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Get Promoted: On Leadership Development Programs – and a Q & A with BoA

We’ve all heard stories about the traditional American dream – the career path of the man or woman who starts in the mailroom and eventually becomes CEO. But how do you make that happen today – when so many jobs require very specific types of experience in order to be considered. What are the best ways to work your way up inside an organization?

The answer varies: It depends on the type of position you are applying to.

In start-up companies, often people grow into new roles as organizations expand.  In some non-profits, educational institutions, and smaller organizations opportunities to move up may only happen when someone leaves or a department downsizes – thus creating an opportunity for you to have a new role.

Fortunately, a large number of organizations see the value of training employees for new roles and offer in-house leadership and training development programs designed to groom you for a new role.

Side note: A great way to learn about your future prospects for advancement inside a company is to track jobs you’ve applied to within StartWire – click on the Details tab for any job, and you’ll see a live link to Glassdoor.com, a site which provides you with employee reviews on organizational culture, salary, and even interview questions you may be asked.

This week, we talk to Shavit Bar-Nahum, a Leadership Development Executive at Bank of America. Read on for information on Bank of America’s approach to leadership development – and tips on what to look for when you look at your next job. (Note, you can see current openings at Bank of Americahere or follow them on Twitter.)

In her role, Shavit is responsible for talent management, leadership development, organizational design, performance management, assessment design, and executive assessment and coaching.  Prior to the bank, Shavit worked as a Senior Consultant at Personnel Decisions International, where she partnered with global organizations to maximize their success by improving the quality and strength of their leaders. Shavit earned her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and her B.A. in Religion and Philosophy from Rhodes College in Memphis, TN.  

Bank of America is ranked #9 on the 2011 Fortune 500. You have over 290,000 global employees. In your position as a Senior Vice President of Leadership Development, how do you work with individuals and groups?

In my role as a Leadership Development executive, I partner with both leaders and their teams to better assess the performance and potential of their team and to manage their talent and organization in alignment with their business priorities.  I am very lucky in that I get to do 1:1 coaching with senior executives, but I also get to do team interventions and strategic planning sessions with groups of people.

Do you have events and programs that make the bank feel like a community as opposed to a city of employees?

With so many people in so many locations, it is difficult to maintain a true sense of community across the bank.  However, our identity as an organization stems from our corporate values which establish a culture of trust, teamwork, opportunity, and inclusion.  We also leverage various forms of communication to help us sustain a sense of team through our global intranet sight, Global Town Hall meetings that are broadcast around the world, community volunteer events that allow for people from across different parts of the bank to come together, and a global recognition program that promotes employee engagement and satisfaction.

Bank of America sets a goal of helping employees meet their personal and professional goals. How do Leadership development programs help employees achieve that? Can you give me an example of employees who’ve started out at the entry-level and progressed to senior positions?

At Bank of America, both the individual and the organization are accountable for development and career opportunities.  Employees have a broad set of e-learning programs at their disposal through a learning portal, an online internal resume profile tool, internal job posting sites, and different training opportunities they are encouraged to leverage to define their career goals.  Along the same line, the organization frequently assesses the skills and capabilities of employees, develops programs that address group level skills gaps, and bi-annual LOB talent planning discussions that create new opportunities for employees around the globe.  I currently work with someone who started their career processing checks in an accounting function 25 years ago and currently works overseas, running a global operations function.

What if I want to work as a leader of a leadership development training program? What makes a great HR candidate and employee in a financial services firm?

For anyone in HR to be successful in financial services, they have to not only understand the business, they have to approach all of their work as a true and trusted business partner.   This means that they need to understand the people and talent implications of the business strategies and the market conditions, but they also need to develop a people strategy that can be and is flawlessly executed.  It is not enough to have “good ideas” or talk about a “people process,” they need to be able to demonstrate how that process adds value to the people in the room and can take the business forward.

Inside organizations, there’s a common perception that referral to a leadership development program is a sign that that you’re not getting a good performance review and need to improve? True or not true?

That couldn’t be farther from the truth at Bank of America – in fact, when you get an invitation to attend one of the coveted enterprise leadership programs, it is an indication that you have been recognized for your performance and are being invested in for your potential.  Our leadership development programs aim to enhance leadership versatility, enterprise mindset and strategic thinking.  We look at development needs from a more holistic perspective, and use individual 360 to help individuals gain insight into their strengths and opportunities.  We also look at group results to create programs that develop a wide range of skills needed to drive the business priorities. 

What are good questions to ask – during an interview at any company – about career progression and leadership development opportunities?

I always like to ask, “How do you manage your career at this company?  What are the opportunities you take advantage of that the company offers its employees?”

Use it now—actionable—advice for job seekers:

Take a true inventory of your values, career goals and skills – but be really honest about your strengths and development areas.  If you have big gaps between what you want to do and the skills you will need to have to do it, put a plan in place to help you solve for those gaps.  No one knows you and what you want better than you.  (p.s. – if you want to be really honest with yourself, think back to the piece of feedback you once got that you disagreed with the most, and see if you can now acknowledge that some of it may have really been true, this will test your maturity and readiness to take the next step forward in your career.)

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