These 4 Pillars Are Transforming Culture At 1 Colorado Credit Union

Canvas Credit Union wants to be known for its people, and a different way of approaching HR is helping it achieve that goal.


Top-Level Takeaways

  • To execute on its vision of being know for its people, Canvas Credit Union is changing the way it approaches talent, performance, support, and learning.
  • Subject matter experts are working to build a workforce that makes the cooperative a place where people want to work as well as bank.

Canvas Credit Union($3.5B, Lone Tree, CO) is creating an ecosystem of leadership development that focuses on building a cooperative that is known for its people.

At the core of this cultural transformation is an overarching development framework that unifies communication, transparency, listening, performance evaluation, and succession planning across the enterprise. It’s a major shift, and ensuring its success won’t be easy.

Culture only works if everyone at the credit union owns and protects it, says Tansley Stearns, Canvas’ chief people and strategy officer since 2018.

Here, Stearns explains how the Front Range cooperative is cultivating its new paradigm.


Tansley Stearns, Chief People and Strategy Officer, Canvas Credit Union

Why did Canvas create HR pillars? What was the need? What are they?

Tansley Stearns: To be known for our people, we have to cast a broad and compelling vision and bring people along on the journey. Creating a strategy is complex; communicating it must be simple, crisp, digestible, and compelling.

We listened to our Canvas family our 675 employees to understand the needs of our leaders and their teams, and positioned that with our vision to be known for our people, then started framing what we needed to focus on talent, performance, support, and learning. These four HR pillars are crucial to our unified overarching development framework.

Who created the four pillars?

TS: Although our People team made the pillars tangible, every single one of our family and board members has a thumbprint on them. Everything we do is grounded in strategy and listening, and the pillars grew from what we have heard our Canvas family needs. The pillars and the visual we created to share them are a roadmap for our Canvas family to be even more successful in their role and career.


To ensure Canvas Credit Union becomes an organization known for its people, its HR team has established four pillars of people and culture that underpin the employee journey at the cooperative.

How did you create the pillars? How have you implemented them?

TS: Our People team leaders helped us shape what the pillars mean and how they can come to life, which allows us to execute and provide resources to ensure we do what we promise we will do.

Once we firmed our alignment across our People team leadership group, we worked with our internal creative agency to bring the visual representation to life.

What opportunities does this strategy address? How do you leverage this strategy?

TS: First, and most importantly, this approach drives us toward our vision to be known for our people.

On the talent side, one of my personal goals is that credit unions have the employer brand that organizations like Apple and Zappos do. Canvas and our talent team pave the way toward that dream. We have been honored three years running as a Great Place to Work.

What changes does this new approach bring to evaluations and career planning?

TS: Not many people love traditional performance management. We’re designing a performance leadership approach that ensures more feedback on a more frequent basis.

We’re also building succession planning and career progression well beyond the C-suite. In 2020, we had more than 91 internal promotions. We truly do grow our leaders from within.

5 Ways To Build 4 Pillars

As chief people and strategy officer, Tansley Stearns is responsible for human resources, marketing, and organizational strategy at Canvas Credit Union. She oversees the cooperative’s four pillars of HR initiative, which she also helped create. Here, she shares five best practices for creating pillars.

  1. Cast a bold vision. Bold dreams attract exceptional talent. People want to be part of something amazing.
  2. Build for your vision. Customize culture and human capital strategies to the needs of the organization.
  3. Listen. Listen. Listen. People’s expectations for work are changing. Listening enables HR to build solutions and approaches that solve real problems. Even when the feedback is hard to hear, knowledge allows credit unions to act in ways that make sense.
  4. Communicate. People won’t continue to share if they don’t think change manifests from their feedback. Listen, then share what you heard, tell what changes you made, and demonstrate the outcomes. If you can’t make changes, that transparent communication matters, too.
  5. Measure and recommend. HR teams are a cost center. Build metrics and scorecards, then leverage those measures to support leaders with recommendations for positive changes. Share best practices. This discipline will help earn the trust of leaders across the organization.

How are some of the changes to benefits and other employee support?

TS: Our support team analyzes and builds our benefits and total compensation approach. They provide support when challenging issues occur, have grown our wellness approach, and help our CanFam stay fully engaged in their wellbeing.

They also take data to a whole new level. Leveraging our HRIS system, UKG Pro, they create a dashboard to provide our leaders with recommendations on how to make the information actionable.

Talk more about the learning pillar.

TS: Our learning pillar helps us be known as the place where you go to learn how to learn.

In the past year, we’ve centralized our learning function to ensure our team grows with the credit union. We’re moving toward building even more customized learning in-house, and we’re working with Colorado State University to create an MBA program.

The learning team also partners with internal and external subject matters experts to infuse knowledge into our best practices for learning. Our new learning leaders are pivotal in this. Their partnership with SMEs ensure we have the best content designed exceptionally well for learning outcomes. Over time, we can scale our learning, extend learning across teams, and drive consistency in experiences both internally and externally.

What are learning leaders?

TS: We moved away from the nomenclature of manager. Managing is only one part of leading. To serve our Canvas family, we must grow and invite leaders to lead. On our People team, we have two learning leaders, Paul Vorreiter and Shannon Seales. We also have a design leader, Chelsea Lamont Frazier.

What challenges does this new HR strategy address? How are you meeting them?

TS: In a world changing this quickly, subject matters shift daily. We have to be nimble and flexible to shift, too. We also must be connected to resources that have the best content possible, and we must connect that content to our learners.


Data as of 09.30.21

HQ: Lone Tree, CO
MEMBERS: 269,407
ROA: 1.59%

We also want to ensure our Canvas family experiences the growth they desire a growth trajectory that also serves Canvas, our vision, and our purpose of helping people afford life.

What’s one thing you’ve learned so far in this process?

TS: We can’t drive the business, grow our organization, and create more impact for people unless our team is constantly growing, learning, and being challenged. It’s essential for us as we look to win the war for talent.

In the past few years, our belief that we are beholden to subject matter experts has shifted. We skinned our knees at times because we were so afraid of losing SMEs, even though our reliance on that left us with adult learning approaches that were not entirely effective.

How do you measure success in this initiative? What does it look like?

TS: We have a host of measures, but a couple are particularly vital. The listening we do through our annual Great Place to Work survey allows us to grow and become even better. And, that certification matters.

Another critical measure is internal growth. Again, we had 91 internal promotions last year, and we are trending well beyond that for 2021. That matters because we want as many internal people filling positions as possible. We want to grow our CanFam, and we do.

We also measure retention. Although that is a challenging metric not only in the Denver market but also with the great resignation occurring, we know we’ll continue to see more Canvas family members stay with us because of our investment in human beings.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


November 12, 2021

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