Cassandra Cheng, head of learning and development at OCBC, tells Sabrina Zolkifi and Cheryl Teo how learning is a company-wide affair at the bank.
In OCBC, the culture of learning is embedded deeply in the bank’s DNA. Over the past few years, Cassandra Cheng, head of L&D at OCBC, has seen a greater demand by employees for more learning opportunities.
And they weren’t just looking for by-the-book programmes – OCBC’s employees wanted something “unconventional”.
Cheng said the bank’s workers wanted a learning environment that was “very inspiring and would make them feel very comfortable to learn in”.
To cater to employees’ changing demands, and also their expanding group size, the bank built a new S$60 million ten-storey OCBC Campus on Tanjong Pagar Road.
The bigger regional campus nearly doubles their training capacity, and would be a bigger platform with more facilities. More than 17,000 employees from OCBC Bank, Bank of Singapore, Great Eastern Holdings, OCBC Securities are expected to benefit from the new facility.
The bank will be rolling out more than 130 classroom-based programmes and over 60 e-learning courses covering three key areas of focus: banking and finance, leadership and employee development, and quality and service.
Taking “quite awhile” to find a suitable location, the conceptualisation of the design all the way to building the whole place up took nine months.
A cross-organisation effort
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and the conceptualisation of the new OCBC campus doesn’t stray far from that belief.
Cheng says everyone was involved in the creation of the new facility, and the bank paid particular focus to the feedback it received from those who were going to benefit the most – the employees themselves.
Cheng attributes the success of the physical design to the “employees being very much a part of the whole process”, adding the rooms found in the campus aren’t “your typical rectangular rooms”.
“Within each room, the furniture is not fixed to the ground. They can be easily moved about to create space for experiential activities.”
The campus was also created to simulate the actual workplace as much as possible, and Cheng says this is important in providing a conducive and relevant learning environment.
This was also in response to employees expressing they wanted to have more hands-on training.
For example, a mock-up branch in the OCBC centre allows front-line employees to simulate an actual customer walking into the branch.
Cheng says such features in the campus allows for “more dialogue, more group discussion” in the learning space.
The HR team also worked very closely with the business to identify the programmes that are needed to build their employees’ competencies. Together, the bank focused on ensuring the learning curriculum was an “enabler for the business to build their people’s competencies”.
The HR team also has regular discussions to appropriately modify the programmes to keep up with changes in the company. If, for example, OCBC has changed its direction, they’ll tweak their programmes to ensure they “train their employees at the right time and with the right information”.
Learning for growth
Because the campus is just a five-minute drive or one MRT station away, the facility is not something that employees can only do when they have the time to, and it also cuts down on the time it takes for employees to get to the campus.
The convenient location of the facility in the Central Business District area boosts employees’ morale and further highlights OCBC’s emphasis on learning.
Additionally, the programmes are short and “bite-sized”, resulting in employees not having to invest too much time to their professional development.
Employees who are overseas were also taken into consideration when OCBC designed the new campus and its programmes.
Cheng says the bank plans to have their internal subject matter experts record their lesson in a seven-minute long video. This will allow access to overseas employees and also, provide a quick recap for people who may have forgotten what they’ve learnt from the lessons.
Culture of learning
OCBC recognises that even leaders are still learning, and Cheng believes that by allowing them to share their knowledge with the rest of the organisation, they will be able to take something away as well.
The video recording facility is open to all internal staff in OCBC who have “something to share, and something to teach”.
The other unique thing about OCBC’s training programmes is that these programmes are neither level-specific nor function-specific.
Those in audit, for example, can gain more business knowledge when they take a programme like “Basics in Money Market”.
When they’re auditing the treasury functions for example, they go in with some job knowledge.
The programmes available are open to all, including those in senior management who have a few programmes tailored for their needs, and allow employees to expand their horizons.
”With this, employees will no longer be just a very remote part of a support function who know nothing about the business,” Cheng says.
Placing heavy emphasis on their service and quality, OCBC aims to ensure every employee delivers a high standard of service to both their fellow employees and customers.
Attending programmes that will help hone their soft skills will, according to Cheng, allow employees to achieve “workplace effectiveness”.
Their soft skills would determine if they are able to communicate effectively and professionally with their colleagues in other functions. It will also ascertain if they are able to work in a way that embodies OCBC’s values, she says.
At the end of some programmes, employees will also have certification they can show for, and tests are often carried out to ensure their basic proficiency in the subject matter.
OCBC also carries out post-evaluation exercises for all their programmes, in order to assess the usefulness and relevance of the programmes to employees.
With employees exceeded the number of hours they are required to be learning over the past few years, it looks like the culture of learning is strong among the employees, and will remain so for a long time to come.
Therefore, OCBC has no regrets building the campus, and Cheng calls it the natural thing for them to embark on.
The biggest takeaway Cheng has had so far is reiterating the fact that learning must not be seen as only the HR team’s agenda. Rather, people must have a desire to learn and to increase their contribution at work, and it is the company’s responsibility to provide that.
“Once learning is in place, the other critical elements will come along,” Cheng says.