As a long-term employee, Parsons is not HR-background trained, and instead comes to his role from general management. Good thing really, as recruiting and staffing at Bank of America are more like a production business than other HR functions. There are five major parts of the company, three lines of businesses and two major support groups, each of which had their own staffing function. When Parsons took his current role, the company moved from the fragmented system to one staffing organization of 900 people and 70,000 hires.
While this might intimidate some HR executives, Parsons had run large sales organizations in the past, and so had experience of numbers this size. His experience of running large P&Ls was viewed as good preparation the firm’s move to their new model. Today, staffing at Bank of America is not like other organizations, being operations focused as well as service focused. “Staffing sits at the table with the line of business,” says Parsons. “There are a number of companies out there that run staffing companies. We just happen to run a large staffing company within Bank of America.”
When I ask Parsons the thing that differentiates Bank of America from many other places to work, he says that it is not just a place where you have a job: it is a place where individuals grow their careers. While areas like technology within the firm are making huge strides into the future, their employee-career model reads a little like something from a bygone era: the old vision of a job for life, or at least for a few years.
This is something that Parsons believes gives them a considerable competitive advantage. “It is great for us as a company to be able to develop talent that is steeped in the Bank of America values and leadership model. Over time we can develop a leadership team and future leaders, so that lack of (or lower) turnover in our seasoned staff pays dividends.” It means, as Parsons says, that you've got people who make the right decisions and do the right things.
While this model might not exactly conform to the job-for-life of old, it’s certainly a step in that direction. And contrary to what you might think, having people to make the right decisions doesn’t just apply to their bankers. Bank of America is one of the world’s largest financial services firms, which means they have a broad portfolio of career opportunities globally. “People tend to think you need to be a banker to work for a bank, but that’s not true. We have opportunities in technology, corporate security, finance, asset management, human resources, public policy, corporate communications, retail banking, and so much more.”
The talent shortage
In today’s labor marketplace, companies have had to rethink how they hire, train, reward and retain top talent. When asked about the talent shortage, Parsons tells me that at Bank of America those elements are part of every business plan and integrated into the corporate programs across the enterprise. “We are looking for talent that can fit into the Bank of America leadership model,” he says.
“It's a meritocracy. It's a company where there is truly equal opportunity to be successful, and a leader, it's my responsibility to build that ‘how’ into the company. We also have commitments we make to shareholders and our associates, and those are equally important. It's not an either/or.” Business acumen, ability to work as a team member, positive attitude and diversity of thought and background are other factors that are important in potential employees. While the talent shortage may be squeezing some employers, Parsons states that Bank of America’s strong culture, global reach and the value put on leadership helps to attract the best and brightest.
This is just as well: some in the industry are predicting a ‘talent war’ as firms increasingly look to their staff to provide competitive advantage. Bank of America has already addressed this, leveraging Six Sigma Methodology back in 2006 to learn where there were gaps and opportunities to improve their staffing organization and its processes. One way the Bank of America is different from most organizations is in its strategic positioning of the Staffing function: “here, Staffing is at the table with senior leaders helping to plan their present and future workforce needs so they can meet business and customer needs. We have a voice in the decisions.” That, as Parsons states, is a competitive advantage.
Attraction is one thing…
Attracting talent is one thing, but retaining it is another matter. At Bank of America, there is a wide portfolio of health/wellness and retirement benefits to encourage employees to stick around. But the big news is in work/life benefits, which include things like flex-time, telecommuting, select-time or reduced work week and commuter benefits when office buildings are outside downtown areas. “Clearly, we have a workforce that looks for striking that right balance, so we are doing are a number of things to deliver that. We regularly undertake company-wide surveys of our associates, trying to understand their definition of work/life balance and work/life benefits because it varies among individuals,” says Parsons.
The firm also recognizes and rewards employees on performance as well as working as a team or assisting associates with a need. There are five Recognition and Reward programs available to all associates and are inclusive. There are also associate groups (Team Bank of America and Affinity Groups) where employees can share culture and interests, as well as leadership development programs and learning and training programs: all of which help keep employees engaged at the firm.
It’s all very well having all these benefits available, but do employees find them helpful? “You know, it does vary some by area,” says Parsons. “For instance, if you're in a customer-facing branch banking environment, we need people in the branch, so that’s 40,000 people right there who have to be physically present in front of the customer. You could say that actually does provide flexibility because we have 5900 banking centers, chances are high that there’s one in your neighborhood. So there's sort of a yes/no to that one.”
