How To Build In-House Leadership

FORUM’s future leaders program encourages talent development and retains top employees.

One place for credit unions to find talented, intelligent employees is to look within their existing ranks. Current workers are already familiar with the distinct offerings of the cooperative model and are ripe to be molded into the kind of employee aninstitution values. FORUM Credit Union ($931.4, Indianapolis, IN) has a history of looking to its internal talent pool for the kind of employee who can eventually fulfilla leadership position.

We had great classes [where] we taught all the technical things the first couple layers of the job, says Jenny Budreau, chief operating officer at FORUM. But we weren’t really helping our folks to step into leadershiproles.

So to better grow its leadership base, the credit union created its FORUM Future Leaders (FFL) program. And although parts of the program have evolved over the past six years, the foundation has remained the same.

The FORUM Future Leaders Program


data as of 12.31.13

  • HQ: Indianapolis, IN
  • ASSETS: $931.4M
  • MEMBERS: 110,829
  • BRANCHES: 13
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 2.64%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 5.91%
  • ROA: 0.46%

FORUM employees must submit a formal application for entry into the program and answer questions such as what they hope to experience in the year-long program, where they think they need to grow, and how they think the program will help them get there.Applicants must also submit a letter of recommendation from their supervisor as well as a project such as a paper, poster, poem, or video that showcases their creativity and enthusiasm for the program.

Generally, the FFL program receives more than 20 applications each year. Of these, the credit union’s organizational development team reviews and selects approximately 10.

We don’t take everybody, says Budreau. It’s not a program for everybody. It’s for those who really express the desire to grow.

The program assigns participants two mentors one from retail delivery or sales and one from a different area who are both past FFL participants. Mentors and participants typically meet on a monthly basis. Mentors guide and direct participantsby showing how not just telling why. They share information, challenge the participants, expose participants to different aspects of the organization, and help them grow their business acumen.

Budreau and the credit union’s vice president of organizational development run the program and recruit members of the senior leadership such as the CEO, CFO, or chief technology officer to present on topics related to their areasof expertise during the program’s monthly meetings

FFL participants have a voice in selecting the topics and format of their monthly meetings, which might feature an outside speaker, a senior leader presentation, or a community-based team building activity. For example, the group visited a local businessthat pairs painting projects with cocktails and cookies for a lesson in diversity. During the session, participants painted their own interpretations of a tree. Each painting turned out differently.

It was a great opportunity for us to talk about how we all look different, but we all create and maintain value in some way, Budreau says. The six members of our senior leadership team hung our paintings in one of our conference rooms.When we are in that conference room with someone who hasn’t been in there before, we tell our story of diversity and team building.

Twice a year, the FFL program requires participants to give a presentation in front of fellow participants and senior leadership. For the first presentation, participants write a one-page summary of a book and give a four-to-six minute presentation onhow the book’s key concepts apply to FORUM. For the second presentation, several participants team up to write a two-page summary and give a 10-minute presentation. For many, it’s the first time they have presented in front of a groupsince high school or college.

It puts them out of their comfort zone a little bit, but our goal is to help them be a better business communicator and to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, impressions, and ideas, Budreau says. We try to do things that willstretch them, connect them, and expose them to new concepts all in an effort to grow their business acumen and help them grow where they want to grow and where we need them to grow as an organization.

Homegrown Leaders

During every monthly session, future leaders participate in a game called Pop the Question, which allows participants to ask senior leaders and mentors any question about a credit union procedure, process, or guideline. By the end of theyear, Budreau says, participants can answer the questions for one another instead of relying on the senior team or mentors.

It’s always great fun to see how much these folks have grown, how much they’ve changed, and how much they’ve learned in a 12-month program, Budreau says. Communication across departments and across teams open[s]up quite a bit, and that’s a powerful thing.

FORUM Future Leaders requires a not-insignificant investment on the part of the credit union; however, the return in terms of employee development is just as substantial. Although there is no guarantee that FFL participants will receive a promotion uponcompletion of the program, according to Budreau, 72% of participants have been promoted within the organization. And as employees develop internally, they receive external attention in the form of greater opportunities or offers of leadership rolesat other institutions. FORUM’s overall turnover rate is 20-25%, Budreau says. For graduates of the FFL program, it’s 30%.

We’re in retail, financial services, Budreau says. So we feel that’s very strong.

FFL training empowers participants to affect the balance sheet as well. After participating in the program, employees have a better understanding of the credit union’s business practices. They are able to peek under the hood, Budreausays. And when they understand why the credit union does the things it does, they understand how and why the numbers align.

The Future Of Future Leaders

FORUM relies on the feedback of FFL participants to develop future iterations of the program. Through the cloud-based online connection tool Basecamp, participants post suggestions, critiques, or comments on their personal experiences and the value ofthe program. FORUM also relies on personal surveys and face-to-face conversations.

Budreau hopes the program will continue to provide value to both the institution and its employee. As long as enough employees are interested and FORUM can provide insight not available in other capacities and develop leaders, then Budreau would likethe program to continue.

I love working with the employees in the FFL program because there is great energy and I always learn something, too, Budreau says. It improves our business because it gives the newer, younger, less-seasoned leaders the opportunityto express their ideas, be innovative, and create energy throughout the organization.

April 26, 2014

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