Getting to know Linda White,
Linda White, Scotiabank’s Vice President, Global Performance & Learning, has been with the bank since 1984. For several of those years, she worked in the marketing department at ScotiaMcLeod as a product manager while also contributing to various marketing and advertising campaigns, before one day discovering an interest in workplace learning.
“Part of my role was to speak to our training classes, and I really enjoyed that,” she says. “And in a chance conversation with a colleague, I mentioned that I was interested in that area. Next thing you know, an opportunity presented itself and I found myself working in learning.”
Today, her job brings together all of the skills she picked up in the marketing department. She talks often and convincingly about how interesting her job is, with an enthusiasm that’s impossible to fake.
“I’m responsible for learning globally at the bank. My job is very interesting because there are many different components to it. There is technology, for example, and I’ve learned a lot more about how technology works than I ever thought I would. I’m certainly no expert, but I need to understand the technology that is available today and how our employees interact with it.”
White has found her niche. But like many things in life, she acknowledges the role that chance played in her ending up there.
“It was really an outcome of fortunate circumstances, but I ended up finding that this was my real calling, and have just enjoyed it so much over the years.”
In March 2012, Scotiabank launched iLead, their flagship leadership development program. White points out that the program was created to support people when they move within the organization, at that uncertain moment when they’re arriving in a new job and are most in need of guidance.
“It’s a program that offers management and leadership training at all levels of the organization, and it is focused on transitions, when you move from one job to another,” she says. “When people make those moves, they’re vulnerable because they’re dropped into a new situation and they need new skills, and they’re also very receptive to learning.”
“iLEAD is based on our competencies and is a consistent approach to management and leadership development for all of our employees globally. We focus on strategic competencies, such as relationship building, influencing and thinking, and also on leading change, a competency that many organizations need these days. Developing and coaching talent is our most important competency as that is the one that will make us more successful as an organization in the future.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Scotiabank’s learning infrastructure is unified, compared to many global companies she’s observed that have ended up with a scattered approach to learning and development and several learning management systems.
“We have one learning management system. And I think, for a big global company with 55 countries, that we’re pretty cohesive as a team. That’s the way it should be. But I know a lot of organizations really struggle with having a common vision and it’s certainly something we are still working on.”
White also understands that the public perception among young people is that banks aren’t exactly seen as fun places to work, which she says is a shame.
“There are many different types of roles available at banks. For example, many more creative types maybe wouldn’t see themselves working in a big corporation, and certainly not a bank. But I think learning is that really unique combination. You have to understand business, and you also need to have a creative side to you. So I think that for many, it’s a great combination.”
As an international company, Scotiabank has over 200 people in its global learning community spread around the world. Although this sounds like a sizable group, they are quite lean in their approach to corporate learning.
“We don’t have big budgets or large teams. Even though we’re a big company, we’re very efficient with what we do. I think we’re good at stretching our budgets by using technology and by being creative.”
All the same, she laments the idea that educators feel the need to convince executives of the big-picture benefits of the need to invest in learning.
“A lot of senior business executives don’t appreciate that learning is a strategic enabler of business goals,” she says. “They tend to view learning as an expense. But if your employees don’t know what to do and how to do it, you will not have happy customers. In North America, we’re in a service economy and a knowledge economy, and a bank is certainly a service and a knowledge business. And really, all we’ve got is our people. So if those people are not up to speed, we cannot be successful.”
Occasionally, working with other businesses around the world, she notices the gaps in appreciation for the value of corporate education.
“Corporate learning, or workplace learning, is a specific profession, and most people don’t have a clue about it,” she says. “Many business leaders also don’t appreciate the value that a true learning professional brings. They’ll just take somebody who likes working with people, for example, and put them in a learning role. It’s one of those things where they think, ‘Oh, I’ve attended a training program so I’m sure I could run one.’ But there’s more to it than that. I believe that to be truly effective, a learning organization needs a mix of people who have come from the business and those who have deep learning expertise.”
“People don’t come to work at a bank just knowing how to talk to customers about their money,” she says. “That’s a very sensitive thing. So there is a lot of training required and it needs to be carefully designed to achieve the desired results.”
White got involved with The Institute for Performance and Learning, years ago and recognizes the value of having her team participate as well.
“As a bank, we’ve been involved for a long time. I’ve been encouraging our learning professionals to get their certifications and to attend the conference and other events.”
White believes that The Institute’s emphasis on standards and credentials is important, as well as the networking opportunity to keep up with leaders in the field.
“It’s such a wonderful profession,” she says. “So for more people to know it and appreciate it and consider it as a career opportunity is a good thing, and The Institute provides that venue and focus.”
Her appreciation for spreading the word is again associated with her enthusiasm for the work she gets to do every day.
“I just can’t imagine a better job, and most of the people who work in our profession feel that way.”