In advance of its core conversion in late 2018, Affinity Plus FCU launched a monthslong training program to get employees competent and confident by go-live.
The program included 16 courses with 10 lessons each, 12 trainers, hours of live practice, and soft-skill training.
CU QUICK FACTS
Affinity Plus FCU
HQ: Saint Paul, MN
Data as of 09.30.19
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 5.5%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 7.3%
When Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union ($2.3B, Saint Paul, MN) decided to convert its core processor and six other systems in mid-2016, it set a go-live date that was more than two years out. Its reason for choosing Oct. 1, 2018, were twofold. First, the management team needed the organizational bandwidth to complete all its systems changes. Second, the core conversion required a degree of training and change management that affected the entire organization.
“Change can be scary and challenging,” says Emily Baumgart, senior learning and development specialist at Affinity Plus. “We recognized the importance of training, both from the transactional side and the emotional, change management side.”
To instill confidence among employees during a period of significant change, the credit union established a robust, monthslong training program — branded Journey Beyond — that more than prepared its 500+ employees for go-live.
Fun Comes First
Emily Baumgart, Senior Learning and Development Specialist, Affinity Plus FCU
Affinity Plus launched Journey Beyond on Oct. 2, 2017, a full year before the conversion go-live date. The credit union’s new core provider recommended the timeframe to allow ample time for technical training, which in turn would build employees’ confidence before they had to serve live members.
“We had employees who had been on the same system for a significant amount of time,” Baumgart says. “Becoming an expect in a core system can be an emotional process, and we wanted to give our team time to dive into the new system and really learn it.”
The conversion process is tense and challenging, and, often, credit unions limit the amount of sick and vacation days employees can take during it. For Affinity Plus, Baumgart wanted to ensure employees remined engaged throughout the experience.
“We learned from other credit unions that employees needed something to rally around,” Baumgart says.
The conversion’s overall theme, Journey Beyond, was intended to evoke the idea that the credit union and its staff members were journeying to places they had never been before, Baumgart says. In practice, the credit union leaned heavily on space branding — including giving employees colorful, branded jackets — and gaming strategies. Senior leaders got in on the fun, too. CEO Dave Larson and CIO Teri Laufers filmed several videos and even dressed up in Top Gun-inspired pilot uniforms.
Employees became “crew members,” training classes became “flight school,” and rest areas became “recharge stations.” The credit union dubbed the engagement portion of the program “Expedition Plus .” It rewarded stars to crew members who achieved competency at certain training milestones. Those who excelled received “crew credits,” which allowed employees to enter weekly drawings for prizes.
Building Training From The Ground Up
Before Affinity Plus could launch any in-house training, its learning and development team had to learn the new core system. Based on materials provided by Symitar about the Episys platform — to which Affinity Plus was converting — the six-trainer team crafted an entire program in a form and function that aligned with Affinity Plus’s wants and needs.
“It was our responsibility to translate all that information in a way that would make sense for us,” Baumgart says. “We had to adapt and personalize it to our mission and vision.”
To start, the credit union appointed co-leads for the training project, one of which was Baumgart, to mobilize the organization’s trainers. The co-leads quickly realized the credit union needed more trainers and recruited six more from other areas of the organization, including branch managers. Of the team of 12, nine tackled front-office training.
Change can be scary and challenging. We recognized the importance of training, both from the transactional side and the emotional, change management side.
Next, Baumgart and her team conducted a needs assessment across the entire organization to understand how the credit union’s front-office and back-office employees used the current core. That information helped Baumgart determine what soft skills to home in on and in what areas to develop technical training.
From that intel, the credit union created 16 course modules, each composed of 10 lessons, on a different technical aspect of the core system. Additionally, employees were expected to complete post-training assignments as well as log two-and-a-half hours of training per week in the test core system.
“It was important for us that this wasn’t just classroom training,” Baumgart says. “We needed our employees to get in there and practice.”
Piloting And Engagement
After the training team finished building the course, it was time to pilot the program.
In anticipation of live employee training, the training team leads piloted both the front- and back-office training modules in their entirety. In doing so, the credit union learned what worked, what didn’t, and what needed to change before all employees started their formal training.
“Going through it helped us see logistical flaws we wouldn’t have otherwise seen,” Baumgart says. “We made significant changes.”
For example, rather than having trainers teach via a live version of the core system, Affinity Plus created training presentations in PowerPoint with step-by-step screenshots of the various transactional tasks. The credit union deployed this strategy based on a tip from its vendor, which did the same.
Before Affinity Plus started its training program for its new core, the credit union had one training room with 12 seats. Emily Baumgart, senior learning and development specialist, worked with the training staff and facilities team to set up two additional rooms for front-office training — adding 36 more seats — and a third dedicated to back office staff.
“At least a year out from your go-live date, make sure you have the room to do the training right,” Baumgart says.
“It keeps the instructors on track and the training consistent from class to class,” Baumgart says. “As a learner, you’d never know you weren’t live in the system. And, it allows us to train even when the systems are down.”
Within the training program itself, front-office learning skewed transactional. According to Baumgart, the biggest training needs involved accepting and dispersing money; however, it extended into other functions as well, including account openings, account maintenance, balancing cash drawers, and submitting ACH payments, among others. Courses and modules for the back-office staff depended on their area of focus. For example, operations training was focused on ACH and remote deposit capture.
As in other areas of the conversion process, Baumgart wanted to bring a degree of fun into the technical training. That key ingredient became even more apparent as the credit union tested its training.
“People don’t often get excited when they hear, ‘technical training,’” Baumgart says. “We worked to add excitement to the process.”
For Affinity Plus, the main goal of the training program was to ensure employees were capable and confident in the core system on Oct. 1, 2018. For a process as thorough as this, providing employees with a fun program designed to engage as much as to educate helped the credit union reach its goals, Baumgart says.
“We really focused on our theme,” Baumgart says. “I think that helped employees feel like they belonged to something. It was a trying time, but we made it through with flying colors and high engagement.”