Human resources : When Opposites Attract: – Building A Learning Organisation

In 2004, the learning and development roles of the ANZ Bank and National Bank of New Zealand were merged. How were two distinct systems and brands effectively blended?
They say opposites attract. Certainly when ANZ and National Bank of New Zealand came together in 2004 they were two very separate and distinct organisations.
It was the first time in New Zealand that banks this size had merged and the first time internationally that bank had chosen to operate dual brand strategy. But it wasn’t just about how to manage this operationally. There were also challenges for shared services, such as learning and development (L&D).
Prior to the merger, National Bank operated centralised model with some L&D consultancy, trainers and in-house administration but no learning management system. Everything was done face to face and learning was predominantly focused on meeting ‘business as usual’ operational need.
In contrast, ANZ New Zealand had an established learning management system, mainly utilised for risk and compliance training, and had limited customised face-to-face learning, predominantly developed in response to project-related learning needs.
National Bank had centralised L&D budget and allocated amounts per business unit, while ANZ business units chose what they wanted and paid for that themselves.
Then there were the learning and development needs of those staff in the corporate centre, which had been managed in an ad-hoc manner within both banks historically. Post integration, the nearly one-third of the 10,000 staff working for ANZ National had unique learning needs of their own.
Both organisations were limited, in different ways, by their restricted channels of L&D delivery.
Moving forward Our task was to blend the best of both banks’ approaches to learning, and set clear direction for the future, that was congruent with the People Capital strategy and that of the various business units that learning supports. We were, effectively, starting from scratch.
When we look back now at the challenges we faced, we appreciate how big it was. At the time, we chose to take pragmatic approach, identifying long-term goals where known, and ensuring that where there was ambiguity, our short-term solutions did not constrain our long-term choices. We then set about chunking the work down into manageable lots that we could go through systematically.
From the start we were very clear about the need to ensure all learning was seamlessly aligned with other People Capital frameworks and therefore worked closely with teams building the new ANZ National leadership competency and performance management approaches.
One of our early decisions was to outsource learning administration and event management to Bized. We didn’t have the expertise for this – and didn’t want to develop it when there were experts around, like Bized, who could give us the immediate base we needed to get on with all the other tasks that needed doing.
We then introduced an in-house specialist learning team split into separate parts – administration, trainers, L&D consultants and central support areas – defining roles and levels of expertise while ensuring all areas communicated with one another.
We were also careful to make sure that we could give business units the kind of learning offerings that meet people’s learning styles and requirements. Learning is now offered face-to-face, online, through self study or combination. This allows it to be designed around learning needs.
Operating with multiple brands in the marketplace still poses ongoing challenges in delivering training. It means trainers need full understanding of each of our brands and how they fit into the whole.
We provide brand-specific training to our frontline staff. But because leadership skills are generic, our leadership development learning is single branded with all managers attending the same courses. For example, course could be made up of attendees from ANZ, National, ANZ National and UDC.
Of key importance in establishing one learning team has been the need to set and consistently communicate learning strategy and direction across the entire team, and how this contributes to both the overall People Capital goals, and the vision for the bank.
Initially staff in L&D were all working on separate strands across key strategic objectives but we regularly communicated across the whole team, repeating the key messages of what we wanted to achieve so we knew we were all moving towards common goal.
You have to be pragmatic enough to say you can’t do everything immediately and build flexibility into your plans. At the beginning things were constantly moving. Chunking things down and prioritising ensured the key fundamentals were put in place first. This provides base to work from.

Richard Long is acting head of ANZ National’s learning and development team. This article is excerpted from his presentation to the 2007 Human Resources Institute of New Zealand Conference.

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