Friday, September 30, 2005

Sometimes the Best Way to Learn is to Teach

We completed a new class at Verity yesterday, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Based on the book by Dr. Stephen Covey, the class is designed for participants to explore individual priorities and interpersonal communication. It’s a cool program because I get the sense that each participant walks away with a personal connection to the concepts delivered. The impetus to offer this came last year, when I was trying to figure out a quality program that anyone at our credit union could benefit from. I realized at the time that we were gearing a lot our training towards the frontline staff. That’s not wrong, however, our vision is to become one of the 10 best places to work and I wanted other staff to feel like they had access to training and development opportunities.
The class proved to be a valuable teaching tool for me as well. Because this was a new program, I held the group for an extra half hour each day to ask for feedback about the pacing, logistics, and set up. The quality of feedback surprised me. (I’m used to evaluations that rate everything “great” with comments that say something like “more candy would be nice” or “the room was cold”). This group talked about the effectiveness of certain activities, timing needs for individual work, and a myriad of other factors that contribute to a dynamic class. It reminded me of Habit 6-Synergize…where 1 + 1 = 3. Meaning, the feedback they provided was far better than was I would have evaluated on my own, or even with another trainer. Very cool.
Going over the 7 Habits again also reminded me of my own paradigms; especially those that I tend to get stuck in. The previous week I was frustrated at my inability to get results on a couple key projects. Notice the language on that last sentence…had it been last week I would have said, “why am I so exhausted?” or “how come I don’t have more time?” or “how come this is so hard?” It is so easy sometimes to focus on the circumstances I have no control over. This class was a good reminder for me to stay grounded in my values and focus on those things I can influence. Choosing my response. Being proactive. Living the 7 Habits.
Very, very cool.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Passion, I See, Is Catching - A Blog About Western CUNA Management School (Part II)

This is a continuation of the blog posted on August 2nd detailing my experiences as a first year student at Western CUNA Management School.

And passion has a powerful effect on those around it. Tina’s passion had made a difference at Verity. Her experience definitely influenced the decision to send three more people the following year. Paul, Vivian, and Allan all left that year and returned with something that I had seen before…excitement. They were excited about credit unions, Verity, and the difference that an individual could make. With Tina’s encouragement and various conversations with Paul, Vivian, and Allan I decided that this was an avenue I wanted to pursue.

Now here is the great thing about working at a credit union and specifically Verity. In order to attend a conference like this it takes time and money (obviously). Enter the Washington Credit Union League. They offer scholarships for individuals interested in attending this school along with other educational events. In order to be considered for this scholarship you must submit an essay detailing what you hope to gain by attending. This process really reaffirmed to me what a great industry this is to work in. The fact that a resource like the Washington Credit Union League exists to support credit unions and their employees grow is truly unique. It also shows how committed Verity is to our vision statement of: Verity will be one of the 10 best places to work. People will seek to work at Verity and staff will be sought after by other companies. If you are motivated to grow Verity will support you in your efforts, as this whole experience demonstrates.

With the scholarship money and support from my credit union I signed up for the school. The easy part was done. You see I had now built up this extraordinary image of what this school would be like, now it had to live up to it. That part was out of my hands.

It was a Sunday in the middle of July when I walked through the doors at Oldenborg Hall at Pomona College in California. All I knew was this campus was going to be my home for the next two weeks. I chuckled to myself as I thought about sleeping in a dorm room again. As I pushed through the door to check in something entirely unexpected happened. I was greeted by cheering, loud enthusiastic cheering, from various second and third year students. They weren’t cheering because I am such a great guy (although I like to tell myself that was the reason); they were cheering because they were excited. They were excited, scratch that, passionate about what the school had given to them and that I was now going to be able to experience it. I didn’t know how to react. Should I turn and run? Should I thank everyone? I ended up just smiling and walked through. There was passion everywhere and it was already starting to catch on with us first year students.

