Bank of America's talent management program led to success for the company
Bank of America's executive performance and retention strategy breaks down into the objectives set out in Figure 2.1 (Fisher and Congel, 2009, p. 22), 'attract, retain and develop great leaders.' This process occurs in distinct phases over the first 36 months of executive promotion but begins even before the new hire, if 'attracting great leaders' requires adequate compensation, with "clear and calibrated" (Fisher and Congel, p. 25) criteria screened by recruitment specialists. This includes more than business skill, extending to integration into the existing executive team as well as the total human resource silo the executive will ultimately oversee. This overall fit is assessed in order to prevent "derailment" (Fisher and Congel, 2009, p. 24) through conflict or loss of credibility at the head of a changing and challenging culture. Thus job development takes place prior to selection and incorporates the needs and objectives of the stakeholders who will depend on the new executive, presumably reducing the likelihood of revolt during and after transition and facilitating success before individual talent is even invited.
Once these "critical roles" (Fisher and Congel, p. 22) are defined, getting "the right people" in them occurs through extensive evaluation and ranking in partnership with leadership development contractors and concerned stakeholders. Three distinct stages take place after selection, from the first day, then at mid-point after the first quarter or so, and finally at the end of the first year (Fisher and Congel, 2009, p. 24). The initial phase usually takes around a month, by the end of which the new executive must have mastered the business model, but also identified and achieved cultural norms and relationships with the human resources who will accomplish the strategic opportunities the executive was empowered to identify and enact. Obtaining realistic goals establishes credibility that translates into leadership, many of which are prepared even before selection, and presented through orientation and coaching around a clear plan that will support quick mastery. The development consultant presents the new executive with the strategic and human resources, and also existing obstacles, clearly outlined in an "integration plan" (Fisher and Congel, 2009, p. 25) that itself integrates subordinates, peers and senior executives into reciprocal orientation -- new leader to culture and culture to new leader, horizontally and vertically upward and downward at the same time. The result seems to depend most on the clarity and achievability of immediate short-term objectives, in order to build the confidence and credibility the new executive will then deploy on the strategic plane.
Not least important is integrating the new executive horizontally, with peers, under the mentorship of senior executives who were cultivated through the same process. These relationships with other executives and senior management overlap the new executive's purview, and impart a wider understanding in relation to the complex organization and within the executive team. The facilitated dialog includes the leadership development specialist identifying objectives, concerns and priorities between the new leader, staff, peers and superiors face-to-face, but also through anonymized, non-threatening, mediated group activies. These multiple-stage stakeholder coordination orientations culminate in the total corporate view as seen from the CEO's office within the first few months, through a leadership program that brings all executives with less than two-years' tenure together for informal networking and mentoring, as well as direct orders and expectations outlined by the CEO at the cohort level in order to establish "a safe haven or resource group" (Fisher and Congel, 2009, p. 29) supporting the complex, urgent and demanding initial on-boarding process.
The next milestone occurs by the fourth month on the job, at a "Key Stakeholder Check-In Session" (Fisher and Congel, 2009, p. 29). The Bank's feedback-rich management environment is built on the realization that the entire culture as well as the executive talent "share responsibility for the new leaders' success" (Fisher and Congel, 2009, p. 29-30). This tool aims to identify and revise any disconnect between the new leaders' intentions and acual results, as short-term impressions and objectives diffuse into and back from the shop floor; this helps clarify those stakeholders' expectations for the new executive looking forward. This midpoint assessment identifies potential threats or weaknesses before they show up on the balance sheet and end up in costly derailment of the new executive. Again, mediated and anonymized interaction delivers enhanced ownership throughout the value chain. The Bank has found checking-in too late can allow suboptimal programs or relationships to crystallize beyond rehabilitation, but assessing performance too early can undermine the new executive at the same time stakeholders have not built wide enough impressions. After four months, the new leader, staff and superiors have had the time to identify patterns that can either be enhanced or improved, with the validity of a large enough sample to provide meaningful-enough feedback for the new executive and the senior partners who oversee them (Fisher and Congel, 2009, p. 30).
