Recent News

The Wows and Woes of Cross-Training

Debbie Varney
October 13, 2014

Businesses use the athletic term “cross-training” as it relates to training employees to do more than one specialized job within the company. Many financial institutions incorporate cross-training into their risk management programs. According to the article “What Banks Learned about Risk Management in 2013” by Frank Santora and Susan Palm in American Banker, “banks need better talent management.”

The article goes on to say that, “amidst increasing risks and compliance complexity, it became clear in 2013 that there just aren’t enough people with the right skills to do what needs to be done. The work of the human resources department is more critical than ever, and banks need to get smart about their talent management programs. Rather than hire and train new staff, the focus should be on employee retention, training and professional development opportunities.” This makes great sense if the employee is worth keeping! That is why it is important to choose employees wisely in the beginning.

Santora and Palm also indicate that “creating centralized knowledge repositories that contain the collective wisdoms from the crowd will help ensure that critical knowledge doesn’t ever just rest with a handful of people. Organizations should depend on systems to retain and retrieve critical information in real-time, not on individuals.”

Branch Specialists

As financial institutions and their branches continue to change and evolve, cross-training will be essential in other ways. Some institutions already incorporate rotations and call their branch positions more generic terms such as team member, personal banker, or branch specialist.

A branch specialist can serve a client on any level needed in a branch (teller/cashier, open/close account, loan applications, and client service issues). This concept is designed to keep jobs interesting, attract highly skilled, competent employees that can learn a variety of skills, are versed in all products and services and can cross-sell more readily.

The branch specialist can be scheduled to serve in a capacity for a specific period of time, rotating to each position or to serve continuously in a position that is trained for all tasks. While this concept isn’t for every organization, having a few branch specialists moving throughout your organization solves some of the risk management issues.

The Wows

Did you notice anything so far? Many of the benefits for the institution also translate to the individual employees as well. Win-win—that’s hard to beat!

The Woes

Thinking It Through

Before implementing a cross-training program (as with any program) it is best to analyze the need, costs, pros, and cons for each situation. Here are some thinking points for you to consider:

Getting Started

As branch manager, it is imperative that you create a “safe” learning environment. Make sure everyone understands that it is okay to ask questions. Develop trust and instill confidence that this process is designed to help one another and to become a better team. The environment needs lots of positive reinforcement by all concerned, especially you! Ask how things are going and encourage positive communications.

Consider segmenting the cross-training so that employees aren’t overwhelmed. Employees that feel pressure to “get it” right away may shut down. Sometimes it is good to stop if an employee isn’t “getting it.” Allow time for learning and processing information. Don’t micro-manage employees while they are working together; let them come to you with any questions.

The Bottom Line

Cross-training employees can reduce your institution’s potential risk of losing valuable knowledge or becoming over-reliant on certain people. Remember, your employees are your biggest liability and biggest asset. Employees need attention, guidance and support. Treat them like they are your TALENT and TEAM (like in sports). Positive coaching and cross-training employees can create the team you never thought you could have . . . touchdown!

Debbie Varney is a seasoned banking professional who is now a business and HR consultant. Contact her at Reprinted with permission from Branch Manager’s Letter. Contact publisher Lana J. Chandler at 304-343-0206 or

Employment Law Update

Michael Patrick O’Brien
October 6, 2014

A national employment law firm news site is reporting that the rate of employee positive drug tests has increased for the first time in about a decade. The entity making the study handles drug testing from employers all across the country. The study indicated that use of marijuana and amphetamines have fueled the increase, notably in the states of Colorado and Washington where recreational marijuana use is now legal under state law. You can read the news report here:

Benefits Litigation Trends

 The primary federal law regulating employee pensions and benefits, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) is 40 years old this year. On this anniversary, there have been a number of articles discussing the impact of the law. One notes five interesting trends regarding issues currently under litigation involving ERISA. These trends are: (1) disputes over an employer’s obligation to negotiate lower fees on pension and 401(k) plans; (2) types of behaviors that breach plan fiduciary duties and the remedies for the same; (3) disputes over lost plan or employee records; (3) the impact of the Affordable Care Act; and (5) whether drops in stock prices or a restructure of benefits is a breach of a plan’s fiduciary duties. Happy Birthday ERISA!

