In the world of financial services, constantly changing rules and regulations easily can reduce learning leaders to the role of compliance police. Many topics for training in this field are required by law to be repeated ad nauseam, making it difficult for development departments to keep their clients engaged.
At OppenheimerFunds Inc., Patricia M. Lovett, senior vice president of learning and development, uses her operational experience to overcome this obstacle. Her expertise has helped her team build partnerships within the business and earn a seat at the table.
“Our biggest challenge is to be a partner at the very beginning of major projects, initiatives or goals to make sure that we can represent the learning side of things,” Lovett said. “Our department has to have a seat at the table with all of the business units we service.”
Spending the majority of her 30 years with OppenheimerFunds on the operational side of the business has helped Lovett understand the importance of tying training to her clients’ work. She knows that for learning programs to be effective, they have to address the problems individual departments face in their daily routines. Trainers must understand the inner workings of the institution to lead the business toward success, she said.
“I think when the training is good, it allows employees to take the learning they have and apply it directly to their day-to-day work,” Lovett said. “You can’t offer skills training and not tie it to anything. You have to think about what the organization needs, and you have to be nimble enough to change course and offer new programs accordingly.”
When she took over the company’s learning and development department in 2002, Lovett’s first step toward this goal was to increase teamwork and communication within the organization. Following a company initiative to consolidate its training organizations under one umbrella, Lovett was charged with the task of unifying teams that had grown comfortable working alone.
Colleen Franca, assistant vice president of technical training, said Lovett’s efforts have helped integrate these autonomous groups into a united squad.
“What she’s trying to do is really break down those walls, so we’re sharing resources and becoming a much more cohesive team,” Franca said. “She’s very good at starting initiatives and allowing people from different cross-functional areas to work together. I think that has really helped build our team spirit.”
The learning department extends this sense of partnership to its corporate clients, as well. Over the past two years, Lovett and her team have focused on improving the company’s adjunct training program, which teaches high-performing individuals to train colleagues within their business units.
These adjuncts don’t replace traditional trainers entirely but take some of the strain off the development division’s limited resources. Delegating some of the training responsibilities to experienced employees also empowers individual departments to identify and address their specific needs.
“We believe that we always have a role as enterprise trainers, but we feel that by giving these adjunct trainers a good foundation, they can effectively do a lot of the training themselves,” Lovett said. “That’s where I think that we see the training going for the organization.”
She also has developed monetary incentives to get business units more involved with their own growth. Whereas the learning and development department previously absorbed all training costs, some are now passed on to individual divisions.
Although this does free up more of Lovett’s departmental budget, she said cost savings were not the primary motivator for changing this policy. Rather, making department heads budget for learning costs forces them to scrutinize their education options and get more involved with the learning process, which is her team’s goal, she said.
“If people get something for free all of the time, they don’t look at it as much,” Lovett said. “If you ask them to pay some money for it, and you negotiate a price for it, they pay more attention to what that is. They question more about the program, and if it’s successful, then they want to do more of it.”
Although Lovett initially was concerned this shift could decrease the amount of training the company offered, she was pleasantly surprised to find it actually boosted participation in learning programs.
Because her department only charges for programs that require certifications or are bought from vendors, the overall cost to clients stays low. The amount is just high enough, she said, to attract the attention of business leaders and get them asking for more.
One of the most popular tools Lovett and her team have developed is the company’s new learning management system (LMS). Launched at the end of 2004, this tool has streamlined the company’s ability to track and measure employee performance and compliance. This is especially important in the financial services arena, where employees are legally required to complete vast quantities of compliance training programs.
In the past, trainers had to look at several spreadsheets and handwritten forms to determine how many hours of training a department had done or how many individuals had been trained. Now, it’s easy to do reporting for all 2,600 of the company’s employees and quickly ensure everyone is in compliance with the law.
The LMS also makes training more convenient for workers, who can now choose when and where they’d like to learn. Christine Wells, vice president of compliance, said the system has been successful because it allows employees and managers to more efficiently address their training needs.
“Her department’s LMS has really allowed us to achieve a lot,” Wells said. “The LMS has been the driver that has allowed our organization to bring things to the desktop in an orderly manner and keep solid records on workers’ learning histories.”
Franca added that the system also has allowed the training team to reorganize its programs to cut down on repetition and get the most from its limited resources.
“Putting the LMS in place has helped us look across the board at our offerings because for the first time, we could see everything that was available in one cohesive catalog,” she said. “It’s allowed us to see where there were redundancies in the things we were offering, so we’ve streamlined that a little bit. We’ve also been able scrutinize our programs and say, ‘Are we really getting the best value out of this? Is this really the right thing to be offering?’”
To determine which programs are working and which should be cut, Lovett’s team uses employee surveys and assessments. Benchmarking workers at the beginning, middle and end of a learning program allows trainers to measure individual employees’ progress, as well as the course’s ability to improve workers’ skills.
Lovett said this communication is necessary to ensure the learning department continues to meet business needs. To keep workers engaged, it’s important for this dialogue to go both ways, she added, and the company should use the training sessions as a platform to keep workers informed of its decisions and goals.
“What I’m most proud of is our ability to build training and learning events around the business goals of the organization and understand that a learning event is not just a learning event,” Lovett said. “Oftentimes, it’s a springboard for a communication from management to explain why things have changed, why the learning is needed, what they expect to get out of a new program, new software or a new compliance rule.”
By including her business partners in the learning process, Lovett has opened the door to a world of new learning possibilities at OppenheimerFunds. From spicing up compliance courses to helping departments help themselves, she has improved the company’s learning initiatives by making the department’s success a companywide effort.
Focusing on the bottom line, individual departments’ needs and specific business goals has added relevance to development programs and improved the functionality of the business as a whole.
“As trainers, we’re used to following up to see how we did and communicating and presenting things in a certain way,” Lovett explained. “If we can take those skills and help apply them to larger projects and initiatives within the organization, then we’re really bringing value add to the whole product, not just inserting a learning piece.”
– Tegan Jones, firstname.lastname@example.org
Name: Patricia Lovett
Title: Senior Vice President, Learning and Development
Company: OppenheimerFunds Inc.
Learning Philosophy: “The partnership between business management and professional learning drives business results. It is a key differentiator in the competitive market for talent. Our learning strategy is aligned with and reinforces our shared corporate values of excellence, integrity, team spirit and caring.”