Scotiabank: Cashing In on a Community of Learning

Many companies embrace a centralized learning model to offer learning and development opportunities to their various employee populations. Scotiabank, which offers retail, commercial, corporate and investment banking services to millions of customers arou

Many companies embrace a centralized learning model to offer learning and development opportunities to their various employee populations. Scotiabank, which offers retail, commercial, corporate and investment banking services to millions of customers around the world, has not. Instead, the company has adopted and deployed a decentralized learning model to equip its roughly 48,000 employees in 50 countries to handle customer and business needs by fostering a spirit of community between independent business units that share best practices and leverage their impact throughout the extended enterprise.

“We view learning as a strategic lever to assist Scotiabank in achieving our business goals both short-term and long-term,” said Cory Garlough, vice president, Global Learning Office, Scotiabank. “We made the conscious decision to decentralize, and the major impetus was to ensure that our learning was really linked to business, so each of the business units and key support functions has a learning function. However, my group sort of looks at how we’re doing enterprise-wide. We’ve created what we call the Scotiabank Learning Community, which all the training units are a part of, and we work together in various stages of training, whether it’s analysis, design or development. We have corporate-wide standards and bank-wide programs that cross business lines.”

Scotiabanks’ Learning Community began in 2002 when the company shifted from its quasi-centralized learning model and adopted seven guiding principles: to conduct business based needs analysis, benchmark best practices, use the most effective training media and delivery methods, continuously evaluate and improve products and services, adhere to standards when working with external providers, streamline learning across the enterprise, and clearly communicate strategies, activities and results. The Global Learning Office acts as a hub for Scotiabank’s Learning Community. Each business unit is accountable for its own learning plan, budget and the design and development of business-specific training. Learning and development opportunities that cross business lines or are bank-wide fall directly under the Global Learning Office umbrella. For critics of the decentralized model, Garlough offers a rather sage opinion about trends and popularity in the learning industry. “I have heard a lot about the pendulum swinging toward more of a centralized view. If you’ve been around the training field for a while, you go through those pendulum swings to some degree, but I think we’re actually hitting our stride right now in terms of the effectiveness of the decentralized functions, as well as the working collaboratively as a community,” he said. “We have task forces. We have meetings on an ongoing basis. We really have a philosophy of what needs to be the same so that everything else can be different. We pool together what needs to be the same. The stuff that’s different—that’s what those training functions really zero in on.”

Task forces to examine learning strategies, professional development for the learning community, evaluation or metrics and other areas are voluntary and generally incorporate representatives from all of Scotiabank’s business units. The community itself employs a variety of learning delivery methods to cement its teachings, including traditional classroom, seminar, workshop, self-study and e-learning. Some 20 percent to 25 percent of Scotiabank courses have an e-learning format. “We’ve also got satellite training, and we’re getting more into the area of simulation in terms of telephone simulations, real-life simulations from actors, as well as using gaming technology,” Garlough said. “We also combine all of those media to have more of a blended approach. We believe content and its intended outcome plus the audience will determine what learning media is best.”

Adopting a decentralized structure has helped alleviate some of the difficulties typically associated with training a large, geographically dispersed population. “I think being decentralized definitely helps in terms of ensuring the local needs are met because oftentimes, business units are outlined by geography as well as business function,” Garlough explained. “We have three core businesses. One is our domestic business unit, which is retail, small business, commercial in Canada. Then we have our international group, which is everything outside of Canada, and then our third business unit, Scotiacapital, which is our investment and corporate banking. Our international training functions can really center in on some of the local needs, where in a centralized body, sometimes they get overseen or they’re not prioritized accordingly. I think it’s better handled this way.”

