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FirstBank: Modernizing employee learning

At a glance

When a large regional bank needed to improve employee training, we helped it modernize and measure a state-of-the-art lean learning program.

What we did

  • Competitive analysis
  • Enterprise-level learning strategy
  • Learning management system (LMS) selection and implementation
  • Course content redesign

Companies that keep employee expertise current are the ones that stay competitive over time. But how and when that learning is delivered determines whether the content sticks or not. Traditional lecture courses are notorious for being ineffective, not to mention expensive and time consuming.

FirstBank is a privately held bank and financial services company with more than $14B in assets and 115 locations across three states. The company's employee training program, built on traditional teaching methods, required participants to adjust their schedules and forego regular tasks to attend lecture-heavy sessions lasting a day or more. The costs in travel, off-the-job time, and delivery were adding up, and the results weren’t consistent.

The bank needed a modern, measurable approach to learning that would help employees retain job-critical information, such as changing trends in the banking industry and day-to-day transaction protocol—ultimately reducing risk.

“FirstBank wanted to explore ways to build on their success, and make themselves even better,” said Slalom managing director Joe Kuntner.

A lean approach to learning

According to neuroscientist David Rock, “many corporate training programs are the mental equivalent of trying to eat a week of meals in a day.”

And “cramming” doesn’t work. Rather, say experts Davachi, Kiefer, Rock, and Rock, “distributing learning over time leads to better long-term memory, which is the ultimate aim of organizational learning.”

Lean learning shares this aim. It’s a holistic approach to learning that delivers the right knowledge at the point of need, based on each learner’s knowledge level. It incorporates gaming, videos, and social technologies to combine initial learning with ongoing performance support and knowledge sharing.

In the case of FirstBank, a lean approach would be more cost effective, while better aligning when employees learned new skills and actually used them.

“New employees were taking training for skills they wouldn’t need for over a year,” explained Slalom project lead Mary Todd. With the existing system, it was challenging to train employees at the point of need, so information was crammed into courses.

Not only would training sessions need to be reduced in duration and cost, they would have to be made available at the point of need.

Many corporate training programs are the mental equivalent of trying to eat a week of meals in a day.

Banking in the digital age

It’s not just learning that’s shifting from the traditional. The banking industry is also in the midst of change. Technology is replacing tellers, mobile banking is on the rise, and smaller banks are being absorbed by larger institutions.

Banks face new competition. They’re no longer just up against other banks and credit unions—they’re competing with technology-enabled solutions such as PayPal.

For example, payments have traditionally been a sizable revenue stream for banks. However, ApplePay, Square, PayPal, Google Wallet, and even Starbucks (to name a few) are emerging as new competitors—all pulling cash away from traditional lending institutions.

Such a rapidly-changing landscape demands a nimble training program that enables employees to keep current.

A new way to learn

In order to help FirstBank define its lean learning strategy and identify a tool to support that program, our Denver organizational effectiveness team performed a competitive analysis—not just of the banking industry and its changing landscape, but also examining the cross-over competitors referenced above—and a strategic analysis of the bank’s strategies and goals.

That work exposed opportunities for growth and served as a foundation for FirstBank’s larger training needs. The bank needed a curriculum designed to fit its culture and a program that could be successfully rolled out across the organization and effectively measured and continuously improved upon.

The team focused on updating and improving the learning experience (think: shifting from paper packets to mobile-friendly content), scaling the experience, and tailoring content for different markets. They helped develop an enterprise-wide learning strategy that supported on-the-job learning and incorporated social and mobile—elements that today’s workforce expects. The strategy supported FirstBank’s recruiting practice of hiring young talent and growing them internally into leadership positions.

They also helped select a learning management system (LMS) capable of growing alongside the company. With the LMS, FirstBank employees will be able to view course descriptions, register for classes, and track training progress, saving time and overhead costs. The new system will give bank leadership access to the training necessary for employee career growth while reducing redundancy and administrative costs.

As a result, FirstBank is better able to address both current business operations and future expansion, evolving workforce and culture, and keeping pace with current learning tools and methods.

Teach, save, repeat

The team put that strategic foundation to work, starting with the redesign of a fraud defense course using lean learning strategies.

The lecture-heavy, instructor-led course was slimmed down to an hour of prerequisite work—brief learning videos and mLevel games—that allowed participants to learn about key topics, followed by six hours of hands-on activities in the classroom.

The course was supplemented by a robust intranet site and informational job aid.

In reducing the course from one and a half days of lecture time to half a day of hands-on activities, FirstBank cut 35 percent in repeated delivery costs. This also saved employees substantial travel time while empowering them to increase their knowledge as the need arose.

Thanks to its success, the course redesign will serve as the model for a lean overhaul of the bank’s other training courses, including its management training program. So far, three other courses have been redesigned and leaned out, and other non-essential courses have been cancelled.

Ready for the next decade of growth

“We gave them a solution that grows as their business grows and keeps them nimble against unprecedented competition,” said Slalom project lead Chris Vigil.

Though it’s still too soon to see a resulting decline in fraud trends, the company is seeing a positive response.

“The changes we are making to our classes, programs, and training strategy have been well received,” said Megan Harrington, Assistant Vice President – West at FirstBank.

“It allowed them to be ready for the next decade’s worth of growth while improving the overall learning experience for the company,” said Kuntner. “It allows them to evolve to a new level of performance.”