EEOC Severance Lawsuit against Employer Dismissed

A federal court in Illinois has rejected and dismissed a lawsuit against an employer filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding the employer’s severance and release agreements. The EEOC had sued a large pharmacy company alleging that its severance release agreements are improper. The lawsuit attacked common provisions such as nondisparagement clauses and covenants not to sue—provisions it has previously approved in a similar context. One of the EEOC’s stated-concerns was its belief that such clauses will make an employee believe he/she cannot file an EEOC charge, something that can be done even if a release agreement has been signed. Yet, the challenged agreement itself contained a clause making sure the employee knew he/she retained such filing rights. The court ruled during a hearing and promised to issue a written opinion explaining its ruling. Stay tuned!

Major Employment Verdicts, Settlements, and Fines

A national computer products company has agreed to pay almost $12 million to settle claims that it improperly denied certain employees overtime pay required under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The case involved the alleged misclassification of workers in jobs involving technical consulting and service information development. A Utah hotel company has agreed to pay a $2 million fine to resolve claims that it inappropriately hired undocumented workers. The hotel apparently had been warned about the problem in 2011, fired 133 employees but then re-hired over 40 of those same workers via temp staffing agencies. A national shoe retailer will pay just under $1 million to resolve claims of age discrimination and retaliation resulting from a reduction in force. The company must also train all its employees in the involved locations on the prevention and eradication of age discrimination and also revise its anti-discrimination policy.

NLRB Rulings Continue to Vex Employers

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has continued to issue rulings that vex employers on the issue of employee rights to engaged in concerted activity under the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The latest rulings involve a privacy policy and Facebook activity. The first case involved an employee privacy policy at a school. The NLRB struck it down, concluding that it was overbroad. Specifically, the agency held that the privacy policy could be read to punish employees for discussing their wages and other matters related to the terms and conditions of employment. The policy language prohibited employees from disclosing any information about the school, its owners, students or employees. The second involved the discharge of two employees who had participated in a discussion about their employer’s state income tax withholding errors. One of the discharged employees had “liked” a comment made by a co-worker. The NLRB ruled that the Facebook activities were protected even though the employer had contended that the profanity-laced comments were defamatory and disparaging. The employer has appealed the NLRB ruling to a court, meaning that employers may soon get some case law guidance on whether the NLRB’s aggressive approach on these issues is valid.


Michael Patrick O'Brien is an employment attorney with Utah law firm of Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough ( He also serves as the Legal and Legislative Director for Utah’s Society for Human Resource Management chapter. Contact him at 801-534-7315 or

Guard Against Employment Practices Liability Claims

September 24, 2014

Economic volatility, changing demographics, and employees’ increasing awareness of their rights are fueling a rise in employment practices liability (EPL) claims, says Theran Colwell, director of risk management for CUNA Mutual Group.

As the workforce ages, “more people are falling under certain legislation, such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act,” he says.

Most EPL claims involve multiple allegations, Colwell adds, namely wrongful termination, retaliation, and discrimination. Such claims expose organizations to a range of potential penalties, such as high-dollar settlements, back pay, state or federal fines, legal costs, or injunctive relief.

“And don’t forget about reputation costs,” he says.

Colwell suggests four steps credit unions can take to help prevent EPL claims:

1. Have up-to-date, board-approved anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, and other personnel policies.

2. Have an expert employment practices attorney review those polices annually.

3. Train employees, board members, and other volunteers on anti-harassment and anti-discrimination behavior. Also, train managers on anti-retaliation.

4. Document employment actions and retain this information.

For more information, visit CUNA Mutual’s Protection Resource Center or its employment practices liability website.


Are You Planning the Innovation Out of Your Organization?

Michael Hudson
September 22, 2014

A challenge has emerged recently in my strategic planning work that has caused me to ask the question in the headline. It seems to be occurring across credit unions of all sizes, and it is serious enough that it can threaten their very existence.

Here’s how it happens.

Someone comes up with an idea that has merit–something innovative that may increase efficiency, reduce costs, improve service or just make people’s leaves easier. Leadership believes it is worth pursuing, so they form a team, create a project, and the process takes over.

The objective is sound–to make sure they are allocating resources effectively, maintaining appropriate controls, and staying abreast of what’s happening within the business. But this reliance on what can become overly cumbersome processes that are applied to even the smallest opportunity can be a serious mistake.

My point: Not every action or idea merits a project and resource allocation plan! Many don’t even require a team, decision tree, or a project plan. They merely require action from an individual or two who focus on getting something done that will create a positive impact.

The real issue is that the aforementioned ‘project approach’ can literally drive innovation out of the organization.

When people realize that any idea big or small is going to create more work for them (and others), they become reluctant to share their ideas. Ultimately, this leads to people withdrawing and giving up because they don’t believe change is actually possible anymore, because the well -intentioned systems are now in the way.