The HR department (which employs around 2300 professionals) is, as you might expect, the leader in adoption of work/life balance benefits. More than half HR employees actually don't have an office as such, instead commuting among a number of offices, providing flexibility to their work routine. Some individuals can work from home, and there is also a drop-in phone at the firm. It is, as Parsons states, “a very virtual world. When we visit the different offices you take your laptop with you.”
Looking to the future
It’s well documented that these initiatives are exactly the kind of thing employers need to be doing to attract that elusive workforce: Gen Y. But suggesting that they’ve changed their recruitment tactics and policies for this demographic is missing the point, as Parsons tells me. “I wouldn't limit the scope of what we do to Gen Y. We are very determined to recruit – and do recruit – from all the generations. We know we have to be sensitive to the needs of multi-generations; especially Gen Y, which really does have some different express needs. But we’re also keenly aware that we need to be cognizant of the realities of an aging workforce.” As a global company, there are consequences for the firm’s ability to attract and retain the Baby Boomer generation worldwide.
Bank of America are also currently focused on Six Sigma. “We are a Six Sigma company,” says Parsons, “and one of the reasons I was selected for my role is because of my history of developing fact-based processes for running businesses.” The Staffing function is one that benefits greatly from Six Sigma: Bank of America have developed forecasting capabilities to eliminate mistakes and waste that can arise from being understaffed or overstaffed. They have also developed a playbook that codifies the behaviors that they know – either from history or from our top performers – generates the best performance for the talent they are recruiting, as well as the businesses the Staffing function is supporting.
Another area the firm are currently focused on is in the area of assessments, “trying to take our assessment capabilities such that we can load more of that work into the career website, bankofamerica.com/careers,” says Parsons. “By doing so, not only will we be able to give the applicants faster answers, but we'll also be able to give the businesses we support even better answers to identifying right talent.” He may run a tight ship, but with this disciplined, metrics-focused approach, it’s certain the Bank of America Staffing function is likely to keep ahead of the competition for some time yet.
Bank of America recently had 14 associates recognized with more than 50 years of service to the bank.
College recruiting drives
Many firms attest to the success of college recruiting drives, and Bank of America is no different. College graduates are vital to every aspect of the business, and as a leader in the global financial services industry they look for a variety of skills and diverse experience when visiting college campuses. Several top tier campuses are visited annually, and here senior leaders, alumni and other bank associates engage students at on-campus career fairs, personal one-on-one interviews, and in-group sessions to talk about the bank and their career goals.
In 2007, the bank increased both their hiring among new college and MBA graduates and their participation in college recruiting events and conferences in an effort to find the best fresh talent to work for the bank.
Recruiting college and MBA candidates that are also bilingual to helps the firm meet their diverse customer and business needs across their global footprint.
Bank of America has a variety of internships globally and across disciplines that meet with senior leaders and decision makers. “The bank is investing time, money and is very committed this future pipeline strategy for engaging top young talent,” says Parsons. “Our interns' experience will mirror, over the several weeks that they work with us, a graduate experience. They will be staffed on projects, deals and teams according to their respective line of business. An internship is as much about the student learning about the company, as vice versa. Team interaction and trust are paramount”
BIO: Rick Parsons – Bank of America
Rick Parsons is Executive Vice President, Global Staffing Executive for Bank of America. Prior to becoming Global Staffing Executive, Parsons was most recently Brand and Sponsorship Executive for Bank of America. In this position he was responsible for sponsorships, brand strategy, and marketing research.
Parsons was on point for marketing and customer communications for the Fleet – Bank of America merger.
Before joining Marketing, Parsons led a Quality and Productivity team from 2001 to 2003 covering mass market sales/mass channels. The role centered on banking center sales. The team developed the National Sales Management Playbook in addition to a number of Six Sigma green and black belt projects and measurement systems for Bank of America.
Parsons’ experience at Bank of America dates back to 1980 when he graduated with a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Virginia, and includes 15 years in the banking centers in North Carolina, Florida, and Texas. He was the Texas Consumer Banking Executive covering banking centers and small business from 1993 to 1995. From 1996 to 2000 he played a number of roles in the Consumer Products area, including Direct Banking Executive and Telephone Banking Executive.