Scotiabank’s decentralized learning structure has not hampered its collection of evaluation data or reduced the importance of metrics to gauge the success of learning interventions created to optimize bank operations. Gathering metrics is in fact a major function of the Global Learning Office. “I remember when I worked for another company, I went to a regional site and asked them how they evaluate their programs,” Garlough said. “They told me they did all these Level 1 and 3 evaluations, and I said ‘Well, what did you do with them?’ They said, ‘Oh, we filed them.’ We don’t do that here at Scotiabank. We use metrics to have the business discussions with our stakeholders and ultimately to assist us in making decisions. I personally sit down with the president and CEO as well as the three vice chairs at least annually to discuss organization learning metrics. We ensure and prove value and alignment to the overall business goals. An example would be a conversation we had about the percentage of dollars we’re spending on compliance or regulatory training. Do we need to adjust our overall learning investment because of that? These are real, strategic business decisions. Where are we spending our money? Where are we getting the lift?”

Monica Collins, one of two directors in the Global Learning Office, is responsible for building and fostering the business relationships with 50 percent of Scotiabank’s Learning Community officers. “My clients are specifically the domestic bank, wealth management, shared services, the call centers and insurance. I meet with the heads of those divisions on a regular basis. We have informal conversations probably once a week. Where there are large projects where we can act as an internal consultant and provide assistance and support, we do so, and I try to define on a quarterly basis what those specific projects would be so that each quarter we can assess how well we did. Is it red, yellow or green, and what do we need to do to correct it?”

Bi-monthly lunch-and-learn sessions open to any Scotiabank staff member act as a forum for feedback and conversations about potential development needs or themes. “This last year, I absolutely decided that we needed to have themes so that we were much more focused in our approach. So our focus has been on managing learning as a business and blended learning,” Collins said. “Part of managing learning has been putting the focus strongly on the front-end analysis and the evaluation strategy. I think it’s worked very well, so to complement the lunch-and-learns, I also have monthly meeting with heads of training. We talk about what their needs are and how to address them, but more and more it’s about what’s your learning strategy, where are the overlaps, what can we leverage, what’s happening elsewhere in the organization? One of the things we want to do is reduce the duplication that happens in a decentralized model and really build on the strengths. We talk quite a bit about strategy and metrics, where we are at any given point and what those opportunities are for sharing materials or resources.

“To really help us focus, we have people like Harold Stolovitch come on site and do very, very intensive training sessions with us around front-end analysis—helping us to move from the training order-taker to the true performance management model where we impact audiences, measure results and have the ability and the knowledge of which strategic partnerships to build with whom and how,” Collins said. “We followed that by having Jack Phillips come on site and do his five-day intensive ROI certification program. Now we have 25 members who are ROI-certified to provide a strong core for our corporate evaluation strategy.”

In keeping with Scotiabank’s first guiding principle, each of the business lines selected one of the 25 ROI gurus to work with the Global Learning Office on an evaluation task force. Part of their role is to effectively communicate the corporate evaluation strategy and to develop some standardized processes and tools. “We now have a standardized Level 1 questionnaire, a standardized supplementary questionnaire bank and a standardized Level 3 evaluation tool,” Collins said. “Our whole value proposition is to increase the business and impact of learning throughout the enterprise. We can’t do that unless we ensure that our own learning community skills are the best they can be at all times. We also wanted to make sure—because clarity and focus is so important—that as a learning community, we all agreed what our learning principles were and how they would be carried out in our work. So we have fundamental tenets about learning that impact human performance and professional work. The requirements of learning as a business are clearly articulated, and we have all agreed on the various duties, responsibilities and accountabilities as the organization, the business sponsor, the learning unit, the individual learner, the subject-matter expert and so on.”

Garlough said that while Scotiabank is “in a good space,” one of three future initiatives involves a kind of back-to-the-future approach where the organization will review essential skills such as communication, management and leadership. “How do we offer those, and how do we leverage use of our technology infrastructure, whether it’s through our learning management system, through virtual classrooms or simulations to better embed those skills into various parts of the organization. It’s not new, but we can do it a lot more innovatively and a lot more impactfully. Second, we’re looking at better integration of learning, whether it’s more seamless integration with performance management, with development planning or better integration with our technology. Banks, like other organizations, go through large-scale technology upgrades in terms of banking systems, etc. An old-style format was to have the training a couple of weeks before the system goes live. The new way is to have training that’s integrated as part of the product. Third, growth, either organically or through acquisitions, is a big area for us. How do we leverage the learning enterprise to the newly acquired companies or branches?”

–Kellye Whitney,