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Dec 2014 feature - Theresa Phua DBS Bank
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Case Study: DBS Bank

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DBS is an organisation that aspires to be the university of banking talent. Theresa Phua, managing director, Singapore head of human resources, speaks to Aditi Sharma Kalra about the processes behind investing in people.

DBS Bank is a staunch supporter of developing its own talent to build an internal succession pipeline – right from entry level hires to senior management. The need for able leaders to helm the bank has further intensified in recent years thanks to an increasingly complex and challenging business environment.

Because of this, DBS’ approach to developing talent is the belief that strong leadership continuity is the key to ensuring stability.

“We aspire to be the university of banking talent and believe in investing in our people,” Phua says.

“Our group CEO Piyush Gupta has made a commitment to leadership, making it a priority of the management team, to identify our most promising talent, and provide them with the opportunities to lead and broaden their experiences.”

The process starts with an assessment of the areas in which the company needs to invest strategically.

At DBS, building leaders starts right from the beginning, with an early approach through talent development programmes for younger and less experienced employees, which helps to strengthen its leadership core and ensure leaders build other leaders.

“We have a thorough understanding of the correlation between business strategies and talent needs, and this enables us to understand the experiential and capability gaps in the organisation. This, in turn, allows us to prepare our top talent to take on senior leadership roles.”

An integrated approach is taken for developing high potential talent at all levels, she says. The talent framework helps the bank build a critical pool of talent necessary for continued and sustained growth.

But at its foundation lies a need to put the right person in the right role, while engaging them to buy into the bank’s strategy to which management’s commitment is a must.

“Our CEO meets unit and country heads to discuss hiring and talent development strategies, succession plans and top talent in our annual talent process,” she says.

This is strengthened through the company’s triple E approach of leadership development – experience, exposure and education.

“Through experiential learning such as job rotations and work-based projects; exposure in the form of observing, coaching, mentoring and networking sessions with leaders; and education from workshops and training courses, our talent is able to make great leaps in their growth and development.”

Mentors are deployed to guide these high potentials in their careers and provide insights into new roles. Managers are also involved, giving them time to participate in the 3Es and engaging them one-on-one in career development discussions.

In an organisation where 58% of the workforce is made up of women, diversity is also viewed as a source of strength in its talent pipeline.

“We firmly believe it is important for the bank’s collective skill sets to be well-mapped against the group’s strategy and businesses.”

She points out that gender diversity is only one facet of corporate diversity though, which also encompasses DBS’ employees from a range of disciplines, including the arts, engineering or the sciences, besides finance graduates.

“Having employees from different backgrounds and disciplines helps ensure that as an organisation, we have a multiplicity of views and perspectives, which is helpful in preventing groupthink.”

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