Learning and development (L&D) has long been a priority of US-based Fifth Third Bank.
A core HR priority of the bank is “amplifying both employee and success” through “upskilling, reskilling, making sure that we have clear and meaningful career mobility, as well as continuing to focus on leadership development, Brian Walsh, senior manager of learning experience and technology at Fifth Third, tells UNLEASH.
In terms of development, Walsh is particularly proud of the fact that the bank has a “matrix approach to career mobility”. This means that development isn’t just about promotions, but it is also about lateral moves (including across different departments), and therefore upskilling in new areas.
“It’s not just that everything is vertical, and you keep moving up from an individual contributor” until you become “the head of your department”. “Even doing lateral moves within your own department to fill a need or a specific development passion is encouraged”, according to Walsh.
This is a very forward-thinking attitude toward development. But Fifth Third went one step further during COVID-19 and pushed for employees to “own” their professional development, according to Walsh.
Fifth Third gets innovative with L&D
Of course, having employees own their development, doesn’t mean that employers shouldn’t step up to support learnings as much as possible.
Therefore, during the pandemic, Fifth Third’s L&D team got to figuring how best to support workers and give them “greater control over [their] professional development”.
This is where Fifth Third’s innovative culture really comes into place. The HR team has a real “desire to really think differently about how we solve for employee development experience, and not just doing it the way we’ve always done it”, according to Walsh.
Technology has a huge role to play here. “We look for solutions where we not only create this better learning experience”, as well as “give us all this amazing data on the backend”. Through this approach, “we learn so much more about our employees and what they’re doing for their [own] professional development.
It is, therefore, no surprise that during the pandemic, Fifth Third decided to partner with a learning experience platform (LXP).
Walsh explains that during the COVID-19 crisis, there was a “turning point” where employees needed virtual learning options, as well as new content.
Employees were asking for more than the so-called “table stakes” offerings from the L&D department, such as “role-based curricula, leadership training, and compliance training”.
“So many things were changing; [there was] the need for remote work and management skills, a focus on wellness, and the simultaneous need to provide support for diversity and inclusion because of the heightened racial tensions in the US”, notes Walsh.
While Fifth Third’s learning management system (LMS) was great for compliance training and role-based curriculum, it wasn’t strong on “on-demand training”. So working with the LXP on providing on-demand content “really changed the game” around L&D at Fifth Third.
It provided a “clear home” for employees to go for their “personalized, on-demand, anytime anywhere professional development”.
Fifth Third and Degreed: A match made in heaven?
The LXP that Fifth Third decided to integrate during the pandemic was Degreed, and it was a “gamechanger” for L&D at the bank, according to Walsh.
The decision to choose Degreed boils down to one thing: “employee experience”. Walsh is frank that Degreed’s platform is “just more engaging” than competitors, and that its capabilities far outstripped that of Fifth Third’s LMS.
“The employees are always the primary focus for the L&D team. It’s about creating that destination learning location” and making sure it is “really easy for you to get in there and see the entire scope of what is available”.
Degreed’s platform is a “one-stop-shop destination” for all of Fifth Third’s content for everything that is created in-house and provided by other learning partners, including LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, Harvard Management and Harvard Business Publishing.
Walsh notes that externally formulated content is seamlessly integrated into the platform, which also provides “a personalized user experience based on skills you picked or maybe initiatives that are going in your department”. “The ease of integrations to the LMS and content providers [has] obvious value to L&D” and “creates this more unified experience for folks”, notes Walsh.
Degreed also speeds up Fifth Third’s content and initiative creation; this avoids the bank wasting money paying another vendor or wasting time building something in house.
Beyond this, the “social, collaborative aspect” of the platform is a big positive for Fifth Third. The bank encourages workers to embrace Degreed the same way as they do their own personal social media – this means sharing wins and engaging with other people’s posts on their successes.
To help here, Fifth Third created an L&D mascot called the Share Shark – “We love alliteration”. Degreed has a mascot account capability, and “we decided to take that in a fun and kitschy direction”, Walsh shares with a smile.
“The Share Shark has its own account…and is a mix of a pirate, a 1920s gangster, topped off with a Scottish accent”. It drives engagement with Degreed by sharing content by leaders, or employee stories, through Degreed to all workers.
