ABN Amro banks on top jobs

The problem with talent is that it is just like art. What one person thinks is beautiful, others won’t, says David Thompson, director of talent management at ABN Amro bank.

This view of what makes a talented worker is typical at ABN Amro, in part because the bank is so vast. It employs about 100,000 staff across 60 countries and 3,500 branches, so tracking the movement of talent through the business is a challenge.

Historically, managers had varying levels of enthusiasm for HR projects. “Some businesses embrace it with gusto; some don’t,” says Thompson. “

It is the latter that can be the most interesting to work with.

”Eighteen months ago, the bank began a formal assessment of its talent, focusing on the level directly below the executive management team. These people tended to be at executive director level, or equivalent to a senior vice-president. Most were in their mid-thirties or older and had been with the business, or in the industry, for some years, so they each had a proven track record.

Reducing attrition

The aim of the programme was to increase retention and reduce attrition at this level, and enable ABN Amro to grow organically.

In the past, the bank had approached headhunters, as the pool for talent at this level is very small. But this was expensive. Creating a formal pipeline for this talent meant it could retain valuable corporate knowledge.

To do this, ABN created ‘talent folders’ for each manager working at the qualifying level. These contain both quantitative and qualitative data, such as an online CV with an individual’s work history, geographical mobility, career aspirations and training history.

ABN also asks managers to undergo a leadership diagnostic exercise to determine their leadership style and climate, as well as a 360-degree leadership questionnaire.

This information isn’t left to languish in a database. Managers attend a preparatory meeting to discuss the outcome of their team’s diagnostic tests, and then there is a second meeting with other managers to plot individuals, according to their performance and potential, in a nine-box grid. Managers are given feedback about their career potential at a final meeting. A

BN plans to run the process once every two years. The response to the programme, on the whole, has been positive, and ABN may extend similar talent management initiatives to more junior staff.

“We decided we would focus on the group from which we’d get the greatest return initially, but there is no reason why we can’t go to the next level down,” he concludes. “In fact, since this is a larger pool, there could be an even greater return.”

Lessons learned: David Thompson,  director of talent management, ABN Amro

  • Don’t make technology the centre of what you offer. It just does the job. People lead; technology follows.
  • People get hung up on the tool rather than the outcome, which is why we don’t reveal all the test scores.
  • If your managers are giving feedback, they need to be coached. HR should not sit in on every meeting.


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