Board of Innovation and ING Belgium have worked together for the past four years in a middle management booster program aimed at elevating management’s skills in a cross-disciplinary environment. I’ve interviewed Tamara, Diversity & Inclusion Manager at ING and lead of this project, to give us some insights into the selection and assessment process of this program.
Where did the need come from to work with an innovation consultancy to guide you through the process of developing management’s leadership competences?
“The idea was to put people in a real situation where people can get real feedback on their behavior and at the same time learn innovation skills. That is a great combination. The program is like a perfect sandbox for them to play around in because the participants have a feeling of safety and don’t feel as pressured to perform. That is what gave us the idea of working with Board of Innovation.”
The teams seem very eager to work and learn new skills and tools. How were these teams selected and prepared for the middle management booster?
“We believe that anyone should be given the opportunity to participate in this program because we believe that people should be able to discover their innovation capabilities. Managers select people they see fit for the workshop based on a set of factors. The first is to ensure potential participants have high rates on performance and potential scores. Their performance is linked to the business results they deliver, whether employees are outperforming peers and exceeding own business objectives in a sustainable way and if the employee demonstrates outstanding leadership behavior.
It is important to consider someone’s capabilities for the program but it is also crucial to acknowledge one’s ambition.We want to ensure the employee has the passion and desire for future growth and shows the willingness to expand his/her responsibilities in line with the organizational needs.”
So participants are habitually pre-selected?
Well, people can also nominate themselves for the program. We open a vacancy and let the people motivated to grow apply. They tell their manager they want to join the booster and we look at their performance scores and their growth potential. Once they pass the performance scores we already know that their ability to commit to the program is high since they applied out of free choice.
In the future, we would like the participant selection for the booster to be much more dependent on self-nominations because it implies commitment from the beginning, participants know what they are getting themselves into since they come to us first.”
It’s very difficult to measure the impact of a development program because the effects are mostly intangible. How do you measure the impact the MMB has on management? Which aspects do you look at?
“First of all, to the people asking us this we ask a question back: How do you know you selected the right people for this program? If they do not have the appropriate set of leadership skills, to begin with then it becomes very difficult to continue building onto this baseline. We select people that are just below high-level management, that already have a well-developed leadership skillset but that are still open to grow and learn in other directions.
The biggest impact we’ve seen is that 10 to 20% of the people taking these workshops move higher up in the company or make a lateral move with different core expertise, half a year to a year after the program is finished.
It takes a while to get feedback, but that feedback is very valuable to us since it proves that participants have found inspiration, that they are acting upon it, and that they seek for continuous development since they change jobs internally.
Quite often we see that people mostly get in touch with colleagues from their own departments, but since this program brings together many different departments it becomes a networking opportunity for the participants. It facilitates the process to ask for help and share information and knowledge because people are more inclined to share if they already know someone in another department and they have something in common. This sharing again enables innovation.
People who have followed the program also develop a better market focus, and we see a bigger retention of the people that take the program with those who don’t. Overall, the biggest impact that we see is that people don’t limit themselves anymore.”
Which skills or mindsets would you say people from the banking world need the most?
“To learn concretely what innovation is about. That once they have an idea they know how to tackle it. People should know how to come to better ideas and how to make a business case out of them and how to present it in the right way – on paper but also in a presentation! People should experience their learning points in group and get feedback on them. They need to learn how to fail and to fail to learn! They have to understand how to let go of previous unsuccessful ideas. They have to be agile. People go into action but don’t take much time on reflection. These are very concrete skills I believe every banker should know. Our industry is going to become obsolete if we don’t innovate.”
What factor do you believe plays the biggest role in someone’s ability and willingness to learn?
“We really try to create learning conditions in which people feel safe to learn and explore new insights. Internally, people have to have an open mindset and learning capacities, they have to be capable of questioning themselves, the others and their ideas too. One of the skills they acquire is learning how to give feedback which is essential because participants have to be able to speak up. Even if they think their idea might be silly because this idea might be something very valuable to another person.”
Do you believe the environment in which the teams work and have the workshops could play a critical factor in their learning behavior? Which environment would in your eyes be ideal?
This type of learning should not be done in the organization itself. Even if you have the loveliest meeting rooms in the world, people will start arranging meetings, taking calls, they will be needed by the boss. Just don’t do it. Once you leave the office, it triggers new and positive ideas for your employees. Remember, the environment influences one’s behavior.”
The banking industry is quite harsh when it comes to diversity, how do you try to mitigate this
in ING Belgium?
“Within this program, we try to have a 50-50% ratio of men and women. What we’ve noticed is that male participants don’t always see the potential in their female co-workers. People like people that look like themselves, they are more likely to see a value and recognize someone who has the same characteristics as them. We try to be more diverse by bringing in a lot of various expertise to the table, all kinds of departments are represented here. We have international people who have very different cultural backgrounds and native languages which again reinforces the diversity. We try to keep the teams bilingual to keep a balanced team culture and to encourage the use of English as one common language. Regardless, we believe that if you want to grow you have to be able to and feel comfortable speaking English.
At ING we believe that visibility is important for promotion. If people are not being seen then they consequently cannot be helped or given opportunities to grow.”
ING Belgium has had a few workshops with us (ideation, design thinking, lean startup, business modeling, & pitching ), which of these workshops would you say has had the most effect on the teams? Why?
“I can’t say that there has been a workshop that has had a bigger impact than another, but if you ask me which workshop I would leave out I would also say none. It is the end-to-end process that is very important, to go from idea generation to idea pitching. The idea generation opens a mindset, and if you can’t push through on that mindset once acquired then the idea generation doesn’t add value. The whole process is essential learning.“
Do you see a correlation with the people that go through in the succeeding bootcamp and the people that have participated in the middle management booster?
“We definitely see a return on investment here. In a bigger, successive bootcamp, where teams from the booster were represented as well as other ING teams, 22 ideas were presented and pitched. Out of those 22 ideas, five concepts were finally selected, and from that selection, two ideas were developed in the middle management booster. This is quite impressive once you realize that there are about 800 people in the whole organization and that only 24 of those people participated in the booster and accounted for 2/5 of the ideas.“
Do you think there are other untapped opportunities in the program?
“I believe we can incorporate leadership development better in the program. We try to improve and add a little bit every year but I still think it can be stronger. The idea of experimenting with your behavior and stimulating self-evaluation to the participants are points of improvement. Integrating that would also be crucial in collaborating with other companies.”
Thank you very much for the interview, Tamara!
“Board of Innovation is an expert in innovation, you’re always ahead of the market, you always come up with ideas that most participants haven’t heard about. You are experts in this field, that is your biggest advantage. You are a trend watcher.”