Revolutionizing leadership development for the future

FORUM Credit Union’s strategic approach to leader development helps the organization stay ahead of the curve, ensuring a robust talent pipeline and fostering a resilient organizational culture.

“If I hear the expression the new normal one more time,” a leader stated during a recent leader development discussion, “I might just lose my mind. When will things go back to the OLD normal, the way they were before the pandemic?”

As organizational leaders yearn for the simplicity of the past, they are quickly realizing that there have been fundamental changes that require mindset and practice shifts to effectively connect with, enable and lead teams toward business results. 

In the ever-evolving landscape of business, the traditional adage, “the show must go on,” requires a paradigm shift to “the show must change,” reflecting the urgency to equip leaders with strategies to create an environment where their teams are motivated and equipped to thrive. Fostering an environment that prioritizes inspiring, coaching and developing teams is crucial, given the demands of the future workforce. 

This necessitates an essential shift for future leaders toward enhancing critical thinking and adaptability, alongside emotional intelligence, business acumen and cross-functional relationships. The evolving landscape for leaders supports the early identification and grooming of diverse future leaders as it is critical for sustainable leadership succession.

FORUM Credit Union, ranked as one of the “Best Places to Work in Indiana” since 2011, is at the forefront of this leadership evolution with a dedicated focus on leader development within its organizational development team. This collaborative strategy is instrumental in providing hands-on support to credit union leaders, fostering a culture of trust and accountability.

Evolutionary leadership development approach

Over the past two years, FORUM’s leader development strategy has emphasized the importance of emotional intelligence and trust among leaders and their teams. Moving forward, the focus will pivot toward fostering accountability. This forward-looking approach at FORUM recognizes that leadership is a continuous journey, necessitating continuous adaptation and growth. With a workforce spanning five generations, FORUM is strategically preparing for the retirement of multiple employees over the next several years, including executives and department leaders, by identifying and nurturing potential successors within the organization through an internally-developed aspiring leader program. 

Participants are comprised of cross-functional individual contributors who are seeking growth and future opportunities within the organization. While career development is important to many professionals, regardless of generation or experience level, it is evident that young professionals bring a heightened expectation that their organizations will invest in their continued growth and development. If they do not receive this, they are more likely to leave the company, creating deeper talent gaps across all levels and functions.

Immersive development program

FORUM’s three-year immersive development program for aspiring leaders, “Illuminate,” is a testament to its commitment to cultivating future talent. The comprehensive program, spanning various facets of effective leadership, offers a unique blend of theory and practical experience, culminating in a personalized development plan designed collaboratively between the aspiring leader and their direct supervisor. Throughout the program, aspiring leaders experience a day in the life of a leader so the group simulates the reality of being a leader before ever stepping into the role. 

A vision for the future

As the landscape of leadership development continues to transform, FORUM has shifted from a peer-driven development program, focused primarily on enabling middle managers, to a more comprehensive leader development series for leaders at all functional levels and reflects on the dynamic fluidity of modern leadership. In the future, the strategy will place an increased focus on driving a “leader r/evolution” to prepare for the future needs of impactful and engaging leaders. The aim is to foster a culture of open communication, collaboration, accountability and innovation, transcending traditional silos and legacy mindsets. Leveraging an intentional mix of in-person gatherings, virtual roundtables and an expert-led master series, FORUM aims to equip leaders with the latest and future insights and trends.

Meeting leaders where they are

In addition to the in-person and virtual offerings, FORUM is committed to meeting leaders where they are. Beyond formal gatherings, FORUM offers a curated catalog of on-demand resources, self-directed courses, and produces a career-focused podcast titled Career Dreams. A subtle nod to FORUM’s purpose statement, “Helping Members Live Their Financial Dreams,” the podcast provides career development strategies and resources to help everyone learn and grow professionally. Hosted by Michelle and Chase from FORUM’s organizational development team and frequently joined by internal guests and insightful thought leaders, weekly episodes provide leaders, individual contributors and the general public information to meet listeners where they are. It’s not entirely about the two hours leaders spend together in a formal gathering, but it’s also about what leaders do with the information once they leave. Career Dreams is an innovative approach to supporting employee growth when it’s convenient for them, as it is available wherever listeners access podcasts.

Supporting data

With the specific focus around leader development taking shape during 2020, it has since continued to evolve into a robust strategy that spans from aspiring leaders, new leaders, future leaders and current leaders. The aspiring leader program has had a total of 36 participants in three years. Of these 36, currently more than one third have been promoted to a formal leadership position. The existing leader program is voluntary and has averaged a participation rate of 87 percent of all leaders over the past two years.  

In the 2023 employee engagement survey, employees favorably rated their relationship with their manager. In fact, 92 percent believe, “I trust what my manager communicates to me,” an increase from the previous year, indicating leaders are actively striving for improved trust within their teams. Also, leaders have shared feedback about how a focus on their continued development has positively impacted their leadership. One leader remarked, “We are having conversations we never had before because our teams have a better understanding of emotional intelligence.” Career Dreams continues to garner impressive downloads on a weekly basis, reaching internal employees and external listeners alike as a supplemental development resource and employment branding strategy for the credit union.

Even the most proficient leaders recognize the imperative of consistently investing in their leadership skills. It is evident that the future for leaders will continue to evolve, likely at a faster pace than previously experienced. With an impending wave of retirements on a substantial scale, the need for succession planning, coupled with the entry of new generations into the workforce, and an increasingly vocal workforce emphasizing work-life balance, leaders have a more pivotal role than ever before in recent history. 

Balancing the dual imperative of addressing challenges through a business lens while executing with a human approach is essential for retaining talent and achieving organizational objectives. Direct supervisors hold a significant influence over the retention of their team members. Therefore, talent and organizational leaders must proactively prepare for the future, as tomorrow’s leaders expect their organizations to invest in their continual career growth and development. Without such investment, there is a higher likelihood of these future leaders seeking opportunities elsewhere, potentially exacerbating talent gaps across all levels of leadership. Transforming the approach to leader development will empower organizations to progress while navigating a period of significant change and transition.