Profile of a learning architect: Rob Bartlett

Rob B picture 201x300For this profile we turn to Rob Bartlett from Farm Credit in Canada. Rob has achieved success by integrating formal and informal learning activities in pursuit of clear strategic business objectives.

Rob is Senior Consultant, Organisational Development for Farm Credit, Canada, a government-owned financial institution making loans to farmers across Canada. The company has 1500 employees based in more than 100 offices across the country, with 600 based at the head office and around 1000 customer-facing. The employees are on the whole well qualified and work routinely with computers. On the other hand, the culture of the bank is still very much one where representatives get out to see customers face-to-face as much as is possible.

In the four years that Rob has been at the bank he has seen some dramatic changes:

  • A major cultural transformation stressing 100% individual accountability for impact on results and on people.
  • A revamped banking system based on SAP.
  • A shift in the customer base to fewer, much larger farms operating more like corporate entities and with correspondingly bigger loans.

Formal programmes

Three programmes dominate the formal schedule:

The lending essentials programme: This takes employees from day 1 to 18 months and covers all credit and customer service policies. Each new employee is supported through the programme by a team of mentors. Rob looks at each element of the programme on a highly granular basis to determine whether it should be tackled in a face-to-face class, using e-learning content or directly through mentoring.

The orientation programme: Every new employee gets the chance to travel to head office for a face-to-face orientation programme. This allows them to take a look round, meet other new hires, find out what the company is all about and hear about plans for the future.

The leadership development programme: This takes place over an 8-month period and is provided by an external contractor. The programme starts and ends with an online 360 degree analysis, involving the learner’s manager, peers and direct reports. The three weeks of residential classroom training are interspersed with assignments and conference calls. The President of the company attends the last session in which they present their solution to a current work problem.

Communities of practice

Rob works closely with the company’s Knowledge Management function to look for any opportunities for the two departments to collaborate. One outcome of this has been the creation of a number of voluntary communities of practice bringing together those with common interests from across the organisation. These communicate regularly using conference calls and get together face-to-face every two years. Communication between members has been enriched by the use of monthly webinars and by the collaborative tools provided by Microsoft SharePoint. Rob admits it is early days for online collaboration but that this is likely to become a core component of the scheme.

Performance support is not extensive but necessary information is available on the company’s intranet. Alternatively, employees can direct questions to Knowledge Management who will endeavour to track down an expert capable of providing an answer.

Taking stock

Rob believes he is well on the way to establishing a cohesive architecture that brings together the formal and the informal, and both l&d and knowledge management. The overall learning strategy has been taken to the senior executives and is supported wholeheartedly.

Rob is keen to make sure that each intervention is deliberate and not just another case of ‘putting them on a course’. Managers within the business come to him knowing that he will look at each requirement on its own merits and come up with a solution that is right for the job. No way will Rob ever be an order taker.

Rob Bartlett is the senior organizational development consultant with Farm Credit Canada. Rob was responsible for the development of the organization’s overall learning strategy, and is responsible for the on-going maintenance of the strategy. Rob has a varied background in learning, including safety training, systems, sales, task procedures, cultural change and interpersonal skills. Rob continues to champion the cause of connecting learning to on-the-job performance, both in the individual events and the strategy. Rob is married with one son, and lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.

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