Leaders University Turns Employees Into Financial Champions

A new staff development program at Leaders Credit Union offers a diverse curriculum taught by internal and external experts.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Leaders Credit Union has doubled down on leadership development with an eye toward developing internal talent.
  • In its new continuing education program, Leaders University, subject matter experts from inside and outside the cooperative present classes ranging from accounting to member impact.

When COVID-19 swept across the United States in 2020, it stalled economies, shut the doors of business, and forced employees to work from home. Never one to be deterred by hardship, Leaders Credit Union ($572.3M, Jackson, TN) took the opportunity to double down on employee growth and development.

“Never waste a good crisis,” says CEO Todd Swims. In this case, the credit union created Leaders University, a series of courses developed both internally and by outside experts on topics aimed at developing and engaging employees under a growth mindset.

The classes join Leaders’ innovation lab, generous incentive plans, and an approach to member service that Swims likens to the Chik-Fil-A model in the growing list of inventive initiatives the credit union has launched in the past few years.

Want to learn more about — and from — Leaders Credit Union? Check out pieces profiling the Tennessee cooperative’s best practices on CreditUnions.com. Find your next great idea today.

Here, Swims provides more insight on Leaders University:

What inspired the credit union to create Leaders University?

Todd Swims, President/CEO, Leaders Credit Union

Todd Swims: Logic told us uncertainty in 2020 would not end with a flip of a calendar. We realized external uncertainty offered an opportunity to strengthen our internal team. We’re doing that with an intentional focus on deepening the knowledge of individuals and the collective credit union.

When did the program begin? How many employees have participated?

TS: We began structuring and organizing the program in the fourth quarter of 2020; we held the first classes in February.

In the first couple months, we held 10 classes with up to eight financial champions per session. We’ve offered up to four sessions per class based on demand. Currently, we have had nearly 150 individual class attendants.

Talk more about the credit union’s internal brand work and financial champions.

TS: Leaders’ brand essence is being a financial champion. We refer to every employee, including the CEO, as a financial champion. That gives us more than 165 financial champions right now. Our brand promise is “Leading The Way On Your Behalf,” and that’s what our champions strive to do every day.

Our brand essence and brand promise have far-reaching effects and impact everything from business planning and staff training to marketing materials and retail merchandising. They remain fixed for many years, whereas the execution has the flexibility to evolve within the framework of the brand platform.

Our brand compass supports our organization in providing a distinctive level of service that complements our brand. It helps to explain our identity and why we expect what we do of staff.

CU QUICK FACTS

Leaders Credit Union
Data as of 03.31.21

HQ: Jackson, TN
ASSETS: $573.3M
MEMBERS: 56,058
BRANCHES: 8
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 23.01%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 13.55%
ROA: 1.75%

Who manages the Leaders University program? How is it structured?

TS: The manager of champion development manages Leaders University. The program serves as continuing education for our internal financial champions, who also serve as adjunct professors that share their knowledge on various topics.

A course catalog, digital registration, and employee transcripts live on our intranet, Compass Point. Program classes currently take place on Zoom. Our 1Q21 courses were on marketing strategies, fostering member connection, accounting 101, business 101, title work, credit union history, and the impact of our business model.

What opportunities does Leaders University present? Does it build upon your growth strategy?

TS: Leaders University fortifies and moves the entire credit union forward as one. Beyond the collective benefit, LU is also a vehicle to identify financial champions as candidates for promotion and future leadership. We specifically look for those who have taken the initiative to take classes inside and outside their occupational focus or who have been selected to teach classes.

What challenges did Leaders University present? How does the credit union address those challenges?

TS: The challenge with any new initiative is maintaining momentum and engagement. Leaders’ culture of innovation is a natural driver of momentum; however, we’re also focused on feedback from our financial champions to overcome the momentum challenge. The human resources and training department regularly send out feedback surveys to gauge content offering, frequency of classes, and obstacles impending attendance.

How will you measure the effectiveness of these programs? What are your plans for its future growth?

TS: We measure the effectiveness by enrollment, transcripts, and employee feedback. The manager of champion development has constructed annual, biennial, odd-, and even-year course offerings to keep content fresh. Our internal knowledge is deep, and with our culture of innovation, we’ll be continually adding new courses into the course catalog.

Will Leaders University affect the credit union’s ability to have a positive impact on your membership? How will you assess that impact?

TS: Through LU, our financial champions are better prepared to serve our members. They have expanded knowledge from both soft skill and financial-related courses.

We believe in measuring all aspects of the member and employee experience. For the member, we accomplish this through surveys, reviews, and depth of service reporting. With additional educational resources and outlets, we envision this impact will be actualized in these metrics.

For employee engagement, we use a solution called Standout. This tool allows employees to self-monitor their engagement and provides supervisors and human resources an opportunity to see who is interested or ready for advancement. Ultimately, the employee impact is to truly train our next level leaders and further foster a culture of internal promotions.

What is the best practice you’ve learned so far in this project?

TS: The best practice is to identify the correct leaders to organize and lead the program. Those spearheading the initiative need to have a passion for learning, a critical understanding of the needs of the organization, an intuitive perspective on the talent within your organization, creativity to create engaging course offerings, and the ability and aptitude to execute daily.

What’s some other advice you’d like to share with credit unions who might consider an initiative similar to Leaders University?

TS: Using talent within the organization is key. We added the responsibility to certain positions’ job descriptions. We also asked for volunteers who would like to share knowledge. We felt having peer-to-peer training would help us foster initiative.

Also, having one individual champion the program has been beneficial. Our champion development manager has been hands-on with this project, creating content, auditing classes, encouraging participation, and spearheading the initiative.

Organization on the front end was also helpful. We created the course catalog for the next several years prior to beginning the program. And we created hype around the program prior to the start of classes to build awareness and excitement.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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