There are few industries in the world feeling the innovation threat more than Financial Services. With nimble ‘FinTech’ startups proving a very real challenge to entrenched legacy banking, the need for its technologists to be creative thinkers, powerful leaders and killer communicators has become high stakes poker.
This was very much the case for this Canadian bank. With a long rich history dating back to 1855, it’s one of the largest banks in Canada, Top 10 in North America and Top 20 worldwide. Over 80,000 employees serve over 22 million clients and the bank regularly makes both Maclean’s Magazine’s Top 100 employers and Financial Post’s Top 10. Developing the leaders who guide those employees was a definite focus for the Learning and Development team within the bank – but how to find a new way for a new world? This was their challenge.
Enter R, AVP, Learning & Development. A recent hire, R had spent almost a decade in L&D at a major telecomm company and was primed to breathe new life into the organization. One of her first mandates at the bank: Build a program to help high potential future Technology leaders develop the on the ground skills necessary to actively face down the FinTech threat.
With the banking industry’s reputation for traditional mainstream training, R knew that to achieve this goal, she was going to have to change up the game. Using tried and true vendors was not going to cut it.
When Combustion learned that R was tasked with designing a program to transform financial service technologists into the confident, creative, and charismatic leaders of the future – we were all in. R was impressed with Combustion’s commitment and approach to the project.
“Combustion was able to marry the business needs and challenges to how learning could be a solution,” says R. “They were flexible and responsive to our needs and have done well to understand our business climate and context.”
“We had been using vanilla training which ended up on the shelf,” explained K, HR AVP, Technology. “Some training was engaging but participants couldn’t roll it into the work they were doing; it was on top of what our leaders were doing as opposed to giving them a different way to do it.”
Together, the L&D team and Combustion crafted a training solution that re-examined leadership, creativity, presentation skills, storytelling, emotional intelligence and more from a completely new perspective – combining internal bank workshops with specialized external training, and soon, the Technology Leadership Program was born (or ‘TLP’ as it has come to be known). And there was no question in anyone’s mind that this was going to be something extraordinary.
R knew that Combustion was anything but ‘vanilla’.
“I knew that Combustion creates energy around the curriculum where people are moved, even personally. It’s differentiated learning, it’s experiential, and it’s disruptive – and that aligned with what the business was trying to do.”
“Combustion was able to marry the business needs and challenges to how learning could be a solution. They were flexible and responsive to our needs and have done well to understand our business climate and context.”
R, AVP, Learning & Development
The TLP pilot was designed to allow for real proof of concept. Combustion knew that with the right experience, they could take learners along a journey with very real outcomes and deliver the kind of change that senior leadership themselves could witness and feel confident about championing moving forward.
The program was to kick off with C-Lab™, Combustion’s foundational creative and critical thinking workshop. Out of that workshop, participant teams would then select very real bank problems to solve throughout the remainder of the 5-month program – and ultimately present their findings to an audience filled with senior executives. In addition, Combustion would provide their world-renowned Presentation Skills series to help build participants’ confidence, authenticity, and persuasive business storytelling skills. And, over the 5-month program, they would also provide leadership coaching, presentation and idea building coaching, and countless team building opportunities.
Along with the Combustion training, the bank would also include in-house training around talent management and emotional intelligence, as well as fireside chats with senior internal thought leaders.
From the moment it launched, the Technology Leadership Program developed its own magic. It was clearly unlike any training offered before and participants stepped tentatively into the waters of discomfort. With support, reinforcement, feedback and tough love, they soon learned to swim and before long, the ideas were flowing.
What no one could have anticipated was the personal change people began to experience. As Combustion operates on an ‘authenticity first’ model in everything they do, by walking the talk they created a safe space for the cohort to reveal themselves, take risks, form tight bonds with their colleagues, and start to build what Combustion calls ‘true swagger’. This became the cornerstone of their experience.
As the cohort developed their ideas, they were able to learn how to communicate with power, creativity, and authenticity through the presentation skills modules. Their own team dynamics and challenges provided incredible learning experiences and really informed the realities of leadership from new perspectives. They laughed (and cried) together, built skills and confidence, and bonded with each other and their trainer.
“Combustion’s delivery style breaks down walls and even though they left exhausted, they wanted to go back for the next one,” K says. “This training really changes the way you do things.”
“Combustion’s delivery style breaks down walls and even though they left exhausted, they wanted to go back for the next one. This training really changes the way you do things.”
K, HR AVP, Technology
Finally presentation day arrived. Members of the bank’s Technology Senior Executive Team filled the room and watched in awe as the cohort presented their game-changing ideas with creativity, flair, persuasion and swagger. Minds were truly blown – and a program was born.
