Why businesses must invest in talent to thrive post-COVID

By Melanie Burns
Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Talent 
TD Bank Group 

Just over a year ago, I made the decision to step outside my comfort zone to take on a new role within TD.

Little did I know that just a few short months later, thousands of my colleagues would do the same and step out of their own comfort zones by being redeployed to places in the Bank that needed their expertise, so we could better respond to the most serious global health emergency in the last century.

When I accepted my new role as the head of talent, I had no way of knowing that 90,000 TD colleagues were about to be personally and professionally challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a matter of weeks, the Bank had to figure out ways to keep our colleagues safe from a health perspective, while transitioning a majority of our workforce to working from home. At the same time, almost overnight, about 5,000 colleagues across North America were redeployed to new digital and contact centre roles to better serve our customers' changing needs and help with the swelling call volumes.

And now, nearly 10 months later, in this post early-pandemic environment, businesses everywhere (including TD) are forced to adjust or take a new approach to their talent strategy by anticipating what the added economic uncertainty means for our organizations, and then to identify what skills are needed to thrive in the future economy.

At this critical new juncture, organizations will not only need to anticipate what skills will be required, but it’s important that we first seek out these skills and expertise in-house and invest in developing our workforce, or risk losing the talent, culture and values that we've spent years cultivating. We must do this while offering our colleagues meaningful opportunities for growth in this new environment if we want to retain talent so we can better focus on serving our customers, and to succeed financially. This is not an easy task–there are new challenges before us.

For TD, anticipating what future skills are needed, and what skills our 90,000 employees hold, (for example, some of these roles require change management and digital skills such as data and analytics, or machine learning, among others), along with deploying additional training virtually, are big hurdles for us to overcome in adapting to this rapid economic and digital change. And like any business today, simply talking about the skills needed for the future isn't enough. We must deliver on our promise to provide meaningful career growth to colleagues or risk losing them.

Help your current workforce grow and evolve  

I have been working in human resources for over 25 years and the pace of change has never slowed. Even before COVID-19, the advancement of digital banking encouraged us to lay the groundwork for upskilling employees to better suit the jobs needed in our changing economy, mainly through increased digital capabilities. The pandemic forced us to accelerate this shift.

We have already learned a great deal from the rapid redeployment brought on by the pandemic, and now it's time to use that knowledge and invest in our colleagues to maintain this talent for the future.

One of the first things we learned during those chaotic, early days of the pandemic is that we have an engaged workforce that should never be taken for granted. It didn’t matter whether employees lived in Canada or the U.S. — the reaction in wanting to help was the same. This tells me our culture is borderless, and it is something we never want to lose, particularly as we look ahead to the future of work.

In this new environment, we are now at a point where anticipating the future needs of our business and customers means being committed to helping colleagues grow and evolve. TD is doubling down on investing in our talent substantially to move colleagues throughout the organization, and into "stretch roles" they may never have envisioned, like a French language translator who is being trained for a role in data management.  

As an organization, our culture must encourage managers to take a chance on talent by looking at someone's skills, rather than their current job title. A title will not tell a hiring manager everything they need to know about a person's history, capability or what they bring to the table. One of my biggest worries is that we have talented people within our organization, and we may not be helping them realize their full potential. We must work with our colleagues to uncover and unleash talent so they continue to feel there are growth opportunities for them here.

Build career mobility around new employee needs

Another thing we learned was that many people who had been redeployed during the pandemic found new energy and interest in their new roles and wanted to stay, rather than going back to their previous role. But they did want clarity around traditional milestones such as performance reviews (who would conduct them – a previous manager or new?), and how long they would be redeployed.

What this tells us is that it's critical for organizations to listen to what their people need right now, and then build any upskilling or reskilling strategies with those needs in mind. For example, in a recent employee survey, our people told us they wanted career mobility opportunities and meaningful development conversations despite their new virtual work environment.

That's why TD has invested in tools and resources that allow us to build a learning culture that is responsive to these needs. You can't attract talent by saying you'll have a fantastic career and then not deliver if you want your best people to stay.

To that end, we recently launched Career Solutions, a new internal online destination that provides tools and resources to help colleagues identify strengths and career interests, learn about emerging skills, and get tips on a range of career-related topics. On this site, they will read stories about other colleagues who made job changes and how those changes have ignited their careers in new and exciting ways.

Another initiative related to career mobility and training is our internal learning platform, TD Thrive. Since launching in August 2018, more than 65,000 users have accessed courses, seminars, training and videos for colleagues, aligning with our culture of growth and lifelong learning. Employees can search for videos, podcasts, articles, and other learning assets from within the organization as well as outside content on various topics to enhance the skillset they're looking to build.

Bring your people along as the pace of change accelerates

The pandemic has caused us to quicken and adapt our plans to upskill colleagues, and we will continue to focus on creating a culture that values learning, while providing career advancement and mobility tools across TD, even in a virtual environment.

Taking on a new role always requires a leap of faith. Looking back to a year ago when I took my own, I made it more manageable by telling myself that I had experience and insight that would help me succeed in the role, and that I could rely on those around me to figure out the things that I didn't know. And I am so glad I did take that leap. This year has stretched me (and my colleagues) in ways we could not have imagined, but we are now better prepared for any challenge that may come our way.

Read more: TD committed to employing summer interns despite COVID-19

Melanie Burns

Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Talent

TD Bank Group