How Bank of America Develops Leadership Talent Around the World

As Bank of America transformed from a U.S. bank into a global financial institution with operations in more than 40 countries, a more consistent approach to aligning, teaching and developing key leaders from across the enterprise on what it takes to succeed became an opportunity. The company believes successful global leadership development is a mix of three essentials: global consistencies, cultural distinctives and individual ownership.

Bank of America blends these essentials into its year-long Accelerated Development Program. Participants include 80 to 100 high-potential leaders identified from a pool of 5,000 nominees as the bank’s next generation of senior leaders. The curriculum is a blend of self-paced, Web-enabled content, instructor-led classroom learning, assessment, coaching and ongoing, virtual instructor-led learning.

Global Consistencies
Bank of America leaders are expected to share certain core consistencies, including:
• A common language for how they talk about talent globally.
• A common process for assessing talent globally, including common performance measures.
• A centralized core curriculum that communicates the enterprise’s standards globally.

As part of the Accelerated Development Program, participants assemble for an intense and personal development experience. For many emerging leaders, it is the first time they have been challenged to start seeing themselves as part of something bigger than the individual business unit where they work or the local or regional market where they live. Program participants are assigned to coaches from Bank of America’s HR community who know the company culture and live and work in the same region or business unit as those they are coaching.

Cultural Distinctives
No global corporation can ignore the differences among nations, cultures and business units. If they do, any development course or curriculum created from corporate quickly runs the risk of becoming irrelevant, obsolete and being replaced at the local level with overly customized programs. If replicated over different business units, those customized programs may become redundant and lead to inefficiencies. To head off this problem, Bank of America’s global leadership development program also gives weight to the local perspective. Cultural differences are acknowledged and addressed in several ways:
• The process begins and ends at the local level. Regional leaders nominate participants to the Accelerated Development Program and the same leaders remain engaged in the process throughout the year. This ensures that although much of the development emphasis is on core consistencies, the process has strong local input from start to finish.
• Regional leaders supplement the centralized curriculum by developing original content that addresses unique local or business unit needs. The supplemental training may include additional courses, coaching and assessments.
• External coaches are selected to interact with participants to provide another perspective. The external coaches share the same geography, culture and language of the leaders being developed.

Individual Ownership
Success in developing leaders is not ultimately up to the corporate executives, nor is it entirely in the hands of the regional managers and coaches. Rather, emerging leaders realize their potential by taking ownership of their own development.

As part of the Accelerated Leadership Development Program, individuals submit to a multifaceted assessment regimen with a combination of online simulation, individual instruments, 360-degree feedback and structured career history interviews. This approach is designed to give participants a holistic, in-depth view of their own strengths and development needs as well as provide the framework for ongoing targeted personal development. For many emerging leaders it is their first experience with intensive self-analysis.

Creating a common understanding of the core of a global company and accounting for cultural differences around the world are crucial to the development of its leaders. However, the most important aspect of the development process comes not from what the company teaches but from within the emerging leaders themselves. After the program is finished, Bank of America tracks attendees’ performance, retention and promotion rates. Bringing these three perspectives together — global consistencies, cultural distinctions and individual ownership — is the key to developing global leaders at Bank of America.

Louis Carter is founder and CEO of Best Practice Institute and the author of several books, including Best Practices in Leadership Development. Brian Fishel is senior vice president of enterprise leadership development and talent management at Bank of America. They can be reached at