Five ways to ensure learning becomes a strategic partner in a rapidly changing world

You’ve likely heard and read a lot about education in the last year. Like so many things, the pandemic has put significant strain on learning and students. From elementary through post-graduate school, students and teachers alike are learning new ways to learn. We understand now more than ever the importance education plays in all our lives. 

In our home, we’ve seen the myriad of possibilities for education to create impact. Our vibrant fourth grade daughter, MacKenzie, spent much of 2020 learning remotely with the support of her father and grandparents. We wanted her to be able to continue seeing her grandparents while keeping them safe, so remote learning felt like the best decision. As we approached 2021, our perspective shifted as we observed our only child missing out on key parts of school, the social and interpersonal interactions.

Even pre-pandemic, MacKenzie saw the power of great learning leaders teaching remotely. Her music teacher, Ms. Amber, who started teaching MacKenzie in Madison, Wisconsin moved to North Carolina very shortly after we moved to Colorado. When we were not able to find a strong music teacher in our local area, I asked Ms. Amber for recommendations and she suggested we try to learn with her remotely. The combination of the endearing relationship Ms. Amber and MacKenzie had along with Ms. Amber’s exceptional teaching skills have led to strong learning outcomes through an entirely remote approach.

Whether remote, in-person, public or private, the power of learning shines. With this backdrop, and the firehose of inputs about education and ways to make it stronger, learning’s importance within credit unions has emerged as a strategic imperative. There is good reason that it’s become cliché to say that the world is changing rapidly. Think about your own time at the credit union and all that has changed. If you started in marketing in the 1990’s, there was no social media. If you started in member service in 2019, the expectation of service was transformed in 2020. Our organizations and our teams must be lifelong learners driven by curiosity. 

Canvas Credit Union has been on a journey to transform learning for our family members (the way we describe our employees). With a vision pillar “to be known for our people” as we help Coloradans afford life, we recognized the need to elevate our learning approach so that we ensure stronger development outcomes. Along the way we’ve learned a lot, too.

Here are five things to consider including in your learning strategy as you work to attract and retain top talent while manifesting exceptional outcomes in service to your membership:

  1. Elevate learning as a competency. I’m humbled and grateful for the expertise MacKenzie’s teachers have in learning. They have iterative approaches to engage the students and know how to use different mediums well. They have tried many things that do and do not work and elevate the approaches that do. The best learning and development professionals can create methodologies, materials, and experiences that will transform the way that your employees learn and how impactful that learning is. Consider roles in your organization that focus on instructional design, learning needs analysis, delivery, and measuring learning outcomes. Imagine if the annual compliance training that most of us dread transformed into fun and engaging content that not only checks the box for our regulators, but also creates an experience that better connects with your team members.
  2. Take subject matter expertise off the pedestal. We’ve all felt it. That horror when our most experienced team member, that has been using our core system for years, tells us that they are leaving the credit union. Like the disclaimer about side effects from a troubling ad for a new medicine, you may have experienced a headache, nausea, or excessive perspiration. Let me be clear, subject matter expertise matters. However, for most of what we do within credit unions, the subjects we need to teach can be learned by strong learning professionals. Marrying subject matter experts with strong learning professionals will create learning that engages, systems and documentation that sustains, and ultimately better prepare credit union team members so they can serve one another and our members well. When our learning and development team spends time learning from our very best system experts, we can make the system training fun and better connected to the entirety of the member experience. This means that our newest family members will not only learn which buttons to push, they will also learn how pushing those buttons integrates with how we talk with our members and better assess their needs. That’s the power of marrying subject matter experts with learning professionals. 
  3. Start by listening. Partner with your functional area leaders to understand what they see as the biggest learning opportunity areas for their teams. Once you’ve listened, integrate themes that connect across the organization. While there may be narrowly focused needs in one area, there are likely opportunities around innovation, service, sales, and systems that are consistent across many teams. Prioritizing these shared needs will support a cost-effective approach, scaling, and help to drive a common experience that is unique to your organization and your brand. 
  4. Partner, partner, and partner again. While we do not want to rely solely on subject matter experts, your subject matter experts matter deeply. Your learning and development team will need to learn from your system experts, your leaders, your process experts, and more. These partnerships will ensure your learning leaders understand exactly what needs to be imparted so they can incorporate that knowledge into a learning approach that grows expertise within all those that need it. You may even wish to have a liaison assigned from each functional area to be a partner with the learning team. 
  5. Demonstrate outcomes and results. We must always be stewards of our members’ money. Help your organization better understand the investment in learning and development by listening to needs, building strong learning content, engaging learners, measuring their learning and perspectives on the experience, and then showing how the learning changed and enhanced the credit union’s objectives. Sample outcomes to consider tracking include:
    • Sales results before learning and after learning over time
    • Service feedback from members before learning and after learning over time
    • Team member retention with those that are regularly engaged in learning
    • Annual internal promotions 

There were many dark moments in 2020; one of the bright spots was just how acutely all of us saw the need for and power of education. Credit unions have an opportunity to integrate learning as a strategic function that drives the credit union’s aims and grows value for members. When done well, it will not only deliver for our members, it will help us win the war for exceptional talent.

Tansley Stearns

Tansley Stearns

Tansley is a dynamic force of nature, fiercely crusading on behalf of all credit unions while tirelessly driving forward the brand image and family spirit of Canvas. She joined us ... Web: https://www.canvas.org Details

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