Complacency Is Killing Banking Careers

No longer limited to young and highly ambitious employees, self-development is a path for growth and survival in a time of disruption. While organizations can assist in this process, bank and credit union executives can no longer wait for a formal training program or for others to set a defined path.

For traditional banking providers that wish to remain relevant, it’s become increasingly clear they need employees with new skills and capabilities. Banks and credit unions will definitely have to invest more in human resources, balancing the diverse development needs of current and future employees. Already, many financial institutions are exploring how employee development can be better integrated with the industry’s rapidly evolving digital and technological goals and strategies.

When determining the best way forward, banks and credit unions are considering two broad approaches:

  1. Improving communication and employee involvement in various internal training programs, and
  2. Emphasizing and providing incentives for personal development options as opposed to formal training, with staff empowerment being the mission.

The first approach is more common at present, but whatever direction is taken, the overriding message is that learning is now a competitive advantage and/or a survival tool in financial services.

For longer tenured banking employees who individually have far more at risk, waiting for organizational solutions may not be an option. Now more than ever, there is an importance of self-direction and personal responsibility in the development process. There is no doubt that the foundation can be set by the organization, but employee development initiatives, based on the principles of self-development, are still rare. Therefore, employees at all levels must go further in the process of embracing change, taking modest risks and disrupting themselves for future job security. If they don’t, they may find themselves out-placed in an increasingly technology-based organization.

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Self-Development in Banking

The importance of self-development and self-directed learning is known by employees in any industry who are trying to move up the ‘corporate ladder’. Usually more prevalent early in a person’s career, employees recognize the need to develop and position themselves as someone ‘willing to learn’. Unfortunately, as a career progresses, there is usually a fall off of self-development partially due to expanded life events (marriage, family development, etc.) and less clarity around what to learn and paths to take for self-directed learning. And sometimes complacency.

Unlike systematic training and group development methods, self-development is a self-initiated process of learning that requires personal initiative, self-awareness and highly customized paths. In other words, individuals must have the desire to employ the necessary skills and resources to seek learning experiences and to turn them into tangible results. This is not easy when the future is still highly uncertain.

In the past, while the decision to proceed with self-development was often based on how far a person wanted to go in an organization, the decision today may be more about survival. Due to technology’s ability to replace humans, many of the current roles in banking are changing and could include either new skill requirements or a complete career change. Going forward, self-development will need to integrate knowledge and skills from the past, future needs of an organization and the future intentions of the individual. It requires a personal willingness and determination to commit to the process of ‘moving forward’ as opposed to hoping that the environment will not change. With self-development, the individual is in complete control … for better or worse.

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The Role of The Organization

While it is clear that the process of self-development requires buy-in of the individual, is it possible to encourage personal development and responsibility in conjunction with a broader definition of training? Many believe that self-development should include employees across all levels of the organization. At more progressive organizations the belief is that sharing, group interactions and structure enhance the learning process. Ideas such as development centers (similar to innovation labs), open learning facilities (similar to libraries) and structured self-development planning and goal setting benefit both the individual and the organization.

The concept of formalizing the self-development process has a foundation around the expected benefits from self-development for individuals, teams, departments and organizations. In other words, it is easier to leverage experience of current employees than to find entirely new staffing. There is also the belief that employees will be more willing to engage in a more structured process and that the increased confidence in having a future with their current employer will have a positive effect on future recruiting as well.

Potentially most important: the process of developing a more formal self-development platform can help in understanding what the future may become while also clarifying individuals’ strengths, weaknesses, expectations, ambitions, preferences and experiences. This obviously assists with future placement of key employees.

The challenge for organizations in this approach is the diversity of individual preferences and styles in relation to development. No two people are alike in their skills, previous accomplishments or options for new opportunities. This diversity could make the value of the organizational contribution limited, especially in a time of massive change. Playing against this limitation is the reality that both lower and upper level employees are somewhat insecure about what the future holds and in their understanding of the reality. This may be where organizational culture around learning and self-development becomes important.

It is clear that organizational culture and management’s view around independent employee development will impact how involved and proactive an organization will be around training current employees. This can impact both how employees view the self-development options and the support for self-development overall. An organization’s culture must allow for independent thinking, risk taking, personal growth, innovation and ambition for future growth for self-development efforts to be successful. There also must be room for movement up and across the organization for internal efforts to succeed.

The Role of The Individual

During times of change, the only thing that an individual can control is themselves. The best way to not be negatively impacted by change is to embrace it, recognizing that change is inevitable. This does not mean that an individual needs to change their identity or beliefs based on major environmental and competitive change, but to find ways to integrate current skills, accomplishments, areas of strength, etc. in a way that is more in line with future realities. In any event, not embracing self-development is not the best path.

Waiting for an organization to provide a clear and defined training program is no longer the best path either. Every banking employee must determine what skills they have and find ways to integrate these skills into the new reality. Bank and credit union executives then need to determine what new skills must be obtained.

No longer can bank and credit union executives keep doing what they have been doing for ages – no matter how successful. In times of massive change, individuals are expected to actively participate and contribute in ways that will position their organization well for the disruption taking place. People need to constantly upgrade skills and be willing to move to new areas of the organization or do tasks in new ways.

The unemployment rolls are filled with people unwilling or unable to embrace change, take risks and disrupt themselves. There are much better options, but the individual must take the initiative to be a survivor.

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