A Strategy To Retain Employees And Develop Leaders

Grow Financial’s in-house program helps ambitious staffers cultivate important skills.

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Grow Financial has promoted 64% and retained 91% of the graduates of its 2016 leadership program.
  • Graduates of the program are sharing leadership lessons with the wider organization.

Grow Financial Federal Credit Union ($2.4B, Tampa, FL) launched its Step Up to Leadership development program in 2014 to cultivate the skills of ambitious staffers who wanted to move up in the organization.

The most recent graduating class of the program boasts an internal promotion rate of 64% and a retention rate of 91%.

Marsha Falkenburg, AVP People Development Group, Grow Financial FCU

In this Q&A, Marsha Falkenburg, associate vice president of people development, discusses how the credit union created the program and best practices for developing leadership skills within a credit union’s existing ranks.

What is Step Up to Leadership?

Marsha Falkenburg: It’s a six-month program that teaches the good, the bad, and the ugly of leadership.

It includes regular meetings as well as a group project. That project must align with one of Grow Financial’s six guiding principles. For example, the group must show how a project helps the greater good.

The program focuses on vital leadership skills, such as conflict resolution, and offers ongoing coaching and feedback. For example, in the case of conflict resolution, we make participants have a conversation and then give feedback on how they performed. We put participants in small groups based on their strengths, making sure there is enough difference to cause a little conflict so they can learn how to work through that. ContentMiddleAd

At the end of the six months there is an annual graduation ceremony at which each group makes a presentation that includes pictures and videos to highlight what they learned.

How many people participate in the program?

MF: We keep the program to approximately 15 people. For 2016, we had 23 participants start the program and 21 people complete it sometimes participants decide leadership is not for them.

This program allows us to use real-life, in-house scenarios. We talk through issues and, more importantly, find potential solutions.

Marsha Falkenburg, AVP People Development Group, Grow Financial FCU

What is the selection process like?

MR: Every year it’s a bit different.

The first year, we required essays, which the executive team reviewed.

The second year, our alumni group participated in the selection process. We conducted five-question interviews and graded applicants on a scale.

This year, managers nominated candidates.

We don’t want to keep the status quo. We want to get the current leaders’ buy-in a little more.

What sets this apart from external training or conferences?

MF: This program allows us to use real-life, in-house scenarios. We talk through issues and, more importantly, find potential solutions. This is not an open forum for complaining, participants shouldn’t bring a problem to the table without thinking through solutions.

Also, we see participants at least twice per month, and there is always work required in between. This keeps the program moving forward the entire six months. The action behind the training creates accountability. At a conference, participants might come back excited, but that can fade if the ideas aren’t put into action or if others don’t share the enthusiasm.

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Does the program use any external resources?

MR: We intertwine Franklin Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The Speed of Trust and will continue to add more.

And we do bring in outside speakers for specific meetings or sessions as needed. Typically, we do this for some of the softer skills and to demonstrate our investment in the program and its participants.

However, we also pair our own executives with Step Up leadership to teach various subjects. It might be something that doesn’t pertain to their area, which shows they are human and makes everyone more comfortable with one another.

Are the meetings all in person? How do you use technology?

MF: We do as much face-to-face as possible. None of the meetings or courses are e-learning, although we do use video and other types of technology, such as Jabber and Adobe Connect, to create a virtual classroom environment.


Grow Financial FCU
Data as of 06.30.17

HQ: Tampa, FL
MEMBERS: 199,046
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 11.2%
ROA: 0.39%

What kind of results have you noted with Step Up to Leadership?

MF: Among the 2014 program graduates, we’ve promoted 37.5% and retained 80%. Among the 2015 program graduates, we’ve promoted 35% and retained 71%. And among the 2016 program graduates, we’ve promoted a whopping64% and retained 91%.

We now have an alumni group that meets monthly and also hosts a leadership discussion series for anyone who wants to join in. Each session focuses on one of Grow Financial’s guiding principles and how the leadership class helped the alumni groupin that specific area.

It’s exciting to see graduates continue to work together to make a difference within the organization.

How can other credit unions develop leaders?

MF:For any training program to be a success, you must have the support of your CEO and executive team. That will make or break a program and why ours has been such a success.

You also need a solid coaching organization. Everyone needs to know current leaders are there for the best interest of their staff. Gain buy-in from existing leaders and use their feedback to help build the best program.

Everyone has great ideas. Respect the various voices within the organization and listen to ideas. Use the feedback from front-line staff, back-office staff, and leaders new to their positions to develop a program that is right for the organization.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

August 18, 2017

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