Summit Credit Union’s learning programs opening eyes in the training and development world

Kimberly Frederickson knows the value of curling up with an old classic – and as assistant vice president of learning and development for Summit Credit Union, she understands more than most the importance of lifelong learning.

The Madison-based credit union may seem like any other growing financial services entity, but as part of its stated commitment to its members, it has focused a great deal of attention on the performance of its employees. That’s an emphasis that was brought into sharp relief recently when the credit union won its second consecutive ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) Best Award, which recognizes organizations for excellence in employee learning and development.

“I think the training function is more highly valued when we function as strategic players in an organization.” – Kimberly Frederickson, Summit Credit Union

Thirty companies from around the world received the annual award this time around, and among these, Summit was the smallest, with industry behemoths such as Shell Oil and UPS also collecting hardware.

“I would say it’s definitely a big deal to win the award,” said Frederickson. “You look at the organizations that have won this award, and they’re big organizations, and so especially for us, it’s very exciting to win the award and be in the company of organizations like Shell Oil and the U.S. Navy.”

The power of performance consulting

While Summit isn’t exactly a little fish in a big pond – its 23 locations make it a major player in the Madison and Milwaukee areas – it may indeed be punching above its weight when it comes to getting the most out of its training efforts.

For that, Frederickson credits the organization’s focus on performance consulting – a training approach that was first delineated in the seminal 1996 book Performance Consulting: Moving Beyond Training by Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson. It’s a book that Frederickson still recommends to people and that her organization drew guidance from as it transitioned to its current training protocol.

The Robinsons define performance consulting this way: “Performance consulting is a process in which a client and consultant partner to accomplish the strategic outcome of optimizing workplace performance in support of business goals.”

So instead of simply having workers attend a training program and acquire a skill, companies rely on a client-consultant relationship that demands those workers achieve certain strategic outcomes.

“Achievement of business goals and the improvement of work group performance are strategic outcomes,” write Dana and James Robison. “The linkage of business results to the accomplishments required of people is a key concept. … What ultimately matters is that these individuals apply the skills on the job so that their performance improves and the business benefits.”

For Frederickson, this involves a far more active than passive role for members of the organization.

“What we’ve generally tried to do is integrate our employees more fully into the organization so they might be involved in helping to identify strategies and recommendations that link to our organizational and business goals,” said Frederickson. “They might be partnering with different managers and leaders of the organization to help identify performance improvement opportunities that would be developmental training in nature. They really function more as a business partner than a service area, and it took us awhile to do that, but that really is the shift we’ve taken.

“So, for example, instead of assuming that every performance problem has a training solution, our team might work with the business area and really assess if their performance is a performance problem as a result of training, or is there a non-training solution?”

Aside from simply making groups like the ASTD stand up and take notice, Frederickson said Summit’s approach to training has some tangible benefits.

“I think it’s such an effective model for learning within an organization,” said Frederickson. “I think the training function is more highly valued when we function as strategic players in an organization. It deepens our relationships and partnerships with business units. It engages our managers to take a more active role in partnering and collaborating on performance issues. Having the performance consulting approach allows our team members to broaden their skill base, and they get greater value out of it. Plus, I think it provides better support and resources for our managers.”



For companies that might want to transition to a performance consulting model, Frederickson has some advice:

“Really having a strong plan for measuring and evaluating learning and tying it to business results and impact,” said Frederickson. “I think that’s a really hard thing to do in general, and everybody in the training field will tell you that’s really hard because quite often the impact isn’t a direct correlation of training.

“Training is simply a contributor to the overall results, but looking for ways to measure that impact and make those ties is important. [It’s also important to educate] managers and leadership in the organization on their role in the learning process and the outcome so it is more of a learning-as-a-partnership approach.”

Going high-tech

Another component of Summit’s training program is its reliance on technology, which has become particularly important in light of the credit union’s expansion.

“Summit has grown to be more geographically diverse than we once were, and so that really forced us to look at the training we provide and move beyond just training face to face,” said Frederickson. “And so what we really try to do is offer all of our curricula in a sort of blended format, where there may be some face-to-face instructor-led pieces, but where it’s also including broad-based courses and live webinars and on-the-job mentoring and management coaching, and so the course is not an isolated event. It’s more of a continuum for the employee, and what we’ve seen with that is obviously significant reduction in time and travel expenses for our employees.”

Of course, in the end, Summit’s training program is not just about offering better customer service – it’s also about fostering a good work environment. In 2012, the company’s 323 employees engaged in 12,108 hours of learning, and the credit union’s training and development area offers more than 1,130 hours of training to its employees. That, says Frederickson, makes the company an appealing place to work.

“We know that people want development opportunities and they want access to that learning,” said Frederickson. “So I think it does help us from a recruitment standpoint to be able to offer our employees the quality of training we receive. We hear consistently in training from employees that have come from other organizations that the training that they’ve received here is far and above anything they had received at other organizations. So I think that, again, from a recruiting standpoint, it’s helpful.”

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