WEST JORDAN, Utah-As Mountain America Credit Union has grown to 63 branches in four states, keeping all employees properly and consistently trained, and morale high, has become increasingly challenging.

Its solution-a series of programs and an employee recognition and rewards platform has earned from Credit Union Journal a Best Practice award for Internal Training and Education.

The $2.8-billion Mountain America has developed a cross-training program for MSRs titled "Fundamentals of New Accounts for MSRs" training class. Class structure of the Fundamentals training is a blend of online pre-work, a two-hour instructor-led training and practice session-which are delivered via webinar, a mock interview and evaluation exercise-and online post-work assignments.

The online training has saved the credit union numerous expenses, including mileage reimbursement, airfare, hotel and meal costs.

The first Fundamentals of New Accounts for MSRs class was offered in March. Since that time 18 employees have completed the training and 14 more are enrolled and working on the course. The training Fundamentals class has been "well-received" and has been a "win-win solution for all involved," the CU reported.

Managed Learning

Mountain America CU also knew it needed to put in place an Employee Annual Learning plan that is coordinated through a central location for disseminating training to all branches and corporate departments in a uniform manner.

The goal was to find a learning management system (LMS) with a cost that would enable MACU to purchase a user license for each employee. The new LMS was purchased in the fall 2009. A representative from each department involved in the distribution of training courses met to set up an online training calendar. This group designated the course to be taught each month and course completion deadlines were determined.

Training courses for the Annual Learning Plan for 2010 included: student lending, Red Flags overview, sexual harassment prevention, sales, insurance certification, Bank Secrecy Act, business ethics, security, fraud prevention and safe deposit box training.

MACU said its employees have completed 2,767 courses as the Annual Learning Plan has helped eliminate redundancy and saved training staff time. Just one online university course has a major cost-savings impact:

* It can save up to 255 hours of training staff teaching time.

* Saves approximately $3,400 in travel costs (air fares, gas, hotels, etc.).

* Saves branch employee overtime pay costs and travel costs.

* Training staff's time is freed up to complete additional projects.

Suzanne Oliver, SVP of educational services for Mountain America CU, said both the Learning Management System and the distance training program have had a "positive impact" on the credit union "because, although it is a trite phrase, everyone is on the same page."

"It is one of the ways we are getting communication out to all individuals," she said. "It helps on compliance because when examiners come in and want to know what we have done about the Bank Secrecy Act or sexual harassment, we have all of those things recorded so we can prove we have done all of the things that are needed."

Overall, employees like the programs, Oliver reported. She said sometimes staffers feel burdened, but they are given a month to complete a course so they don't feel as if they have to put everything else on hold.

"It is easy to inundate the frontline staff because they have to remember so many things," she said. "We establish a learning culture within Mountain America. We do a lot of training, so many of our employees simply feel it is normal. They are learning a lot, but that is what they are used to. We have employees in four different states, so the online courses help us get information out that is consistent and timely."

Although Oliver does not think any CU's staff can ever be 100% prepared, she said MACU is "much better prepared than before."

Don't Hold That Applause

With the training programs in place, MACU implemented a review of its rewards and recognition program and found it lacked a day-to-day recognition component, leading to the creation of its "Applause" system.

Applause is structured to provide employees with two benefits-financial recognition for performance and personal recognition for a job well done.

Personal Recognition comes through eCards. All employees can send eCards to anyone in the credit union using a variety of customizable templates. The theory: it not only encourages peer-to-peer recognition, but employee-to-manager recognition as well.

Financial Recognition is in the form of points. Managers can award points to any employee in their direct reporting line, as little as $5 up to $100 at one time. The points can be redeemed immediately, or employees can save their points for bigger ticket items, such as a Wii or a family vacation.

The main Applause landing page receives nearly 1,500 unique hits a week, and by the end of the first quarter of the program, 62% of MACU's managers had awarded points, and nearly 90% of all managers had recognized their employees through eCards.

To date, managers have awarded 130,375 points. The CU reported that employees have cited Applause as a great benefit in employee engagement surveys.

'Aspirational' Elements

Lynn Stephens, SVP of human resources, said while some employees immediately cash in their points for a free lunch, others prefer the "aspirational" element of saving points for something extra nice.

"One of the most expensive items is a kayak, so we joke there are 'Kayak Folks' out there who are saving up points," he explained. "So there is a forward-looking aspect, but also there is a reward for a job well done. We wanted to have it be more than just a dollar awards thing. When a manager recognizes an employee there is a points award, but it is great to have a peer-to-peer recognition."

Applause is easy to use, Stephens continued, noting it is faster than pulling a thank you note out of one's desk and writing a note. There is a range of designs. "We talked to a bunch of people before we rolled this out and tried to find the best way to do it," Stephens recalled. "The recommendations we got were for it to be points-based, allow for peer recognition and make it web-based do anyone can look at it wherever they are. It has worked really well. People use it. It is imbedded in our culture now.

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