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AIB: Identifying and developing credible leaders

AIB Group is Ireland’s leading banking and financial services organisation, with more than 24,000 employees. It operates principally in Ireland, Britain, the USA and Poland. Simon Boulcott, Head of Human Resources, and Bernie Braniff, Head of Learning & Development for the UK business, provide insight into AIB’s leadership development strategy.

Leadership transition is personal

Successfully identifying and nurturing future leaders can have a major impact on an organisation’s success. So, when business growth at Allied Irish Bank (AIB) demanded a pipeline of strong management candidates, the HR team set up a bespoke leadership development programme.

The company’s Leadership Development Centre (LDC), which has been in place since 2006, gives potential leaders an ‘up close and personal’ review of their capabilities and how they could use them within a leadership role. The aim is to help individuals understand their strengths and weaknesses and, in turn, provide the business with greater insight into what they can offer as future managers to the organisation as a whole.

“We understand that you have to tailor development programmes for individuals, based on their personal needs, rather than pushing them into a one-size-fits-all programme,” comments Simon Boulcott, Head of Human Resources at AIB. “The LDC enables us to proactively monitor leadership skills within the organisation and help people to develop into credible leaders.”

Real-life scenarios test leadership skills

AIB invites everyone in a management position to participate in the Leadership Development Centre. It consists of a one-day workshop at which participants of similar levels within the organisation undertake a series of structured exercises and activities designed to highlight their leadership potential. Exercises include a personality questionnaire, team-based activities, role play, strategic analysis and a group discussion, all of which are observed by external facilitators.

“We don’t give participants too much detail about the format of the LDC beforehand, because we want to see how they respond instinctively to the exercises on the day,” explains Bernie Braniff, Head of Learning & Development.

After the LDC, each participant receives a written report and has a meeting with the facilitator to show how they compare against AIB’s Competence Framework and what development opportunities have been identified. The participant’s line manager and the HR Learning & Development team receive high level summaries of the report so that they can provide the appropriate support going forward.

Based on the LDC feedback and a further half-day workshop, each participant prepares a personal development plan, containing short, medium and long-term goals. In turn, the Learning and Development team uses a balanced scorecard showing Business Focus, Customer Focus and People Focus to measure the impact of the LDC.

No time to stand still

Past participants in the Leadership Development Centre have commented how helpful it is to step back and look at your career and that the detailed analysis and feedback – showing strengths and areas for development – is very accurate. A key output of the LDC is its ability to identify different development needs for individuals.

As Bernie points out, “For a group of 12 participants, there might be 12 different development routes, such as mentoring, involvement in a specific project or greater people management responsibilities. We agree a personal development plan for each participant and make sure that their line manager is involved from the start.”

Internal support is critical to the success of the LDC. The Learning & Development team presents regularly to the divisional management teams and potential participants are made aware of the opportunities through the employee magazine and other internal communications channels.

“Since the beginning of 2007, more than 230 managers have attended the LDC. It gives us comprehensive data about our people, which means we can make much more informed decisions about their roles,” Simon adds.

AIB’s HR team recognises that it cannot stand still when it comes to learning and development and is proud to be giving its employees the opportunity to shape their own futures within the business through the LDC outputs.

“Leadership development is a hot topic at the moment. It’s equally important to focus on it now, as it’s much more challenging to run a business in a tough economic climate. This is where you see true leaders emerge,” concludes Simon.