Name: Corey Jack
Title: Executive Head, Institute for Learning
Company: BMO Financial Group
- Learning and development, within the HR function, is viewed as a strategic corporate enabler that is continually reviewed, assessed and championed by the CEO and his Management Board Executive Committee.
- Over the past decade, the volume of training has grown from an average of 2.5 days per employee to seven days, while the annual corporate investment has increased 75 percent. BMO has invested more than half a billion dollars in employee training in the past 10 years.
- The IFL has partnered with Dalhousie University Business School and the Institute of Canadian Bankers to create a four-year “MBA in Financial Service” program, drawing 255 participants in eight cohort groups, with 121 of those graduating.
“The Institute for Learning is the nexus for inspiring lifelong learning and exceptional performance within BMO Financial Group. Our goal is to assist BMO and its business units to achieve their strategic goals and cultural aims by developing the requisite individual and organizational competencies through the provision of high-quality learning experiences.”
Heading the learning and development operations for a financial institution operating on an international platform requires flexibility, vision and proactive planning. As the executive head of BMO Financial Group’s Institute of Learning, Corey Jack is able to draw on those skills earned through his background in business and public education.
“By definition, training and development reflects bank strategy,” Jack said. “In order for training and development to be as relevant as it is, it needs to be constantly connected to the bank strategy. It’s my responsibility to stay current with bank strategy. As we start to evolve in different ways in the organization, it’s my responsibility to understand the strategic direction and be able to interpret the learning requirements quickly, effectively and economically.”
And BMO Financial Group’s business is diverse. Founded in 1817 as Bank of Montreal, Canada’s first bank, BMO Financial Group is one of the largest financial service providers in North America, with more than 34,000 employees in Canada and the United States. BMO serves Canada through BMO Bank of Montreal and BMO Nesbitt Burns, one of Canada’s largest investment firms, and operates in the U.S. market through Chicago-based Harris Bank with nationwide services and Harris Nesbitt, a mid-market investment bank.
Jack heads BMO Financial Group’s Institute for Learning, a $50 million (Canadian) corporate university complex sitting on 13 acres of land in Scarborough, Ontario, just outside Toronto. The institute features 14 high-tech classrooms, 150 bedrooms, a presentation hall seating 300 and dining and social facilities. A fiber-optic backbone allows the institute to deliver distance learning across the bank’s operations in every Canadian province and many U.S. states.
With 24 years at BMO Financial Group, Jack leverages his experience and dedication to learning in his crucial role.
“I’m constantly looking to be seated at strategic tables in the organization, understanding how organizational change, business change, customer change is impacting the knowledge and skill requirements of our employees,” Jack said. “I’m sort of the advance guy who leads the wagon train, going ahead and looking for the opportunities and the threats available to us, and coming back and making sure we have an integrated plan to stay ahead of the learning curve.”
BMO Financial Group clearly takes learning seriously. Jack reports to Rose Patten, senior executive vice president of human resources and head of the Office of Strategic Management. Patten reports directly to chairman and CEO Tony Comper.
With learning so close to the top, Jack’s years of experience with BMO certainly come into play. Jack joined BMO in 1980, working in human resources in several positions, including as recruitment coordinator for Canada and serving as HR administrator for four provinces. In 1990 he became vice president of training and development, charged with increasing the pace of workforce education.
A former high school history and biology teacher, as well as administrator, Jack knows that part of motivating an adult workforce is seeing education through the eyes of his audience.
“Adults have experience. For the most part, when youngsters are learning, everything they see is generally for the first time, whereas you’ve got to expect the experiences the adults bring to the table,” Jack said. “When you’re looking at crafting educational learning solutions, you’ve got to be mindful and respectful of the fact that the people have a perspective on the subject matter already, or are likely to have. If you don’t honor that perspective in the learning, you’re not going to get an enrichment opportunity for everyone to avail themselves of. Whenever you’re working with adults, ego comes into play. Kids are a little more experimental in their learning. They’re willing to try, and they’re certainly willing to fail every single minute. Adults, we’re a little more mindful of how we project ourselves.”
