Bank of America Corporation, a multinational banking and financial services organization that is the second largest holding company in the entire United States by assets, and the fourth largest bank by capitalization. Headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, the banks serves clients in more than 150 countries and has a business relationship with over 99% of U.S. Fortune 500 companies and 83% of the Fortune Global 400. As of 2010, the bank is the 5th largest company in the United States by total revenue, as well as the 2nd largest non-oil company in the United States, while Forbes listed it as the 3rd biggest company in the world. Its acquisition of Merrill Lynch in 2008 made it the world's largest wealth management corporation. B of A holds about 13% of all bank deposits in the United States with a retail footprint that covers about 80% of the U.S. population or about 57 million consumers at over 6,000 banking centers -- making it one of the most powerful banking forces in the contemporary industry (Bank of America; The Global 2000; Fortune 500).
Leadership at Bank of America
One well-known author and leadership coach begins each public presentation making it very clear that having a leadership position and being a leader are not the same thing. Leadership and management are quite different even though often used synonymously. A "position" is something one is hired into, or appointed -- whether that results in leadership is dependent on the qualities of the individual. Some leaders rise from relative obscurity, and lead from below; some managers never learn to lead (Ventura, 2008). This is quite true for Bank of America, in which the new executive faces three complex dilemmas when they step into a new role. They must: 1) gain technical mastery over new systems, theory, and data -- quite complex depending on their level of current expertise; 2) lack of developmental feedback because of the assumption that they are already competent leaders, and; 3) extremely high expectations, a steep learning curve, no real mentoring, and not much time to become expert may equal failure/derailment (Fishel and Conger, 2009, p. 19).
It is certainly not unreasonable that Bank of America has high expectations for its exeuctives; given the number of years it takes to move into that role, these individuals should indeed be experienced in basic managerial theory and output. However, there are two psychological issues that impact higher level exeuctives within BofA. First, functional or line management experience is more tactical with strategic input. Second, the lack of mentoring and the culture of BofA engenders a certain level of arrogance that many times prevents these new managers for even believing that they need developmental feedback, self-reflection, and continued learning. Finally, in the upper levels of BofA, the environment is more politicized -- Machiavellian if you will. Colleagues are vying for more power and position and do not see coaching or helping anyone else as part of their role. Ironically, these factors contribute to an astounding 40% failure rate within the first two years of promotion (Watkins, 2003).
Talent Management Program Overview
Bank of America has grown considerably in the last few years, and has been the target of the media and government with its aggressive position on acquisitions, mergers, and business strategy. Its upper level executives, therefore, are in the public eye, scrutinized from all sides, and must perform and relate to the overall business goals from day one. Because of this, Bank of America has developed an onboarding process to allow for more peer-to-peer interaction, executive interaction with the CEO, CFO and some Board Members, and the development mechanism to improve on skills and knowledge for the organization as a whole. Esenntially, research has demonstrated that onboarding, particularly at the advanced executive level, is an organizational socialization technique that, because it is non-standard and not near the day-to-day operational side, leads to extermely positive outcomes: higher job satisfaction, better perofrmance, more organizational commitment, reduction in stress, and a better understanding of the long-term and/or strategic direction and expectations the organization has of them (Kammeyer-Mueller and Wanberg, 2003).
At Bank of America, onboarding is but one process in the development of talent management; one that allows more personal meetings with the CEO and the core development process within the bank. This is accomplished by the CEO meetings, rigorous but more informal; describing a SWOT of their unit (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Commitments are made, and the CEO follows up with quarterly meetings to review and discuss. CEO Lewis, during his tenure, did his best to encourgage canodr, trust teamwork and accountability upward, downward, and side-to-side, believing that the performance of these level managers directly affects the bank's overall performance (Fishel and Conger, 23).
Strengths of Program/Accomplishments
The strengths of the talent management program are its clear importance to the bank, the way it is structured, and the four co-phases that follow the selection of the new executive through the first day to the end of the first year. This broad and very thorough program allows for the best possible outcome; assuming of course that these individuals are well versed in their specific field, motivated, and able to perform under pressure in a highly stressful environmental challenge. As noted, the phases of the talent management program are thus:
No real time limit other than need to fill certain positions.
HR working internally and externally to find individuals who will fit the bank's culture and leadership expectations.
BofA is looking for specific kinds of people who can learn, trust, teach, have drive, focus and long-term vision (strategic thinking).
First few weeks up to about 90 days.
Development of business acumen; learn the culture; master's the leadership demands; build critical organizational relationships. This is done through giving the new executives the tools, orientation, and coaching support through the onboarding process.
Strenuous but necessary; can this new individual rapidly demonstrate his or her abilities? It is expected the new person will identify challenges and opportunities within the new position. High level questioning is encouraged (synthesis).
100 to 130 days.
Key-Stakeholder check in s; wirtten and verbal feedback from key stakeholders designed to accelerate the development of a WORKING relationship with others. Focus is on what is working, what is not, and how to merge the two.
Critical in finding out if the new executive can handle feedback, uncovering of disconnects, and allow the new executive to make adjustments in their approach to ensure success.
12 to 18 months
360 degree feedback assessment on leadership competencies using the Bank's leadership model. How effective has the leader been in communication, inspiring commitment, and recruiting and growing new talent? Is the new executive able to display personal courage, but still lead while learning and adapting.
Meetings with stakeholders, top management, and LD partners ensure that results are being delievered; being inclusive with the team; winning the organizational support by finding the balance in leading and managing. Very complex and complete, this ensures that the right person is in the right position.
The program is stringent, offers numerous opportunities for growth and development, and is designed to prevent failure and derailment. There is an assumption that within 12-18 months the new executive will face a stumbling block of some type; but this program seems to act as an early warning system for failure, while providing the executive with the key skills in which to succeed. The culture does not want the new executive to fail -- the bank has too much time and money invested in the individual, and since they have been identified as critical to the bank's future success, the bank has a vested interest in continuing the relationship in a profitable manner.
Opportunities for Improvement in Program
There may be a slight disconnect between the reported culture of top management and the talent management/onboarding program. Even by their own admission, the Bank's top managers are extremely competitive individuals who are actively working towards not only improvement, but promotion and/or bonuses. In some ways, it is almost as if two cultures exist: the day-to-day realities between executives -- really the new and the more senior; and the onboarding program commitment from the organization. In addition, depending on the culture of the business units, there may be a potential for role confusion at first.
Onboarding seems to be extremely valuable and a clear viable way to enhance the new executive's experience. Some additional improvements might be considered, though:
Establish a functional mentorship with a Senior Executive that has expertise in the actual functional area of the new hire; financial to financial, marketing to marketing, etc. This would go beyond the quarterly feedback role, and might be a monthly lunch, dinner, or various degrees of formal and informal communication. The new hire should not need to wait for an organizational session to get honest and helpful feedback on an issue.