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Investing in people: how OCBC Bank unlocks its employees’ potential

OCBC Bank prides itself on being an innovator and it is not surprising that this innovative spirit is also evident in the bank’s development of talent.

Yap Aye Wee, OCBC Bank’s Head of Learning & Development, says its people development strategy is powered by its employee value proposition: ‘We see you”.

“We see our talent as individuals with unique combinations of strengths, passions, weaknesses and blind spots, as well as immense potential. Every initiative and programme we introduce is intended to unlock that potential in different ways. They also embody the employer brand values we stand for – that we are caring, progressive and strive to deliver a difference.

“As an employer, it is our responsibility to make sure that everything we provide - our learning content, priorities, processes, policies, infrastructure, and systems - allow employees to continually learn, unlearn and relearn,” she says.

Yap’s team challenges learning conventions to deliver experiences that engage learners while remaining highly relevant. One such example is the range of fully-immersive experiential programmes it offers to its non-executives which range from a full day’s sailing course, to rock climbing, to a pottery workshop, to learning to play a musical instrument.

This series was developed following feedback from non-executive employees that classroom-based programmes were too theoretical and dry. She adds: “We found a way to embed critical soft skills such as teamwork, strategy and learning agility in an experience that was totally engaging and fun.”

The signature series is hugely popular and she believes that OCBC Bank is the only company in Singapore to offer such programmes. The bank’s commitment to its staff stems from a strong appreciation of the important role individuals play in its business.

Yap explains: “Technology can only do so much. Ultimately, banking is a people business. Where the rubber hits the road, banking is about a representative from the bank connecting at a very emotional level with a client.

“Without people, we don’t have a bank because banking is founded on trust, credibility and relationships. For that reason, it is very important to stay invested in our people.”

This belief is reflected in the way OCBC has approached technological disruption. While many organisations focus on ensuring their staff is up-to-date with the latest products and systems, OCBC is investing time and money in helping its staff future-proof through its Future Smart programme.

The S$20 million three-year programme is focused on reskilling OCBC’s 29,000 global workforce to ensure no one is left behind by digital disruption.

It is designed around the three Es of “education”, “experience” and “exposure”, and takes a structured approach with four qualification levels and a seven-pillar curriculum, covering areas such as digital business models, technology and data, customer centricity.

It also emphasises the need to evolve the culture and its leadership. It is supported by a suite of 6,000 online programmes, as well as speaker sessions, workshops and classroom learning. Overall, there are more than 10,000 different programmes covering 50 categories.

Ultimately, the programme makes it possible for a bank teller to be re-skilled and literate in a completely different area, say smart machines, over three years. It is believed to be the largest-scale and most ambitious digital transformation initiative by any bank in Singapore. “It is not your typical learning and development intervention but a three-year bank-wide programme,” says Yap..

Another unique aspect of the programme is that it uses a ‘gig’ approach, enabling employees who have acquired new skills to take up consulting gigs on a freelance basis with teams that are running digital projects.

The initiative, launched in May this year, has been highly successful, and more than 6,000 employees have since taken a Future Smart course while thousands more have attended symposiums and workshops.

Yap says: “These high numbers speak to the encouraging fact that people are very eager to learn, and that they find our content relevant to them.”

Unsurprisingly, women’s progress in the workplace is also significant to OCBC, not least because more than half of its workforce is female. However, its approach to ensuring women excel is not to impose KPIs and quotas such as management gender ratios.

Yap points out that while affirmative action has its merits, it is not without problems. Instead of setting quotas, OCBC finds ways to address the unique challenges that women face.

As an example, to provide aspiring women with the personal guidance and mentorship they will need, the bank launched MentorMe, a nine-month mentoring programme in which people in senior leadership positions mentor mid-career women at the bank to help them progress.

The initiative is supported by workshops for women, providing them with the skill sets they need when they come up against issues or challenges.

The bank also focuses on “upstream” issues that prevent women from realising their full potential in the workforce, for example, by providing onsite childcare facilities at three of its locations in Singapore, as well as offering flexible work arrangements.

It also demonstrates that it is  caring through the creation of Employee Resource Groups that support parents, such as single mothers or those whose children have special needs. In addition, when an employee’s child is 12 and sits for Singapore’s Primary School Leaving Examination, they can take special leave to support their child.

OCBC does not only focus on training its staff or helping them juggle work and family responsibilities, but it also aims to involve them as educators through its Campus Stars programme.

“Ultimately, what we aim to create is a learning organisation and the best way to learn is to teach,” says Yap. Under the scheme, nearly 400 staff have voluntarily given up their time to become trainers in programmes that transfer their institutional knowledge to other members of the bank.

OCBC also has a video production room at its campus to create digital content to enable subject experts to share ideas and build thought leadership through its cloud learning system, which can be accessed by all employees worldwide.

Yap is justifiably proud of everything OCBC does to help its employees reach their full potential. “We are a learning organisation, and we take care of our people by continuing to develop them.”




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