What can the epic Greek poem The Illiad teach credit union employees about sales and leadership?
That’s one question Scott Crawford, vice president of professional development at Member One Federal Credit Union ($660M, Roanoke, VA), tackles at Member One University, a business training program in which Crawford uses a liberal arts lens to show students how they can improve service and member experience.
A major narrative thread of The Illiad focuses on the quarrel between two Greeks — Agamemnon, the commander-in-chief of the Greek army, and Achilles, the most powerful Greek warrior — during the Trojan War. Ultimately, the quarrel causes Achilles to withdraw from battle and side with the Trojans. It’s Achilles’ rage that drives the story.
So what does this have to do with credit unions?
It’s a lesson in upward coaching — how to inspire team members to give supervisors advice. In the case of The Illiad, Crawford says, “we approach that as an upward coaching session that has gone horribly wrong.”
Member One University
Member One approached Crawford in 2010 to create a sales and soft skills training program. Crawford was a full-time employee at the credit union who also taught history courses at the college level — he still does — and was previously the director of education at an art museum. Why trust him?
“We knew we had strong bench strength for training processes, systems, [and] products and services within our training department,” writes Kimberley Braswell, chief administrative officer in an email. We were looking for someone with an education background that could help design and develop courses that were more related to soft skills and leadership. Scott’s background fit the organization’s needs. The team has been able to incorporate new and creative ideas into the basic credit union training.”
His ultimate creation, Member One University, is open to anyone at the credit union. The institution makes a course catalog available, and employees are free to sign up for classes with managerial permission, which helps alleviate scheduling concerns.
Typically, the credit union will run five to seven classes a month, although its current core conversion has slowed this pace. Courses are divided into three credit levels that are differentiated by the amount of time required for each. Member One University students can take one three-hour seminar for one credit, three three-hour seminars for two credits, or a three-credit academy that runs eight to 10 months and includes one eight- to 10-hour class each month.
As employees advance through courses, they accumulate credit points. The institution awards associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees and with each comes financial compensation.
“You get a bonus as you advance through these degrees,” says Crawford.
Courses tend to focus on three areas: sales, leadership, and operations. Crawford uses lessons found in the liberal arts to accentuate the soft skills often overlooked in other training programs. For example, sales classes have involved the study of Shakespearean sonnets and other forms of poetry to explore empathy and relationship building.
“That is what sales is ultimately about,” Crawford says.
Leadership classes have focused on historical figures and literary greats such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Machiavelli.
Crawford or one of the other four members of the training staff typically determines topics, but they do try to accommodate employee suggestions. The five trainers have a diverse background. Crawford is an educator. Another trainer is a promoted teller who moonlights as a musician and teaches his craft when he has time. Another came from Verizon and offers one-on-one training and sales coaching on topics such as image and public speaking. The remaining two have credit union backgrounds and help balance out the training program.
“When I start getting a little too crazy with the liberal arts, my second-in-command can pull me back,” Crawford says. “It’s a nice balance.”
What Can The Humanities Do For Business?
“Education should be fun,” Crawford says. “It needs to be engaging; people need to be challenged.”
That’s why he meshes together the worlds of the humanities and business. The humanities provide a different point of view, a different way of thinking, than what many with a business degree have been exposed to.
In one of the lessons, students review a credit report as if it’s a work of art. A 750 credit score is a good loan in the same way that The Mona Lisa is a painting of a woman. Each notion is technically true, but different reviewers don’t see things in exactly the same way. This teaching tool helps MSRs better understand the interpretative process and encourages them to study things more closely and cite specific evidence to support their decisions.
“Recently, businesses have embraced this mathematical, linear approach to business,” Crawford says, “Study after study has shown that when you embrace that kind of model there are problems that can occur. What is being called for is this need to bring a humanities approach to soften business somewhat, to show the human side of business in order to try to make better decisions.”
Bottom Line Impacts
Crawford admits the cost of Member One University skews toward “above average” for a training program, and employees must be willing to invest plenty of time. Materially, however, the costs are minimal, Crawford says.
To ensure it is getting a return on its investment, Member One surveys employees and conducts a pre- and post-analysis of the sessions. Classes are so popular, Crawford says, that the credit union often has to expand the student cap from 15 to 20.
Although a linear-approach to business almost demands to see it, the impact this training has on the bottom line is hard to quantify. Assets have grown more than $100 million since fourth quarter 2010 and total loans by nearly $140 million in the same time frame, according to Peer-to-Peer Analytics by Callahan & Associates. Annualized loan originations per employee have grown, too. As of second quarter 2014, employees have totaled more than $1.1 million, well above the $780,000 from fourth quarter 2010.
But how much or little of this has to do with the training program is hard to say. Much like the humanities it parallels, the impact of this training program on the bottom line is impossible to quantify exactly.
“They see the world differently, but how do you measure that?” Crawford says. “It’s something that is not necessarily bottom line, yet we’re seeing continued growth financially. I think that is an indicator, directly or indirectly.”