Pilot participant AM (a Senior Technology Manager) agrees, “It’s the most significant training I’ve ever had – it turned me into a fearless thinker and presenter and I recognize now that I can add more value by challenging the status quo. It changed my perspective and helped me learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I got more out of it then I ever expected.”
Another participant added “Having been a people manager for 10 years, I have attended many different training and management classes. Never has one program been as enlightening, self-defining, motivational and inspiring, and allowed me to become a mindful manager and individual. This program has brought forth my strengths and developed them and has made me aware of my weaknesses to turn them into strengths.” To call the pilot a success would be an understatement as word quickly spread. This became the program that managers were clambering to be a part of and one that senior leadership wanted their people to participate in.
“It’s the most significant training I’ve ever had – it turned me into a fearless thinker and presenter and I recognize now that I can add more value by challenging the status quo. It changed my perspective and helped me learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I got more out of it then I ever expected.”
Rolling out the program was a joy for everyone involved. As the training team gelled, the opportunities to embed leadership best practices seamlessly merged with creativity and communication skills. Combined with the solid support of senior leadership; a hugely engaged series of participants; a progressively cohesive combination of internal and external workshops; and a desire to keep iterating and learning – it became unstoppable. And it became viral.
Because of the program buzz, Combustion was invited to share learning on psychological safety and creativity with the senior executive team. Inspired by what they heard, they cleared time in their hectic schedules to also attend a C-Lab™ workshop of their own.
“The executive team participated in the training and became big advocates, devoting an unprecedented two days of their time to do the training. No other executive team has done that for any program L&D introduced,” says R.
By the time Cohort 2 had reached ‘presentation day’ its mythic status was evident by the 80 people (direct leadership and executives) who turned up to watch the show. Once again, they were beyond wowed by the content, delivery and growth their people exhibited. Best of all, pilot participants also chose to attend and cheer on the graduates and new devotees of what they call the “Cult of Combustion.”
“Participants tout it as the best training that people have ever gotten, ever experienced before – one that they can leverage in and outside of work. And that’s given them great confidence to ask for things that they haven’t asked for before.” – R, AVP, Learning & Development
“The executive team participated in the training and became big advocates, devoting an unprecedented two days of their time to do the training. No other executive team has done that for any program L&D introduced.”
R, AVP, Learning & Development
From 2015 to 2018, the TLP program saw 120 graduates. Its status as the ‘go-to’ leadership program remained consistent throughout its lifespan, as did the feedback. Presentation / Graduation day became a true ‘standing room only’ event with all C-Level executives in attendance. In fact, executives began spontaneously competing for the right to sponsor and fund ideas presented by teams despite this never having been a part of the program mandate.
“This program is incredible” said one grad. “The journey of self-awareness and empowerment is unreal. This has helped me in and out of the bank. Truly incredible.” While another claims, “This course is better than an MBA. Teaches you how to be your best self. We call it the Masters in Being Authentic.” Even the doubters became converts: “I started the program as a non-believer as I thought it was just another leadership course the bank puts you through. As the process and the course continued, I grew to love it and felt my own skills maturing. It wasn’t easy but it helped me become better.”
Finally, perhaps the best testament ever, simply said “Life changing. Thank you!!!”
“This program is incredible. The journey of self-awareness and empowerment is unreal. This has helped me in and out of the bank. Truly incredible.”
“This course is better than an MBA. Teaches you how to be your best self. We call it the Masters in Being Authentic.”
The cultural impact of the program became an unexpected metric. TLP alumni have become like a secret society in the bank, working cross-discipline to get things done faster, smarter and with absolute trust.
“We had previous participants iterating, helping contribute to the evolution of the program as well as being ambassadors to actually host and welcome the new set of cohorts to the program almost like a brotherhood or sisterhood.”
“I had the technical chops and subject matter expertise to get to the next level, but with my newfound ‘swagger’ it was a pretty powerful combination,” said M, who was promoted to AVP soon after graduating. “It was an eye-opening experience that has shaped who I am as a leader going forward.”
“For the first time, technology groups are bringing cross-functional groups together to solve problems. It’s all very grassroots and the excitement is contagious,” says AM.
The final word according to a graduate?
“The bank is a better place because Combustion came to train us.”
So how was the program’s success measured?
Winner: I4PL 2017 Award of Excellence for Designing Curricula
Runner-Up: Top two of 63 applicants for the I4PL 2017 Award of Excellence: Learner Impact
In addition to the TLP, Combustion has continued to work with the bank – providing creative thinking training to over 3,000 employees, presentation skills to all segments of the bank, and has recently launched a new ‘Swagger’ program specifically designed for Women in Technology.
The Combustion workshops for the Technology Leadership Program Included: