical areas such as diversity awareness, harassment prevention and nondiscrimination, and compliance.

In addition, leaders take supplemental courses that address their identified development needs. The required learning plus the ability to target the needs of each individual leader serves to promote a consistent leadership culture while also ensuring that each leader has the complete skill set needed to succeed in his or her role, as well as the base of skills leaders need as they advance in their careers and move to the next path.

“We’re trying to further optimize the leaders we have in place today,” says Robert Shaffer, executive vice president and director of Fifth Third’s internal audit and credit review functions. “But we’re also focused on maximizing the impact of the development of tomorrow’s leaders within our company.”  

No Penicillin Approach

Fifth Third has been in business for more than 150 years, and while the bank hasn’t been formally developing its leaders that long, it has had leadership development programs in place before the current leadership development architecture. But those development efforts were not always sufficiently robust, nor were they integrated to provide organization-wide consistency and alignment across levels.

Tanner says that each line of business tended to identify leadership gaps and address them independently of the other lines of business. There wasn’t a concerted effort to develop leaders across all of Fifth Third and no consistent focus on leadership competencies.

“We had a lot of penicillin type of approaches where we diagnosed that there was an illness and got a shot in the arm to help remedy it, but what we really needed was basic nutrition,” says Tanner. “We had no approach to proactively build leader skills. We were just solving for talent deficiencies in a one-off way, where we couldn’t realize any economies of scale.”

“When you have a matrix organization like we do with affiliates, we wanted to look at greater consistency,” says Lauris Woolford, executive vice president of organization development and planning. “We also wanted to get at common leadership competencies and values, and that’s when we started first doing the work with DDI around the strategic talent framework.”

Addressing the shortcomings of past efforts was a major priority for Tanner and her team as they built the current leadership development architecture. In implementing it they had to make sure that leaders at all levels—including those at the very top of the organization— would acknowledge the need to develop.

“We felt very strongly that we needed to build leadership capabilities top down and that we really needed to put a much greater investment on the operational and strategic leader offerings,” says Woolford. “One of the biggest cultural shifts we had to make was getting leaders to understand that, regardless of what level you attain in your career, there are still opportunities for continual learning. What’s good is that our senior- level leaders have been very open about embracing learning.”

Paying Dividends  

Since the four-level leadership development architecture was launched in 2009, Fifth Third’s investment in talent has paid dividends.

“We consistently hear, ‘Best course I’ve ever taken at the bank.’ Or, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we now have learning opportunities like this.’ Or, ‘This has direct implications to my job to make me more successful.’ And we have data like that on every single course we offer,” says Tanner.

Fifth Third engaged DDI’s Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research to measure the impact of the core program for the Emerging Leaders path. The study, for which data was collected from participants who had been through the training within the previous six months, revealed several favorable findings:

  • More than 95 percent of the emerging leaders surveyed believed the training supported the organization’s culture and was very relevant to their jobs.
  • After the training, 92 percent of leaders displayed effective leadership behaviors. Just 66 percent displayed the behaviors before the training.
  • 99 percent of leaders said that the concepts covered in training are important for their jobs.
  • 94 percent of leaders indicated that they were personally motivated to apply their learned skills and concepts back on the job.  

Most important, the research showed real improvement in communication, coaching skills, and resolving conflict, and found that the leaders are more prepared to take on new roles because of the training program.

“I think we’ve taken managers and made them into leaders,” says Woolford. “I think we’ve given them some learning agility that is core to their success, regardless of whatever path they’re in.”

Tanner sees the transformational aspect of the training, not just on the leaders but on the entire Fifth Third organization.

“Increased talent will help us drive all of our business strategies,” she says. “We are going to continue to operate in an ever-changing business environment and industry environment. We’ve tried to build a leadership curriculum that helps prepare our leaders differently than we’ve prepared them in the past.”

Shaffer now sees development as “embedded” in the Fifth Third culture. He also believes it’s positioning the organization as a destination for highly coveted talent.

“We’re winning the war on talent more and more every day in terms of attracting high-quality people because not only are we saying we’re going to provide you with a competitive compensation package, we’re also going to develop you.”

Talk to an Expert: Talent Comes First at Fifth Third
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