This cyclical feedback process culminates once the new executive has completed a full performance cycle and demonstrated achievement in the objectives identified through the prior two stakeholder review processes (Fisher and Congel, 2009, p. 31). This similar facilitated discussion complements official review by superiors and inputs ongoing feedback into future achievement, both completing and re-initiating another of the "360-degree" cycles that have sustained Bank of America's domination of an intensely competitive industry. This cyclical integration provides "rich, candid and ongoing information on their progress over the first year" (Fisher and Congel, 2009, p. 33), after which derailing factors have hopefully been addressed. On-boarding becomes integration through co-ownership of successful practices by stakeholders throughout and surrounding the executive's jurisdiction.
How strengths of the program led to goal accomplishment
One of the major strengths of Bank of America's 'on-boarding' program lies in prior field testing. The result is a turnover rate the bank claims is a third lower than for firms of similar size (Fishel and Conger, 2009, p. 18). This result, given the extensive cost and negative fallout on performance and morale that derailment undeniably entails, let alone intensive executive search cost itself, cannot help but show up on the bottom line. If one of the bank's goals is higher profitability, reducing turnover in general and specifically the most expensive turnover can deliver significant goal accomplishment as the right key personnel grow more effective with experience and investment. Fishel and Conger (2009) describe implied, pull-cost factors driven by such turnover, as including "stalled organizational initiatives, loss of business knowledge, damage to customer and staff relationships, dampened employee morale, and lost opportunities" (p. 19). These very real foregone opportunity costs are complicated by the second delay on-boarding a replacement after a failed attempt at executive recruitment. The opposite, increased performance for all these initiatives, delivers goal achievement that builds equity for owners, leverage with lenders and consumer satisfaction, thus accelerating or at least supporting the first objective of commerce in general, profit.
Other authors agree. Dr. Dianne Stober, herself an organizational coach in a different sector but one with firms of comparable size, described (2008) in different terms how sustainable organizational change requires not only leadership and mentoring but buy-in and ownership throughout all stakeholder sectors within and across the specific unit (79). If organizational change is necessary to respond to changing technologies and preferences, then the bottom line will demonstrate goal attainment or if not the C-suite will pay the price. Phaedra Brotherton corroborated (2011) the value of both continuity and adaptability in the face of change, and other high costs of failure (24). If the Great Recession has eroded most firms' new executive performance to an alleged 75% 'interpersonal communication problem' rate as Brotherton (2011) declares (24), this also implies empirical support for Bank of America's talent model if they are in the 25%. Brotherton's 2011 tabular summary of successful retention and development programs (24) could be taken directly from Fisher and Congel (2009). Mary Slaughter (Bingham and Galagan, 2011, p. 40) demonstrates either BofA's competitors are emulating this style intentionally, or '360-degree' development is emerging best practice in banking management.
Opportunities for improvement in the talent management planning process
The assumptions Fisher and Congel (2009) claim BofA bases these talent management processes upon reveal potential areas for improvement. If the assumptions hold true, amplifying the positives and reducing the negatives should demonstrate enhanced goal achievement. The bank has apparently already dialed in the time frame over which such successful interventions take place, and so altering that "baseline assumption" (Fisher and Congel, 2009, p. 23) may be a mistake. Likewise while best practice suggests "multiple interventions" (Fisher and Congel, 2009, p. 23) this does not necessarily entail that increasing the frequency will deliver improvement. If on-boarding is dependent on ownership by multiple stakeholders on the other hand (Fisher and Congel, 2009, p. 23), increasing stakeholder inclusion may have no upper bound if loyalty and enthusiasm are the result. The same may be the case for quality of dialogue and the depth of interaction across multiple strata as…