Why this CHRO says it’s time for an ‘HR revolution’

The last few years have seen most HR leaders ascend into a much more strategic role in their respective organizations. And that shift is both necessitating and enabling an “HR revolution,” says Alex Kweskin, executive vice president and CHRO of Banc of California, which employs about 700 people.

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Kweskin joined the bank two years ago and set off to transform its entire HR approach, focusing on aligning the human capital strategy more closely to the business strategy—work that has involved the rollout of 20 new people programs just last year. From a recruiting perspective, the bank launched a new internship initiative, strengthened its employee referral program and enhanced the focus on diversity, equity and inclusion—increasing its diverse hires by 12% last year.

However, much of the “HR revolution” work focused on creating inroads for advancement among the current workforce: new mentorship and leadership trainings, 360-degree reviews for more than 40 leaders, a recreated job architecture to show career pathing and mobility, and new approaches to succession planning. The bank digitized and simplified its performance review process and also leveraged tech with a new HCM and ATS.

“We redid everything,” says Kweskin, whose career includes HR leadership roles at Union Bank, Morrison & Foerster LLP, Wells Fargo Capital Finance, California National Bank and more. He recently shared with HRE the impetus behind and impacts of Banc of California’s HR revolution.

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HRE: What resonates with you most about being a people leader in the banking industry?

Alex Kweskin, Banc of California
Alex Kweskin, Banc of California

Kweskin: Banking is a noble profession in which we’re helping people achieve their financial goals, whether in business or personally. In particular, community banking is focused on serving the communities where we live and work and is a vital resource for creating local jobs and opportunities. At Banc of California, we pride ourselves on being California’s premier relationship-focused business bank by supporting small and medium-sized businesses to create a better California. So, supporting my community resonates with me quite a lot.

HRE: What were some of the most innovative strategies your team put in place to manage during the pandemic?

Kweskin: At Banc of California, the health and safety of our employees and clients, along with maintaining and promoting a safe banking environment, are our top priorities. Following the pandemic, we have adopted a hybrid workplace model that includes Together Tuesdays, where everybody comes into the office on Tuesdays. While we want to provide flexibility to our team members and business units, we also believe in creating community and collaboration. Given our dispersed work environment with offices across California, Together Tuesdays provide one day a week when everyone is in the office together. It’s a time to meet in person, collaborate and celebrate our wins. Building our internal community is vital to our success.

HRE: Where is your focus when it comes to recruiting?

Kweskin: In 2022, our HR team transformed our entire HR organization and how we support our organization and our team members. We called this transformation the HR Revolution, and we launched more than 20 new programs, digitized our processes and simplified our team member experience. Our HR goal is to enable the best of our team members.

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As part of this transformation, we refreshed our employee referral program, which was underutilized. We rebranded it as TAP (Talent Award Program) and encouraged team members to “tap into their networks.” We also incentivize our team members with rewards following the first 90 days and the first anniversary of the new hire they were referred to ensure we create a successful first year for our new team members. In 2022, this upgraded program produced more than 300 new employee referrals and is now a significant part of our recruitment strategy. When our team members refer friends, family or former colleagues, it is a recognition that they believe in our organization and our business strategy. Team member referrals are the purest sign of employee engagement. The success of this program led to our team being recognized by Transform as a finalist for Team Magnet: Talent Acquisition Strategy of the Year.

Finally, we strive to have a diverse group of candidates to consider for our roles that reflect the diversity of the communities where we live and work. We post our open positions to dozens of minority-specific recruiting websites and the effort is a resounding success: We have filled nearly 60% or our open positions with qualified female and/or minority candidates.

HRE: And what role does internal mobility play?

Kweskin: Internal mobility is our No. 1 HR priority at Banc of California. Everything we do in HR begins with creating a mobility and talent exchange culture where team members can grow their careers across the organization. As part of our HR Revolution, and in support of internal mobility, in 2022, we launched an internship program, a mentorship program, an intentional leadership program and redesigned our job architecture to provide visibility to career pathing. We also launched two new recognition programs to highlight success: the President’s Award for our client-facing team members and the Circle of Excellence, which awards colleagues who exemplify the best of the best at Banc of California.

See also: It’s a new world of total rewards: 4 strategies for systemic rewards

HRE: What is your communication strategy around internal mobility?

Kweskin: At Banc, we have an Internals First philosophy, which means we want to provide our team members opportunities to grow inside the organization before we begin any external search. We believe communicating our commitment to internal mobility extends far beyond HR. Our Inclusion, Diversity, Engagement and Awareness (IDEA) Council hosts quarterly learning sessions to provide team members with information about each department within our organization, the career paths and opportunities in those areas, and career success stories in those fields. In HR, we consistently promote career development opportunities, whether it be via in-class learning, online learning, seminars and tuition reimbursement for college degrees and/or professional certifications. We understand that our biggest talent source is our own people so we constantly look for opportunities to reinforce this commitment.

HRE: How has your own approach to HR evolved throughout your career?

Kweskin: To succeed in HR, you must manage human capital with the same discipline as a finance department manages financial capital. It begins by building a human capital strategy that aligns with the business strategy. Our HR team is focused on understanding our business, supporting our team members and measuring our success. We track our progress through a Human Capital dashboard, which is shared with our board of directors and executive leadership group quarterly. The key is not just sharing information on our progress but transforming our data into action, which informs and shapes our strategy. HR is a true partner in supporting our business and team members’ success.

HRE: What factors outside of work influence how you show up to work each day?

Kweskin: First, I am blessed to be the husband of the most incredible woman in the world for 23 years. We met when we were 16, and she inspires me every day to be my best. I am also the proud father of two incredible boys, a law student at the University of Notre Dame, and a high school junior preparing for college. And lastly, I am grateful to be a board member for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles for the past six years. I continue to be inspired by the commitment to creating a better community by the Habitat team. I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by amazing people at work and outside of work who support and inspire me every day.

HRE: What energizes you about working in HR?

Kweskin: I love human resources. In HR, we can support our team members in a meaningful way and do so for the benefit of our company, clients and community. Yes, it can be challenging, but it can also be exhilarating. To be part of a winning team, to see your colleagues grow in their careers and to be a true strategic partner to the business is incredibly rewarding. But, most of all, I am so proud of our fantastic HR team. They are indeed the best of the best, and our HR Revolution is a success because of their dedication to our team members. They continue to seek creative solutions to simplify HR and build the best organization in banking. I am inspired by our team members and grateful to be part of this winning organization.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].