When Holly Kurtz goes to learning forums, she often feels set apart from her peers. As the director of enterprise learning for one of the world’s largest and most profitable financial services companies, other industry professionals often ask, “When are you going to centralize?”
Kurtz said her answer is always the same: “I don’t think ever! It’s just not in our company culture or our DNA.”
At Wells Fargo, a $540 billion company made up of more than 80 business lines, the motto “Run it like you own it” has helped the massive organization stay flexible, responsive and successful in a fast-moving field. In this environment, leaders in diverse lines of business are given the freedom and responsibility to execute customized strategies targeted at their specific needs.
The company’s learning and development initiatives mirror this decentralized model. As with the rest of its business plans, Wells Fargo’s learning solutions are designed to be “common where possible, custom where it counts,” Kurtz said.
“The delivery of learning and development is close to the business, with those things that make sense to collaborate on being done at a central or shared-services level. We share common policies, practices and philosophies around development, so we have that as a foundation across every business in our company, but the execution of the learning strategies can differ based on each business.”
With services ranging from wealth management to commercial banking, Wells Fargo’s workforce has a wide variety of specialized needs. Although not every business line has its own development department, more than 50 separate learning and development groups work within the company.
The 11 largest of these groups, including community banking, home and consumer finance, investments and insurance and wholesale banking, are represented on a Learning Leaders council, which is responsible for finding “the sweet spot” — where coordination and collaboration are better for the business than each division working alone, Kurtz said.
In 2005, the group decided to implement an enterprisewide learning management system (LMS) to house e-learning courses, enable more accurate reporting and create a common learner experience.
Although the company’s main reason for moving to a single LMS was to make it easier to measure compliance training on a corporate level, the system also will create a common development tool that will help employees easily track and transition their development plans as they move across the organization, Kurtz said. Additionally, it will help create a clearer picture of how learning affects the bottom line.
“We built it on the back of compliance training, and now we’re using it to move toward a strategic learning dashboard,” Kurtz said. “Hopefully, when we’re all on the same system next year, we can start to tell a better story, both in a centralized and decentralized way, about how learning helps drive business success.”
Wholesale University is one of the largest learning and development organizations transitioning to the corporate learning center. The university primarily deals with classroom-based financial analyst and credit management training programs, but moving the group’s e-learning offerings and training information to a bigger and better system will make its development system more efficient, said Jeannette DeLaGarza, head of Wholesale University.
“Although centralization isn’t something the wholesale bank is normally accustomed to, I think centralizing certain functions, such as learning and development and data management relative to team member transcripts, will make us much more effective in delivering learning and development to team members,” she said.
Yet, the group will continue to develop and administer the bulk of its training on a localized level. Wholesale University was established about 30 years ago to ensure Wells Fargo’s relationship managers had a uniform understanding of the company’s credit standards, and that objective remains firm today.
To meet their other learning needs, workers can turn to the learning and development in their individual divisions, DeLaGarza said.
Focusing solely on credit has allowed Wholesale University to create competitive learning programs that help the business attract top talent. For the financial analyst training program, high-potential recent college graduates are selected for a two-year program that includes a two-week “boot camp” training session, a series of in-person classes and on-the-job training.
When students finish, they can apply for the credit management training program, which DeLaGarza characterizes as a graduate-level program that requires workers to complete six months of intensive classroom training in San Francisco.
Beyond setting a high organizational standard for credit management, bringing together students from separate commercial divisions for this training benefits the business by reducing redundancies and cutting costs, DeLaGarza said. Although having unified programs might seem to contradict the company’s decentralized business philosophy, it gives leaders the choice to come together where they see fit.
“The corporate culture at Wells Fargo has been ‘Run it like you own it’ to the extent that you have opportunities to centralize where it makes sense and where there are cost savings, but it doesn’t infringe on the ability of a line of business to operate effectively,” DeLaGarza said.
Identifying the appropriate places to centralize is one of the key challenges Wells Fargo faces at an enterprise level. Through the unifying principle of “One Wells Fargo,” the company hopes to create a seamless customer experience for individuals working with multiple Wells Fargo business units while still leveraging the success of the decentralized business model. Part of this plan will involve developing more clear and common leadership expectations, but exactly what this initiative will entail is still under discussion, Kurtz said.
“This is a behavioral challenge for us in terms of how leaders think about running their business and connecting with their partners,” she said. “So, we’re in the midst of figuring out how we get to oneness while leveraging our strengths as a decentralized organization. I’d say we’re in the midst of figuring that out as kind of a first enterprise opportunity.”
Some of these challenges already have been addressed in individual business units. The leaders in the home and consumer finance line have found that a lot of the learning and development offerings within their divisions have striking similarities. Since 2004, this business has created a shared-service model for its compliance training and leadership development programs.
The leaders also have seen many similarities in their functional training program with sales, operations and customer service training, which are the next areas for which the group plans to offer shared services, said Donna Savoie, senior vice president and learning and development manager for home and consumer finance.
“We have already seen the benefits from a cost perspective,” Savoie said “When we start to blend these groups together and see some of the redundancies we have in programs that could have been more similar, which will be more similar moving forward, we’ll be able to cut a lot of expense out for the businesses going into ’08.”
The biggest challenge home and consumer finance faces in developing these shared solutions is making sure they deliver what the businesses actually need, Savoie said. The learning and development team has addressed this problem by keeping business leaders involved every step of the way and organizing workflow patterns so they stay flexible enough to adapt to changing needs, she said.
“In the past, where you had these direct services, each division had their own design shop, they each had their own Web developers, and now we’ve brought those things together,” Savoie said. “So, we need to figure out how to make sure that our workflows are nimble enough to work in both the tiny requests and the huge requests that come through. We have to be ready to move our resources around to meet the needs of where the market is going in terms of the home and consumer finance world.”
With the enterprisewide LMS going live this fall and a large-scale leadership development initiative on the discussion table, Wells Fargo as a whole is also trying to stay nimble while staying true to the practices on which it has built its name.
Although some might say shared services are just the first step to corporate centralization, Savoie is convinced the organization can condense programs to create consistency and cut costs without losing its independent edge.
“I think the folks who run the businesses still really are at the helm when you think about a shared service,” she said. “We don’t dictate what we will and won’t do. It just took groups of people coming together to realize how much more common they are instead of being so custom. It’s just getting the right people to the table and having those conversations.”