An Internal Ladder To Leadership

How Educators created an open employee development program to identify hidden talent in its employee roster.

Educators Credit Union ($1.5B, Racine, WI) is a financial cooperative known for big ideas, many of which come directly from employees on the front line as well as the corner offices.

We go beyond developing skills in the C-suite and have focused on providing educational resources and opportunities for all of our employees, says Peter Stein, the credit union’s vice president of human resources.


Educators Credit Union
data as of 06.30.14

  • HQ: Racine, WI
  • ASSETS: $1.5B
  • MEMBERS: 125,622
  • EMPLOYEES: 336
  • BRANCHES: 18
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 2.35%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 1.44%
  • ROA: 0.52%

A prime example of this philosophy is the credit union’s Leadership Educators program, which gives employees with aspirations for management or further career advancement the chance to develop new product and service ideas, driveprocess improvements, and forge new career paths.

The program has gone through multiple iterations since its creation in 2010, and although it is currently open to all employees, it requires interested parties to complete a thorough application and assessment process to gain admittance.

As an institution, Educators can point to things like a stronger product suite, more effective mid-level leadership, a fuller applicant pool, and less turnover as an indicator of the program’s success. But employees benefit as well.

In fact, 80% of the 60-plus program graduates are still with the credit union and more than half are now in a higher leadership position than they were before the program.

Below, Stein explains why Educators needed this training program and how the educational resources a credit union invests in today will impact the type of institution it is tomorrow.

How have the staffing strategies at Educators evolved over the past few years?

Peter Stein: We are a significantly larger organization than when I started in 2010, and our staffing and recruitment strategies have also changed considerably in that time.

We’re currently in the process of incorporating remote teller machines, and that means we will be hiring remote employees to operate them. We’re doing those interviews using webcams online since that’s the environment these employeeswill be working in.

We are also transitioning toward a universal employee model, where at least one employee at every location can do everything from closing loans and opening accounts to working a teller drawer.

How is the Leadership Educators program a part of that transition? How did it get its start?

PS: The types of employees we need for the future are changing, and that means the types of managers we will need to support those individuals are also changing.

When the program first started in 2010, we would rotate new management hires through the different departments so they fully understood how the organization functioned. Then in 2011, we added 12 annual learning sessions through a partnership with a localHR consulting firm called MRA.

Our staff isn’t large enough to develop this type of curriculum ourselves, but the partnership with MRA only costs about $20,000 a year total, and considering that it helps multiple employees at a time, we consider that a pretty good investment.

Around the same time, we opened the program to include staff across all levels and departments, including our tellers.

How do you decide who gets to participate?

PS: Before, you had to be recommended by your manager, but this year we included an open application option. Employees had to send in their resumes and we evaluated them by the answers they provided to our accompanying questionnaire,their job performance, and their time with the credit union.

The people who succeed here are the continuous learners.

This application process has ensured that everyone we select wants to be a part of the program as opposed to having their boss tell them they should do it.

What do the training sessions look like?

PS: We have class one day a month for a full year. The different segments focus on everything from team building, to time, project, and relationship management. We even focus on communication and grammar skills, as we’ve had issuesin the past with things like typos in emails or basic skillsets that may be missing because of an overreliance on technology or a lack of on-the-job experience.

There are about 15 people in every class, divided into several three-to-four-person groups. Over the course of the year, each group works on a project a new product, a process improvement, or a culture-building best practice that theymust present to the executive team and board.

Each team is paired with an executive who has expertise in the area they want to pursue, but we also encourage additional mentor relationships so that employees are taking full advantage of the access they have to leaders in the organization.

What are the benefits for employees?

PS: We have a young workforce, averaging in their early 30s, and this program has allowed individuals without as much job experience to move their careers forward. Many have become managers, but advancement is not a given.

The people who succeed here are the continuous learners. Some graduates leave eventually, but the majority stay on long-term and they tend to get promoted quicker than most.

The executives know each of these individuals pretty well after they complete the program and will even call them up and encourage them to apply for certain jobs. We also provide rewards like a $500 gift card or a Kindle Fire as a way to acknowledge theirhard work.

What are the benefits for the credit union?

PS: One of the biggest benefits is the idea generation that results from these annual projects. Previous projects included things like a scholarship program for members, building a toy room at the local Ronald McDonald house and establishinga toy donation drive, creating a fresh start checking program, and buying a Smart car equipped with technology resources that can go out and demo our remote channels for members.

We also now have an employee recognition breakfast after one year with the company as well as hand-delivered plaques and floating holidays for those employees who have been with us for longer terms.

One group even started an employee newsletter called The Kitchen Table, named after the fact that that’s where our founder made the organization’s first loans.

How else is Educators pursuing a culture of learning?

PS: We have an extensive management library with books and resources for our leaders, and we have an online learning management system for all employees called Travitor, which includes not only credit union courses but also lessons onthings like project management.

We also have all new hires read the book QBQ! The Question Beyond The Question by John G. Miller. We’re looking at doing some personal accountability training across the entire institution based off of that.

We have a tuition reimbursement program in which we reimburse up to $2,000 a year for any type of class, not just business-related ones. Moving forward, we’re likely going to pay more if someone is working on their MBA or taking classes that arejob related. However, if there was an accredited class in wine tasting and someone wanted to take it, we would help pay for it because that’s how much we believe in education.

December 22, 2014

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