How Do Managers Become Leaders?

A robust, yearlong training program at Bethpage FCU sets managers on a path to leadership at New York’s largest credit union.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Employees at all levels of Bethpage FCU receive appropriate training — from new hire core skills to executive coaching.
  • Its management development program trains 12-16 manager-level employees every year.

When Diane Krieger started at Bethpage Federal Credit Union ($10.0B, Bethpage, NY) nearly two decades ago, one of the cooperative’s values was “learning.” For Krieger, who is now the vice president of organizational development, that focus spoke to her.

“As a learning professional, I could see the value the credit union placed on investing in its employees,” Krieger says. “That trickles through an organization.”

Today, Bethpage nestles learning under its organization value of “innovation,” but its focus on learning and training has not waned. Far from it. In fact, almost all of the New York state credit union’s 700-plus employees are up for, or have completed, some form of internal training or development program in their time at Bethpage.

“Our training and development department has trained every employee,” Krieger says.

CU QUICK FACTS

Bethpage FCU
Data as of 09.30.20

HQ: Bethpage, NY
ASSETS: $10.0B
MEMBERS: 418,748
BRANCHES: 36
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 12.6%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 2.9%
ROA: 0.52%

New hires go through core training before graduating into an advanced program that teaches systematic and soft skills. From there, employees up for head teller, assistant manager, or team lead positions go through supervisory training. Two additional levels are available above that: management development and executive development training.

The credit union has run some version of each of these training programs — save for its supervisory program — for more than two decades. But Bethpage’ management program remains its most robust, preparing employees for one of life’s largest career jumps: a move into leadership.

From Manager To Leader

For managers progressing within the institution, Bethpage’s management development program provides the skills and experience to transition from manager, senior manager, or vice president into the next station.

The yearlong annual program has various participants within each cohort — although, historically, there are usually between 12 and 16 participants. In 2019, for example, there were 19. Why so fluid?

“If you are a new manager or vice president and have not been through the program, you are automatically in the next year’s program,” Krieger says.

The program offers an immersive multimodal experience, with training and instruction provided in several different mediums. The program begins in earnest at an off-site weeklong introduction but in reality kicks off much sooner than that with an important assessment.

Before the program starts, Bethpage asks participants to complete a DISC personality assessment. It then presents the results to participants as a way to talk about leadership. Likewise, the assessment allows participants to match their personal values and preferences against the organization’s. For Krieger, this is where the program truly starts.

“We want them to learn about themselves first,” she says. “To lead, you need to know who you are as a person.”

From that initial DISC breakdown, participants spend the first week of the program learning more about themselves and one another. Bethpage asks each participant to formulate a personal brand — a clear and concise way for others to understand who they are and what they are about — which they present to the full team of participants.

Participants also take workshops on collaboration, career building, culture, and what it means to carry the torch as leaders. The week culminates in a team-based hourlong presentation to the Bethpage executive team wherein participants outline what they learned as well as how they will change as leaders based on the experience.

After the first week, participants settle back into their day-to-day work responsibilities with the program’s coursework and requirements layered on top. For Bethpage, that initial off-site introduction is key to the success of the training.

“When we get them out of their environment and away from their job, they don’t get distracted as much,” Krieger says. “It helps to start the program.”

Bethpage also pairs participants with one another in the beginning to foster accountability. Because much of the training occurs online, having someone to offer motivation, answer questions, and work through problems with is an important asset.

We want them to learn about themselves first. To lead, you need to know who you are as a person.

Diane Krieger, Vice President of Organizational Development, Bethpage FCU

Making It Work From Month To Month

Bethpage officially begins its training program with a full week of in-person instruction, but the remainder of the year includes both in-person as well as online elements.

Participants come together every month for in-person instruction and to learn about that month’s online instruction. Every month, participants also complete virtual learning modules that cover various leadership topics. Built by CUES, the module topics can range from standard leadership subject matter such as communication to more esoteric and creative sessions on design thinking or even improv.

“Improv was new to the program this year,” Krieger says. “We anticipated those skills would help participants develop resiliency in fluid or challenging situations.”

Bethpage also recruits guest speakers — including Bethpage executives, former program participants, and non-credit union leaders — to present during the monthly in-person sessions. Such speakers reinforce concepts covered during a month’s online modules and provide participants with real-world examples of leadership in action.

That’s not the only way Bethpage executives participate in the development program, however. Participants enjoy one-on-one time with executives to ask questions about their personal experiences. Bethpage does provide sample questions should participants prefer a more structured conversation, but they are welcome to have off-the-cuff conversations, as well.

“There’s a few standard, open-ended questions they ask: ‘What have you learned in your leadership journey?’ ‘What advice do you have for someone in my position?’” Krieger says. “It’s good information for them to hear, but it also serves to strengthen their internal networks.”

Participants have another weeklong off-site halfway through the 12-month program. They also meet with more succession in the lead-up to the final presentation in front of the executive team. In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic shuttered plans for an in-person final presentation, and the group pivoted to Zoom.

“It was an amazing feat,” Krieger says.

Upon completing the final presentation, Bethpage’s CEO passes out certificates of completion and then executives and participates eat lunch together. From there, participants usually attend a community event, oftentimes collecting food for a local food bank, before reconnecting for a full-group dinner later that night.

The pandemic changed those plans, but Bethpage still recognized the accomplishments of the participants via the credit union’s intranet, and participants shared their achievement on social media, as well.

After all, it is a big deal. Since the credit union started tracking promotion rates in 2004, program participants have a 60% internal promotion rate.

“Maybe they start as a manager — they quickly become senior manager or even a VP,” Krieger says.

Even when a direct promotion is not available when a participant completes the program, Krieger says there is close to universal positivity toward the program and what it helps employees accomplish during their time at Bethpage.

“There’s two sides to it: the business side and the emotional side,” Krieger says. “This year, one of our participants told us she viewed the program as an investment in her and her future. She said it was a ‘true gift’ to participate in this program and she was thankful for it.”

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