Not surprisingly for a financial operation, failure isn’t a viable option, giving reliable education even more importance. BMO Financial Group now delivers about 80 percent of its education through distributed methods like e-learning, Web-based learning and self-study materials. The other 20 percent takes place in the classroom, much of it at the Institute for Learning, especially for interpersonal skills like sales, negotiations, management and leadership.
“With the nature of our workforce and the geography we span, we need to move learning as close as we can to the performance of the job. To do that, you’ve got to have a learning strategy that calls for at least three-quarters of everything you do being distributed in the field,” Jack said. “The IFL acts sort of as the governor of learning in the bank, it’s the place where learning is designed, developed and created.”
Learning is always on the move at the IFL as well. Employees have no set number of hours of training, but on average each of the more than 34,000 receives about seven days a year worth of development opportunities. That’s up from an average of 2.5 days per employee in 1993, when the IFL opened its doors.
Other changes have taken place as well. BMO Financial Group spent $40 million (Canadian) on training in 1993 and $70 million (Canadian) in 2002. In 1993, 50 percent of education was classroom-based, with the rest paper-based. Delivery is now on the 80/20 scale, relying heavily on technology for faster distribution. IFL Chicago, a satellite office of the corporate university, is also open in the Harris Bank headquarters.
“I think we have evolved from a set of training and development activities in the bank to a culture within the organization where learning and development is a way of life,” Jack said. “Over the past decade, we have sustained our commitment to employee professional development year in and year out. We spent over half a billion dollars on employee development over the past decade. Training and development is not subject to wild swings of corporate support. If you take a year off your investment in technology, you’re likely to slip behind. That’s very much true in terms of your people development. Our goal is to stay ahead of the learning curve, not just keep pace with it.”
Naturally, that mission involves developing workers and leaders. Jack also oversees BMO Financial Group’s leadership development program, which includes a four-year MBA track that allows students to target the advanced degree while retaining their jobs. The MBA in Financial Services program, operated in conjunction with Dalhousie University Business School and the Institute of Canadian Bankers, has had 255 participants and 121 graduates. Twelve graduates have moved on to executive roles with the bank.
The IFL also offers an organized managerial training program, the Managerial Leadership Learning System (MLLS). Two learning tracks offer development in 12- to 15-month programs designed for new and seasoned managers.
“What we’ve found is there’s nothing like a learning experience over time that builds bonds, shares the corporate values and gives them an opportunity to understand the broader strategic issues of the organization,” Jack said. “There’s nothing like an alumni experience to give people a sense of belonging, and it reminds people who we are as an organization and what we stand for.”
What BMO Financial Group is offering seems to be working. A 2003 employee survey showed 74 percent had a high level of confidence that they had access to the learning they needed. Jack also keeps an eye on retention rates, time to proficiency, customer feedback and other employee feedback. Learning programs feature the typical assessments and follow-ups with students after three months. That assessment is often necessary to ensure external and internal regulations are being met.
“In a fast-paced industry where change occurs regularly—technological change, regulatory change, customer demands—where there is a high pace of change, there should be a concurrent requirement for new skills and education and training. Employees know that, and they look for organizations that are able to provide them with that ongoing capability. BMO Financial Group has demonstrated that we do that consistently over time.”
For Jack, it all comes back to where it started—in the classroom.
“I feel fortunate. When I talk about lifelong learning in speeches around the world, I actually feel I’m one of the few people who’ve been involved in that. I was actually in the elementary school system, in the high school system and teaching adults. I’ve been involved in the end-to-end process,” he said.
“I had the opportunity in Quebec in high school in the late ’70s when I presented a girl with a high school diploma,” Jack added. “Last year, I had the opportunity at Halifax at the Dalhousie graduation to present her with an MBA. I don’t know whether that’s a function of age, but I feel I’ve had a very interesting career. I think I understand what lifelong learning is all about. It’s called meeting life coming around the corner.”