Leveraging the Power of Agile Through Learning with Citi's Michael Killingsworth and Allison Stiefken

The Next Practices Weekly call series has become a well-attended and wide-ranging discussion for HR leaders each Thursday at 11am ET / 8am PT. On this week's call, Pat Murakami, i4cp Senior Director, Member Services, and i4cp Senior Research Analyst Tom Stone, were joined by special guests Michael Killingsworth, Head of Learning for U.S. Personal Banking, and Allison Stiefken, Director of Learning Program Execution (USPB) at Citi. Here are some highlights from the call:

  • Citi was one of five i4cp Next Practice Award winners, which was announced at the 2024 Next Practices Now conference held in March in Scottsdale Arizona. They won this award for the learning transformation initiative that Killingsworth and Stiefken shared on this call. It is also detailed for i4cp members in the case study write-up Leveraging the Power of Agile Through Learning Transformation.
  • This initiative was focused on transforming the US Personal Banking learning organization at Citi to Agile—a mindset and project management approach that separates work into short feedback loops and emphasizes continuous collaboration and improvement.
  • We asked participants the following poll question: "Which of the following would your internal stakeholders/clients cite as opportunities for the Learning team to better serve the organization?" (Select all that apply)
    • 59% Respond more quickly to strategic shifts / organizational changes
    • 49% Improve speed-to-market for learning solutions
    • 49% Deepen connection with the business
    • 40% Competing demands
    • 3% None of the above
    • 3% Don't know
  • Killingsworth noted that all four of the above were key challenges that were their opportunities for improvement for L&D at USPB at Citi.
  • Stiefken explained that throughout this transformation journey they recognized that some elements -- being agile through mindset and values -- are less visible, but ultimately more powerful. Others involved doing agile, such as practices, tools, and processes, are more visible in the day to day, but less powerful overall.
  • One stream of the transformation involved shifting culture and mindset to that of being an Agile learning organization. This started with an organizational restructure and switching to a Helix operating model. But it also included focused soft-skills training in areas like change management, agile leadership, and conscious leadership.
  • In parallel with this, they created two pilot teams (7-8 employees each) that started using Agile frameworks, notably Scrum and Kanban. This also involved a six-week "Agile Dojo" to give the pilot teams a safe place to test and learn as they went along, in addition to learning the collaboration, conflict resolution, and feedback skills that are critical to Agile being successful.
  • Killingsworth joined the organization about two months before the date for the go/no-go scaling decision of the Agile transformation (for the ~300 L&D USPB team). He was brought up to speed quickly and heard from the business partners who had worked with the pilot squads that they highly valued the new Agile approach -- strong results, at faster speed. So the decision was made to go forward, and they are now scaling across the full team.
  • Another component of this agile transformation has been the creation of guilds, which are like communities of practice for different roles in the organization. These are a safe space for people to ask questions, where psychological safety supports employees' learning.
  • One side effect of this transformation journey has been an increase in cross-training that has occurred more naturally from people working together.
  • In terms of results, Killingsworth shared that their measure of employee ownership has increased 23%, stakeholder engagement is up 57%, learner engagement is up 41%, and they've had a 15% average weekly increase in speed to market. They’ve also gathered a great many qualitative testimonials, such as the following powerful quotes:
    • “I’ve never been given so much control and input over the work I’ve done.”
    • “The Agile structure allows us to produce better outcomes for our clients compared to our old way of doing things.”
    • “The team has been so responsive and collaborative with the business to ensure we are creating high impact learning experiences for our leaders.”
    • “Saves time by reducing the number of meetings and emails it takes to finalize a product.”
  • Killingsworth and Stiefken shared many learnings and areas of advice for other organizations who might considering or pursuing a similar agile transformation journey:
    • Being vs. Doing. Agile is a mindset shift. Employees and teams need to learn to be agile before doing agile.
    • Expect resistance. Agile isn't for everyone. Create a robust change management plan across all levels of the organization.
    • Shifting from command/control is challenging for leaders. Engage leadership early and often with their teams' change journeys.
    • Self-managed teams require special skills. Focus on interpersonal and human skills (culture) that include conflict resolution skills, enhanced collaboration skills, autonomy, and empowerment. Create an Agile dojo which is the safe place to test, learn, and embrace failure.
    • Co-creation/collaboration with business partners is essential. Embrace iterative, incremental, and frequent delivery.
    • Evolution vs. Revolution. Go slow - recognize this is an evolutionary change and will take time. Focus on progress over perfection. And recognize that everyone's journey is different, so paces will vary.

Links to resources shared on the call:

To ensure open discussion, this event is exclusively for HR practitioners. Vendors and consultants are not permitted.


This event is approved for certification credits.