Of course, the Share Shark exists outside Degreed too. Walsh explains: “There’s an inflatable shark costume, in-person appearances and learning campaign videos.
“Those things are just little ways we can engage employees and try and put their professional development front and center.”
The importance of data in L&D
Walsh is very clear: “While some competitors may have had better analytics baked into the platform, if you aren’t engaging your customer [in this case employees] right out of the gate, you may not [be able to take advantage of] those awesome analytics on the backend.”
“Data isn’t as meaningful…when there isn’t a big enough sample of your population” actually using the platform.
As things stand, Degreed’s data and analytics capabilities have been transformative for Fifth Third’s L&D Team. “Literally everything that goes on in the platform we have access to the raw data on the backend”, and in real-time. Walsh is clear that this level of data and analytics is not something that the team had access to, say three years ago, and it “parallels the [tech] we experience outside of work”.
While the HR team is interested in what content employees are consuming, whether they are using the platform to celebrate colleagues’ successes, and how they’re engaging with the Share Shark, the metric that Fifth Third’s L&D team is most interested in is “what does continuous learning look like on the platform?”
“Not only can we see how much of that is happening, but we can see where [there are] opportunities to do more or do things differently”, explains Walsh. “You can break that down by different business functions within the bank”.
How to benchmark with Degreed
Another “really cool element” is that Degreed’s tech allows Fifth Third to compare itself against other users of the platform, and particularly those in the finance sector. This benchmarking capability is a huge priority to Fifth Third’s chief learning officer Christine Nester, according to Walsh.
Every quarter, Degreed shares data that allows Fifth Third to compare itself with its banking peers on metrics like “actual consumption per month, how many people are liking or commenting on content, how many are sharing” their learning wins.
A real “a-ha moment for us” was that Degreed could share a “predictive glimpse into something we might want to watch out for in three to six months” time, given most of Fifth Third’s bank’s competitors have been using the platform for much longer.
“For instance, [did] others show a dip in usage six months after launch? What impact does the time of year have on consumption,” notes Walsh. “Then we know what’s coming, and we have time to consider what we might do…to better engage people at that time. To me that was fascinating, where else would we get that information”.
So how does Fifth Third’s L&D strategy and the use of Degreed compare to its competitors? “We have very consistent usage compared to our peers” – this means Fifth Third’s workers are spending more time on the platform; in fact, staff at the bank used Degreed to complete over 1.5 million learning items in 2021 alone.
In addition, when compared with peers, Fifth Third employees are more mature with their skills, and are rating the content.
“Before we didn’t have a way to get that immediate, direct feedback from employees” where they are either saying “‘Yes I am finding this very valuable and it’s resonating with me’ or ‘No, I don’t like this so much’”.
That feedback then enables the L&D team to decide whether it is worth continuing to work with certain content providers.
Fifth Third and the future of Degreed
Given that Fifth Third has been working with Degreed for over a year now, it seemed pertinent to find out what more innovation the bank wanted from the vendor.
“Anything that further improves the employee experience in the platform is always welcome”, states Walsh. Fifth Third employees are telling the L&D team that they love the interface, “but we feel like we’re constantly just leaving Degreed”.
Of course, Degreed isn’t an LMS, and the platform’s aim is to connect learners with content seamlessly. But Walsh notes that Fifth Third would love “something more [to keep] the experience in the platform, as opposed to feeling like you’re doing a Google search, and being redirected to the different provider websites”. “I think that would go a long way [to maximize] our employees’ experience”.
In addition, Walsh and the L&D team want better analytics as part of Degreed, and, in particular, a “reporting-only role”. This would be used by people like HR business partners or a program leader for certain curricula who need to see “in-platform analytics, but don’t need to edit” content.
This means the HR team doesn’t need to create a custom report every time, which would be a “huge win”.
On the topic of reducing admin time for HR, Fifth Third wants Degreed to create “completion reporting” for all content plans. For instance, “it is critical that our retail program managers know that their employees have a program”, so “it would be useful to put an ‘easy’ button on that. While we can get that in the back-end, it required going through all of that raw data to create custom reporting”.
Ultimately, employees’ demands are always changing in L&D and beyond. Successful employers are those who listen to employee feedback and take action based on it, but they can only drive superb employee experiences with the help of their tech vendors and their continuous innovation.
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