The reality is that innovation is about both big and small changes. If every little action has to be planned, debated, and discussed, nothing ever happens. And if opportunities to take small actions are stifled, then opportunities to take more significant actions will disappear.

So what can you do?

1. Increase the level of authority employees have to make things happen without asking for permission or involving anyone else. 

Leverage the talent in the organization and encourage people to act to improve the things they can improve. When Bill Gore built W.L. Gore and Associates, Inc. he implemented two questions that employees should ask if they had a new idea they wanted to pursue: If it works, will it be worthwhile? If it doesn’t work, can the company survive? If the answer to those two questions was yes, then the project could be undertaken. What question(s) would create that level of empowerment and ownership in your credit union?

2. Get serious about breaking down barriers and obstacles to innovation. 

Find ways to make it easier for people to take small actions that will accumulate to produce significant impacts. For example, Best Buy uses a system called Twelpforce that empowers employees to see Best Buy-related problems that customers have aired on Twitter and respond to them. More than 2,500 Best Buy employees have signed up for this system, including customer service staff, in-store sales associates and Geek Squad, the people who make has calls for technical service. Instead of losing ground to complaints on social media, it has empowered its employees to rescue the brand.

3. Create an idea bank and facilitate the ideation process every day. 

Develop a place where ideas are gathered, shared, and enhanced. Set up a few whiteboards where people can debate options and explore ways to do things differently. Schedule regular meetings to discuss the ideas in the bank with a focus on refining them, enhancing them, and, most importantly, acting upon them. Better yet, cover a few walls with white board laminate or paint, invest in a few colored pens, and encourage people to invest time in developing and sharing ideas for improving things. Celebrate the process and encourage participation, change the conversation from why things don’t work to how you can make them work, and make it easy to put the ideas that emerge into action.

Action advice: Create an environment for sharing ideas within your credit union with no strings attached. Empower your employees to research and give them the tools they need so they can develop the potential of their ideas. Find ways to make innovation part of every day, not something that is done only as part of a project or process that feels burdensome and limiting.

Michael Hudson works with credit unions to implement strategies, leadership programs, and culture-building programs. Reprinted with permission from

Calibrate Your Leadership Style with Three Questions

Jeffrey DeWolf
September 19, 2014

Leadership positions at all levels exist to ensure results through the efforts of others. Leadership style and behaviors themselves, however, often create barriers to getting those results.

One non-negotiable for effective leadership is self-awareness. It’s important to be aware of how your leadership style, habits, and attitudes affect others.

An aware leader is one who understands his or her limitations and humbly seeks to remove stumbling blocks caused by natural tendencies and rote management practices.

In my experience, a common thread runs through many of the relationship problems that exist between leaders and employees. Most of the time, leaders are simply unaware that a change in their own personal behavior could result in significant operational and morale improvement.

The problem is not that a leader is inflexible or unwilling to change, it’s that he or she has never been actually told what changes might help.

Here’s a simple exercise that has the potential to radically improve your reporting relationships. I’ve seen this work in organizations of all sizes—even families.

The process is simple. Either one-on-one or in a team setting, ask your employees three questions:

These questions give your employees the permission and opportunity to share what they see as helpful, harmful, or missing behaviors in your personal leadership style and practice.

Afterward, simply walk through the list and get clarification if needed. Don’t be defensive, but rather seek to understand the reasons for the items on the list.

In some cases, the requests may not be feasible at first blush. But resist the temptation to reject ideas right away.

Consider seeking outside help

If your first reaction is a concern about getting honest feedback, consider using a facilitator or employee volunteer to draw out and record the answers to the three questions without you present. This gives the team a bit more anonymity when you return to the room to discuss the comments.

For this process to be helpful, it’s critical how you frame the exercise and what you do with the results.

First, explain that you want the team to be successful and that you want to improve as a leader. It takes humility and courage to admit you need feedback to improve your performance.

Being willing to take on a process like this demonstrates a healthy leadership humility.

Second, prepare yourself to nondefensively review, consider, and act on what you learn from the exercise. If you collect the information and do nothing with it, you will likely do more damage than if you had never asked in the first place.

This is not to say you must implement every suggestion. But you should consider each one seriously, and communicate why certain requests may not be feasible at that time.

When done correctly, this simple leadership feedback process can revolutionize your relationship with your people, create additional trust, and result in improved team performance.

JEFF DeWOLF is senior vice president of talent & culture at CommunityAmerica Credit Union in Kansas City.

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