Brian Walsh is VP Talent Management & Development at Fifth Third Bank, a 150 year old US-based financial services organization. He is a highly qualified Instructional Designer, manager, and leader, with experience in learning design, development, and strategy for over 20,000 employees at the Bank, and previously for over 45,000 US and India-based employees at a leading Big Four professional services firm.
His core responsibilities at Fifth Third Bank include driving the Learner Experience Strategy, especially in the area of professional development through technology. He also leads the charge in adopting newer ways of working in Learning & Development, especially Design Thinking and Agile.
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Brian talks about his key learnings as a leader, challenges in training leaders and shares his thoughts on how leaders across the globe need to keep people at the centre of everything they do as they tread through disruption.
What is your learning mantra?
Your learners are your customers—serve them accordingly!
Who is the one leader you look up to?
I really love Arianna Huffington, especially her ongoing focus on wellness.
Can you share three key learnings from your experience as a leader over the years?
- Lead with empathy - it’s so important to put yourself in the shoes of others.
- Learn continuously - it keeps you engaged and makes you a better partner.
- Be tenacious - fight for the things that will improve your employees’ experience.
What are some of the recurring challenges you face as you try to train leaders?
Getting (and keeping) their time and attention.
With design thinking and agile being your areas of expertise, what are the challenges you face in adopting and implementing new ways of working in Learning & Development?
There’s an inertia around the way things have always been done. It might be the fear of trying something out w/o having all the answers, intentionally targeting the simplest way of solving a problem, or welcoming change. I think all L&D professionals have felt these frictions throughout their careers. Both Agile and Design Thinking give use relevant mindsets that help to keep our customer—the learner—at the center of everything we do.
At the time of finalizing a learning strategy for a focused group, which part of the process do you invest the maximum time in and why?
Testing the relevancy with both traditional stakeholders and the impacted employees. It goes back to my earlier comment about the learner-as-customer. If your strategy doesn’t meet their needs as well as the organization’s, it’s likely to have less impact than planned, possibly no change at all.
What would your advice be for leaders across the globe as they juggle with disruption and people?
Always keep the employee at the center and, by doing that, you keep it human. While these discussions are often had at the highest level of organizations, it’s your employees who will get you where you need to go. Involve them in the change, capture their voices, and continue to check in early and often.
What are your focus areas as you tread through digital disruption and get people on-board the transformation journey?
Initially, it’s about making sure we have the tools and services on hand for people to take control of their professional development and just-in-time needs. While we do design journeys for our employees, change will continue to outpace available L&D people resources. On-demand learning providers (LinkedIn Learning, Pluralsight, GetAbstract) and the AI-assisted and social learning supported through Learning Experience Platforms can establish a foundation for learning in an ever-changing skills marketplace. In tandem, it’s developing the relationships with the areas of your organization who will continue to feel the pressure of digital disruption and get to know their needs, preferences, and vision for their teams.