Later in the day we had our “Freshman Orientation” with Dr. Likens. He is the person who runs the school. But as I came to realize he didn’t just run the school, this was his life’s work…his passion. He was dedicated to the credit union movement and used the school to ensure that our industry could develop the talent to lead credit unions into the future.

He talked to us that first day about head and heart. You see this is the essence of the credit union movement. We must use our heads to make appropriate decisions on how to run our credit unions. This is vital. However in serving our members we must also use our hearts. We have the responsibility to look for opportunities in which we can positively impact the lives of both our members and the communities we serve. It can be summed up that we must make smart decisions to run a sound credit union but we must consider who we serve when we make these decisions.

Over the next two weeks I was given the opportunity to attend classes taught by both college professors and prominent credit union officials. These classes ranged from accounting to business law. I’m not going to go in depth about these classes but I will say I took something away from all of them. If you would like more information please e-mail me at justinm@veritycu.com.

What I do want to talk about are the people I met during my two weeks there. Have you ever had an experience that you just can’t describe in a way that did it justice? That is how I feel about my time at the school. The Sunday that I arrived to the cheering I was part of a class that consisted of exactly 124 strangers. In only two weeks these people transformed from strangers into my classmates. Admittedly I got to know some better then others but at one point I believe I held a conversation with everyone. This is what I learned; there are remarkable people in this industry. I learned so much from these people that I would have to start another blog longer then this one to get it all down (and I'll spare you that). I’ll just say this, that by simply meeting and talking to these people I grew. I grew in both my ability to do my job and also personally. It still amazes me that I was only there for two weeks.

Now I am back at my credit union but the school is still helping me grow. Before I attend next year I get to complete a project in which I analyze pretty much every aspect of my credit union. This is a lot of work (goodbye lazy Sundays) but also a great opportunity to be able to have a working knowledge of how my credit union runs. I can truly say that passion has caught on with me and that it is an amazing thing.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

We Are Not Just Corporate Cheerleaders

Today I returned from a national conference for credit union trainers. I went to this conference for my own professional development but also to accept a national award, the Training Champion Award, presented by CUNA (Credit Union National Association). Although there are several award categories (we won first place last year for our internal university) this award is perhaps the most intriguing to me. It acknowledges management teams that demonstrate support for training initiatives at their respective credit unions.

We nominated our executive team for several reasons. Bill, our CEO, is chancellor of our university. He meets each new hire to talk about our mission and values and mentions how training is not just a benefit, but an expectation to help us achieve our vision of becoming one of the 10 best places to work. John, our Executive VP, works with the training department as a strategic partner by collaborating on our core system processes or by supporting training programs. (He also created and sang an awesome song for our university launch). Sherry, our Senior VP of Operations is a student in Verity University and a strong supporter of training. Shari, our VP of Marketing & Business Development, is a VU student and also a teacher—she just created and taught a Business Writing Skills class for all staff.

What I learned at this conference is that many other organizations do not have this support. Other individuals expressed frustration at being viewed as “just a trainer” or the “corporate cheerleader” or “not having respect at the executive table.” In a way, I can relate. I started at Verity just over three years ago and took on a relatively new and undeveloped function. We had some reputation building to do, too. Since that time, we have hired another trainer and our programs have gone through a metamorphosis from frontline systems and regulations to include leadership, sales, quality service, advanced system functions, communications, time management and one-on-one or department-specific programs. I think the key is to always strive for something better. To celebrate success, but never sit back and say, “good enough.” I think learning is an ongoing process that can often be enhanced, improved, updated, or recreated to be more dynamic, more engaging, or more effective.

I would like to have this amazing summary sentence right now that would leave you inspired to go read a book or want to sign up for a class at Verity (if you are an employee reading this blog) or maybe just stop and say out loud, “right on, sister!”…but…I guess I’ll just say that I’m excited to be back and get to work on the next program launch. I hope it makes a difference to someone at Verity.