Being responsible for creating champions at an institution named “Leaders” sounds like it could be a high bar, but Sara Dunlap says she’s enthusiastically up to the task.
Dunlap is champion development manager, a new role the credit union created specifically for her about a year ago. Before that, she spent first five years working as a teller, then as a universal banker, then in the call center, and then as a performance development coach.
Now she’s responsible for helping every employee at Leaders Credit Union ($591.7M, Jackson, TN) understand the role they play in helping the west Tennessee cooperative ensure all stakeholders — employees and members alike — meet their potential.
“This role has roots in what we we’ve done in the past,” Dunlap says. “But it is inspired by our organization’s present needs and the goal of continuing to move forward.”
Here, Dunlap talks more about the new role.
When and why did Leaders create the new role of champion development manager?
Sara Dunlap: Development of this role started in the second quarter of 2020. At that time, a shift in staffing impacted new hire training, development of our champions, and our brand focus.
Because of my experience coaching our eBranch service team, Leaders chose me to fill this training void. I initially operated under our existing title of corporate trainer and culture coach; by the end of August, the champion development manager title was created to encompass my larger focus and fit within our brand scope.
Is this role specifically for you?
SD: Yes, it encapsulates both my daily focus and my front-line experience at Leaders.
I started as a teller before training in our eBranch to become a call center representative. This developed into an opportunity to pilot our universal banker role, and I worked in this capacity for a year at all retail locations before returning to our eBranch.
CU QUICK FACTS
LEADERS CREDIT UNION
HQ: Jackson, TN
Data as of 06.30.21
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 20.0%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 11.5%
CDM is actually my second unique role at Leaders. While at the eBranch, I began mentoring our service team and training new employees on their path to becoming call center agents, universal bankers, or member service representatives. This led to the creation of the performance development coach role. I spent a year working in this capacity prior to becoming the champion development manager.
What is a champion at Leaders? How do you develop them?
SD: Every Leaders employee is a financial champion. Being a champion means putting the member first — we are a credit union that was founded by our community, and we exist to serve it.
How we live out that champion spirit varies from person to person. I define my champion role as advocating for our credit union members, employees, and our community to ensure financial needs are met. To fulfill this goal, I coach those around me to develop financial skills and grow their knowledge.
What are your areas of responsibility?
SD: I train employees during the first few weeks of their Leaders journey. This includes leading classroom training and discussion on a variety of credit union fundamentals as well as assigning and monitoring the branch mentoring experience. Once out of their initial training, I continue their champion development through on-the-job observations, individual training sessions, and coaching on new processes and systems.
I also spearheaded the development and launch of Leaders University, an employee education program where subject matter experts present and lead discussions on various credit union topics. Keeping the program and content fresh is a substantial time investment that includes scheduling and supporting presenters, facilitating live Zoom sessions, maintaining the courses within our Compass intranet, and expanding our library of recorded courses.
A new staff development program at Leaders Credit Union offers a diverse curriculum taught by internal and external experts. Learn more in “Leaders University Turns Employees Into Financial Champions.”
As a member of our brand committee, I oversee our brand champion program, which focuses on living the Leaders brand every day. A team of department heads and managers meet monthly with the brand committee to celebrate successes and set brand goals.
Finally, I develop brand-focused discussions, games, training, and tools for inspiration, innovation, quality control, communication development, and celebration of brand impact.
What challenges does the champion development manager address?
SD: Two of the biggest challenges are continuity of brand and continuing education. For us to be successful, our brand must be consistent and strong from the back office to the branch front doors. We must also prioritize education for ourselves and our members. This means investing time and money into relevant training that moves the needle.
“It’s my goal to create employees for life.”
What opportunities does it address?
SD: It’s my goal to create employees for life. Building relationships is a key part of creating members for life, and our financial champions make this possible every day. One of the best ways to give back to our champions is by investing in their skills. I make resources, training, and tools available to them, allowing them to champion their own success.
What makes you a great fit for this job?
SD: I didn’t have particularly compelling or relevant qualifications at the time I was hired, so I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity and the amazing journey I’m on. From day one at Leaders, I’ve had incredible female mentors who empowered me to follow my instincts and pursue my passion for member service and coaching.
My first and greatest mentor was my mom. When I became school age, she left her corporate job to teach me and my sister. She didn’t have a teaching degree or related experience, but that never slowed her down. She developed her own curriculum and partnered with us in our daily learning. I have her to thank for showing me how to be self-driven, persistent, and to always present exemplary work.
Who do you report to? Who reports to you?
SD: I report to Erin Mitchell, our vice president of human resources. She does an incredible job of supporting me, being a sounding board, and focusing my efforts. I don’t have direct reports in the traditional sense, but I do impact champion development and performance throughout the organization at all levels.
What’s your daily routine?
SD: No two days are the same. I go where I’m needed and devote my energy to projects that support our champions. This could mean classroom instruction and relationship building with new employees, troubleshooting a technical or procedural roadblock, or observing and coaching on the job.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected what you do at Leaders?
SD: The impact to my daily routine has been minimal. Initially, we limited branch-to-branch travel and in person meetings, which changed the way I interacted with our front-line teams but didn’t halt our progress. Thirty-nine employees have come through my training classroom in the past 12 months.
The What’s In A Name series is one of several Callahan Collections available at CreditUnions.com. Check out this collection, then browse the collections available for disaster recovery, member feedback, community impact, sustainability, deposits, analytics, and more.
How do you track success in your job?
SD: My biggest impact should be in two areas. First, the brand experience and service our members receive. Second, the competency, confidence, and passion of our financial champions.
Some of the metrics we use to gauge this success are our mystery shopper program and member surveys. Our internal error-reporting program also encourages our front-line staff to share coaching opportunities and areas for process-improvement.
Staff retention is another important indicator of my success. To keep a pulse on employee engagement, we use a tool to facilitate the exchange of champion and team leader feedback.
How do you stay current with topics that fall under your role?
SD: In the past year, I started listening to podcasts for personal and professional inspiration. Because of its direct and relevant content, my current favorite is The Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast. I also participate in leadership, service, and sales webinars whenever possible, but I find talking with my peers and organizational leaders to be the most valuable.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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