The Opportunity Knocks program helps employees zero in on career dreams and achieve them.
Last year, Jonathan Bender knew he needed a change in his career, but he wasn't sure what to do about it. He worked as a collector for Wilmington, Delaware-based First USA Bank, calling credit card customers who were behind on their payments and helping them reduce their debts. The job was lucrative, since a successful collector can make thousands of dollars in bonuses in addition to his or her salary. But as Bender notes, there's considerable pressure to meet goals, and the pace-collectors must contact at least 16 accounts per hour-can be grueling. "I found myself really starting to get burned out," he says. "I got to the point where I was taking too many breaks, talking to people and complaining, creating for myself the image of someone who didn't really want to work here."
It hadn't always been like that. When Bender had taken the job several years before, he'd seen it as a way to get his foot in the door at First USA. But somewhere along the way he'd gotten off track and lost sight of how to further his ambitions. "This is a huge bank, and I didn't really have a clue as to what else was out there for me to do, what I should learn, who I needed to get to know. I wasn't well organized, and I had trouble focusing on the job and advancing my career at the same time. And I couldn't really expect my manager to take a couple of hours and help me figure out what to do with my life."
Fortunately, First USA stepped up and offered Bender and its other employees a way to help themselves. The company's Opportunity Knocks program, now in its third year, is an innovative HR program designed to help employees zero in on their career dreams and achieve them within the organization. What makes the program especially remarkable is the amount of resources the bank has committed to it, and the extent to which it's been integrated into the everyday workplace. First USA not only provides career-development training and follow-up guidance, but it also has outfitted special facilities at its work sites, which it allows employees to use on company time.
The program was born in the summer of 1998, when First USA conducted employee job satisfaction surveys in the wake of a merger. The results were sobering. It found that certain groups were dissatisfied with their jobs, and many seemed pessimistic about their future prospects within the organization. "We already had a sense that career development among our non-exempt employee population was an issue," says Jeff Brown, First USA's assistant vice president for organizational effectiveness. "But the survey really threw it in our faces, and made us realize we had to do something about it."
When First USA's HR team took the grim findings to the organization's site managers, they showed enough wisdom not to dodge the issue or point fingers elsewhere. Instead, management and HR worked together to create an aggressive remedial strategy. That summer, the HR and operations management team plunged into the task of making it happen.
While the team had some specific, measurable shortterm goals-improving job satisfaction, reducing attrition, and boosting internal promotions-they also wanted to promote a broader, more pervasive and persistent change in the bank's corporate culture.
"We wanted employees to own their own careers, to take charge of where they were going," Brown says. "We wanted them to choose their path, rather than wait for somebody to choose it for them. But beyond that, we wanted to get away from the idea that the only worthwhile way to grow was to move upward to a higher-- ranking job. Promotions are one career path, but they're not the only path. A person can also make lateral moves within an organization, and develop a greater breadth of experience and perspective from working at a different job at the same level. Or a person can follow a path of job enrichment-improving their skills, or maybe reinventing the job itself, to keep it interesting. …