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By Sharon Simpson
In today's financial services world, day-to-day operations are complex and significant projects require cross-functional teams. Strategy is more important that ever — that's why more credit unions are turning to team-based learning to develop current and future leaders.
When WSECU ($2.3B, Olympia, WA) was looking for a sustainable development program for its middle managers, the credit union looked to an outside partner for a consistent program that would help the credit union expand its development efforts over time.
“We were sending people to different, disparate classes,” says Denise Hagen, vice president of people and culture services for WSECU, an institution with 528 employees. "We really wanted a single program that focused on the concepts our senior management felt were most important."
After vetting several local colleges and universities, WSECU found a flexible partner with which it co-developed a program that focuses on five components: developing effective individuals, developing a learning culture, employee accountability, building trust/managing change, and effective planning and execution.
“We call it Leadership U,” Hagen says. "We designed it with Brandman University," a California-based institution dedicated to adult education with several campuses in Washington.
WSECU launched the eight-month course in June of 2013 with a pilot program that consisted of credit union managers interested in developing their leadership skills. The program launched with an all-volunteer class and students who had a genuine interest in participating. Today, the class is a requirement for all managers and directors, Hagen says.
The course gives them a chance to connect and get to know one another, making it easier to work on projects together down the road.
Every year, WSECU's HR team carefully selects a small, cross-functional cadre of 12 to 15 managers — being careful to avoid any direct reporting relationships — that meets every month for a two-day, in-person intensive held during the work week at a Brandman University campus.
“Being on campus cuts down on the interruptions that occur at the office and allows participants to focus on the skillsets and concepts they are learning,” Hagen says.
The course gives WSECU a way to introduce strategic concepts and groom employees for higher levels of management. More importantly, though, Leadership U introduces a single leadership language that improves communications among leaders and drives efficiency for the credit union. It also builds personal relationships across departments.
“Many of the managers in these cadres have never worked together before,” Hagen says. “The course gives them a chance to connect and get to know one another, making it easier to work on projects together down the road. The course builds trust, which allows participants to move things along more quickly."
In conjunction with Leadership U, WSECU has also established a mentor program that connects senior managers — at the level of vice president and senior vice president — with middle managers going through the program. Every month, the mentors discuss the concepts of the course with their mentees and offer support.
“This has been a critical component," Hagen says. "It's something I’d recommend any credit union consider."
At the end of each session, participants give a formal presentation about their individual development plans to WSECU senior managers. It's a great opportunity for participants to show off what they've learned and celebrate completing the program — with a certificate as evidence of their accomplishment.
“It’s amazing what they do,” Hagen says. “And it all comes back to how much they have grown through the program.”
Digital Credit Union ($6.5B, Marlborough, MA) wanted its senior management team to become more strategy-focused. That's why its full 12-person team participated in the Leadership Team Development program offered by Callahan & Associates, the power behind CreditUnions.com. Callahan offers the program in collaboration with Harvard Business School's digital learning initiative, HBX, and features the online course Disruptive Strategy with Clayton Christensen.
“As credit union leaders, there are so many issues we need to consider when developing strategy for the future,” says Craig Roy, senior vice president of retail lending at DCU. “We felt a team-based learning approach would help us become more efficient, concise, and effective.”
The program requires participants to complete a series of three-hour modules using HBX's online interactive platform. Participants complete the coursework for each individual module at their convenience over a two-week period. At the end of the period, participants meet online for a virtual team "huddle," led by a Callahan & Associates senior consultant, during which the group discusses new concepts and practices applying them to the credit union's strategic challenges.
“The Leadership Team Development program gave us the mechanisms to focus on what our members want and need more consistently,” Roy says. “It’s helped us all get on the same page and is already making us more efficient as a team.”
After completing the Leadership Team Development course, DCU decided middle managers could also use the course to prepare for the next step in their careers and apply new concepts in their own areas.
“Like many other credit unions, we tended to promote our middle managers because they possessed some significant technical expertise or knowledge in their area," Roy says. "They were good at their job; however, in order to develop our future executive bench strength, we needed to provide opportunities for middle managers to think at a more strategic level.”
And according to Roy, the program has indeed caused those managers to move outside of their comfort zone.
Harvard researcher Tom Bartman outlines how resource allocation can help credit unions convert strategy into action and dodge disruption.
Leadership Team Development has caused all of us to think differently and look outside of the credit union movement to gain insights from other types of businesses," Roy says. The program is already paying dividends and we can't wait to see the results of our middle management session.”
That session ends this week when the Callahan consultant leads an on-site strategic workshop for the team.
Langley Federal Credit Union ($2.1B, Newport News, VA) wanted to think differently about what it meant to be a financial cooperative, which meant looking at its products and services from the member point of view.
"Financial institutions can get into ruts and develop solutions that meet their own needs instead of the customers," says Curtis Baker, senior vice president for Langley FCU.
The desire to look at things differently and continue the growth trajectory initiated by CEO Tom Ryan’s arrival in 2012 prompted two senior management groups to complete Callahan’s Team-Based Learning program.
A lot of magic happened in the team-based learning environment created by the facilitated huddles.
And according to Baker, Langley has already put the concepts to use.
“When we looked at what our members needed, we realized having a credit card — for example — is part of engaging in everyday commerce; you need a credit card to reserve a hotel room, rent a car, or fill up your gas tank quickly,” Baker says. “And the members we decline probably aren’t being approved for a credit card anywhere else.”
That’s why Langley created a separate economic model for a credit card program designed to help members the credit union had previously declined. With Langley FCU’s new Essential Visa, members with unsound credit can still obtain a credit card that is unsecured, share-secured, or partially secured. It’s this hybrid model that allows the credit union to give higher limits and truly serve members’ needs.
“Simple share-secured accounts don’t typically have the purchasing power members need, especially if they are reserving a hotel room or renting a car,” Baker says. “We hope to see members transition to our regular credit card offerings eventually, but the Essential Visa serves an immediate need.”
Another product, the soon-to-be-renamed Essential Checking, aims to serve members the credit union has previously declined for a checking account. This account will allow members to write checks and set up direct deposit while reducing undue risk by limiting common fraud channels such as remote deposit capture and large ATM deposits.
And, Langley plans to continue incorporating the concepts of innovation highlighted throughout Callahan’s Leadership Team Development program.
Learn more about Callahan's Leadership Team Development program today.
“A lot of magic happened in the team-based learning environment created by the facilitated huddles,” Baker says. “In 2016, I’ll be putting my own managers through a six-month series of courses on business analytics. They’ll complete the courses independently online, but I’ll facilitate weekly meetings so we can standardize our approach to business intelligence and help everyone make better, data-based decisions.”
The team environment, according to Baker, added an important dimension to Langley’s development efforts.
“We were inspired by the Callahan approach,” Baker says. “If you have the right people who want to learn and foster a team-learning environment, I think it will pay big dividends.”
January 4, 2016
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