Mountain America Trains Staff With Storytelling
Credit unions experiencing rapid growth can find it challenging to keep all employees on the same page and to keep pace with important training.
Staff members may not be aware of the latest marketing campaigns or may lose interest in the organization's mission - unless there is an opportunity for interaction that reinforces those messages. In addition, new employees may be struggling to grasp complex concepts related to services.
In response, some cooperatives have discovered innovative ways to train employees and to encourage them to embrace the corporation's core values. For example, Mountain America Credit Union launched a training program that incorporates storytelling.
The $3.9 billion cooperative in West Jordan, Utah, utilizes the Learning Through Storytelling program to enable employees to gain a better understanding of complicated issues.
The program recently earned an excellence award from the CUNA HR/TD Council.
“The HR/TD Council Excellence Award recognizes and honors credit unions that exemplify excellence in HR and training and development in the credit union industry,” said Jennifer Huggard, chair of the council's awards committee. “These awards are important to our council because it allows us to celebrate what our peers are accomplishing and learning from it.”
Suzanne Oliver, a Mountain America SVP, said the CUNA award provided well-deserved recognition for the staff members who created the Learning Through Storytelling program.
“Our team has worked hard to develop creative training programs, which help our employees better understand concepts that have been difficult in the past,” Oliver explained. “It helps all of us have a greater appreciation for what we do for our members.”
Oliver said the training program offers many benefits, including appealing to Gen Y trainees.
As part of the program, Mountain America's team created storytelling videos to help employees internalize challenging concepts. Five staff members – Jenna Anderson, Clarissa Anderson, Jay Turner, Desiree Kallas and Danielle Dale – wrote, designed, filmed and edited the video stories which are now shown during operational training classes.
Stories gathered by the credit union's communications team are also shared during daily staff meetings. Stories are powerful training tools that can help introduce new hires to organizational culture, shift perspectives without alienating the audience, and increase understanding of challenging subject matter, according to the 2012 book, “Storytelling Techniques for Training.”
Mountain America launched its storytelling program because speedy growth in recent years had prompted some concern about maintaining the organization's corporate culture, Oliver said.
The goal was to introduce concepts that might seem a bit boring and overwhelming as interesting and fun, she said, adding that teaching through showing has helped improve trainees’ understanding of business structures, trust accounts and other challenging concepts.
Another plus, she said, is that storytelling video training can be used and re-used in and of the classroom setting. In addition, video stories can be easily updated.
The storytelling aspect of the program also manifests itself in other ways, such as in-class skits. For example, one training skit, called “Driving Ms. Leslie,” helps account trainees understand the difference between wills and trusts and to understand various types of trust. The skit shares the story of a fictional member whose cars serve as metaphors in a tale that helps viewers understand the difference between revocable trusts, irrevocable trusts and wills. The skit served as the basis for a video, which is still part of the program.
A different approach was used in “Our Little Town,” an animated skit that helps employees understand the difference between sole proprietorships, general and limited partnerships, LLCs, corporations and non-profit organizations.
“Employees who previewed ‘Driving Ms. Leslie’ loved it and the humor, but at first, we wondered whether they actually learned anything,” said Shelley Muhlestein, assistant vice president of educational services at Mountain America.
“Teaching the understanding of trusts and business structures has been a true test and trial for our trainers as they work to prepare our financial service representatives to become competent and confident as they serve our members,” Muhlestein added.
To determine if knowledge was being retained, trainees were tested before and after the video. “Prior to viewing the video, participants were asked to rate their familiarity with wills and trusts, including revocable and irrevocable trusts,” Muhlestein explained. “The results showed a 266% increase in knowledge concerning the difference between wills and trusts and a 489% increase in knowledge concerning the difference between revocable and irrevocable trusts.”
The credit union also hosted a contest to encourage employees to share stories about how they have benefited from taking online courses offered by Mountain America. The winner became the star of a video, which will be used for training.
“She explained how taking the online courses has impacted her life at work and outside of work,” Oliver said. “By sharing her very moving story, she encouraged others to also sign up for online learning.”