It’s not easy to be a company’s first chief learning officer. With no model for comparison, it can be difficult to define a new department’s role within an organization. The leaders at Citizens Financial Group knew this when they decided to elevate their learning program to C-suite status. That’s why they chose Marcia Petersen to lead the charge.
As Citizens Financial Group’s first CLO, Petersen has standardized the organization’s locally grown training programs and made them applicable for Charter One, Citizens Bank and corporate colleagues across the country. She also founded the Citizen Financial Group Training Division, which is responsible for meeting all the company’s developing learning needs.
Petersen eagerly accepted the challenge and the opportunity to develop a high-quality training program that would uniformly meet the needs of everyone in the organization. In her nine years with Citizens Financial Group, the company has grown rapidly from a $16 billion company to a $155 billion financial services organization. In the process, the company created several regional training programs that “didn’t always meet all the employees’ needs,” she said.
“With that growth, the training needs of the various businesses and geographies were very much decentralized,” Petersen said. “We had a lot of wonderful training initiatives that were sort of like flowers that grew up in a garden as we needed them. But no one was there to tend the garden. We’ve now pulled it all together under one umbrella: the Citizens Financial Group Training Division.”
Yet, constructing that umbrella wasn’t an easy task. Petersen and her team had to take the best components of the localized courses to build the base of the new program, which includes a learning management system (LMS) and a standardized curriculum. An internal marketing strategy played a large part in successfully launching the new system because it got the company’s colleagues onboard.
“The biggest success we’ve had in the first year is getting the word out,” Petersen said. “The thing I’m proudest of is really thinking of my department as a business that needs to market its services. We have successfully done that.”
Peter Jones, director of training services for Citizens Financial Group Training Division, agreed that the internal marketing Web site Petersen’s team built has successfully delivered the training division’s goals and tools directly to its internal clients.
“We created this amazing Web site that really delivers all of our products, services and information to the front line and makes it real for people,” Jones said. “It’s the tangible face of our division that showcases everything Marcia was able to synthesize.”
Petersen said making content applicable and accessible to the individuals who need it is critical to the division’s success. To do this, her team listens to feedback from internal clients and then tries to design training to meet their needs.
For example, the department created HR Fast Forward in response to requests from the company’s HR professionals for more access to development options.
“Marcia jump-started a project I managed that really got some shoes for the cobbler’s kids,” Jones said. “It created training opportunities and assessment tools so people in HR could, first of all, understand what their development needs are and then understand how they could address them.”
Another important function of the corporate learning and development division is to align training programs with business goals, Petersen said.
“Members of my team and I meet very regularly with the heads of the business to talk about what their training needs are, what their business goals are and how we can support those goals,” she said. “That’s just a regular part of doing business.”
It is a part of business that Petersen does very well, her colleagues said. Her ability to communicate with business leaders, managers and other personnel helps Petersen sell the division’s projects to both senior management and end-users.
“After people talk to her, they know exactly what her team does and what she can do for them,” Jones said. “I think she’s created the chief learning officer role as one that’s very accessible and that stands for something really tangible and practical.”
Robert A. Steele, director of learning and development and senior vice president of the Citizen Financial Group Training Division, has worked with Petersen since she started at the company. During that time, he’s seen her push learning and development to the top rungs of the organizational ladder.
“Marcia is very inspiring when it comes to building senior management to understand training,” Steele said. “Her credibility with the company is solid. People know that when Marcia speaks about something, it is important, and it means something.”
Jones agreed and also said Petersen has mastered taking a practical approach to challenges. That approach, however, doesn’t prohibit her from thinking big – while she focuses on realistic goals, she’s always looks for innovative training solutions, Steele said.
“Her leadership style is always, ‘Force the ordinary to the extraordinary.’ It’s going beyond,” Steele said. “She clearly communicates and also allows her team to help build the vision, which makes you want it even more, to strive for that perfection.”
Along with being inspiring and motivational, Petersen’s colleagues also said she’s extremely energetic, working long hours and putting in the effort to make sure her team completes its goals. Yet, she pushes her team members without breaking their backs, Jones said.
“If I think of one word that describes Marcia, it’s ‘energy.’ She’s really always on, and I feel like she’s like the power source for the team,” Jones said. “I think what she’s been able to accomplish is a great testament to that. And the whole team loves working for her. You don’t always find that.”
It’s likely that Petersen’s success as both an executive and a team leader is derived from her extended experience with learning and development. From crafting a standardized training program for in-store banks in New England to creating a holistic customer experience process for the entire Charter One division, Petersen always has been both practical and passionate about the educational aspect of her work.
“Training always has been a passion of mine throughout my career,” she said. “An undercurrent of everything I’ve done is, ‘How do you develop people? How do you help a business achieve its results by making sure that the people have the skills and knowledge they need to be able to do their job?’ Now, for the first time, I get to do it for a much larger organization.”
Going forward, Petersen sees her next challenge as an opportunity to improve and diversify Citizens Financial Group’s learning platform. She hopes to integrate more blended learning, virtual classroom and self-directed opportunities into the learning department’s programs.
“I really do think that our next opportunity is to deliver as much as we possibly can when, where and how it’s needed, and make sure that what we deliver to our clients is really in the most appropriate format,” she said.
She also hopes to roll out a significantly more robust management curriculum, she said. This program would focus on developing the skills and knowledge managers need at specific levels of leadership.
“From a perspective of management skills, one size doesn’t fit all, so we’re developing a curriculum that is targeted,” Petersen said. “If you’re a manager of managers, here are the things that will really help you be successful, and that’s different than if you’re a manager of professionals. That’s really a focus for 2007.”
Tegan Jones, email@example.com
Name: Marcia S. Petersen
Title: Chief Learning Officer
Company: Citizens Financial Group
The launch of the Citizens Financial Group Training Division represented the first corporatewide learning division dedicated to meeting the needs of all colleagues and managers. During the division’s first year, it successfully:
Built and launched the first Web site and LMS dedicated to learning and development, providing one place to go for all training courses and learning tools for colleague development, career planning, management development and performance enhancement.
Developed more than 25 new online courses and increased the use of blended learning options by 145 percent.
Developed a comprehensive management development curriculum for four levels of management.
Improved speed-to-market learning aligned to business needs, including corporatewide customer service tools and training programs.
Learning Philosophy: “I have a passion for learning that is accessible, practical and aligned with our company culture. Just as Citizens Financial Group aspires to be ‘Not Your Typical Bank,’ the Citizens Financial Group Training Division aspires to provide ‘Not Your Typical Learning’ to achieve our mission: ‘A Center for Colleague and Management Excellence.'”