The Complete Guide to Universal Associates (Part 4) – Training and Developing your Universal Employees

The Complete Guide to Universal Associates (Part 4) – Training and Developing your Universal Employees

Need to catch up on the Complete Guide to Universal Associates? Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our series!

The countdown to becoming a disruptor of the branch retail environment is on! It started the exact moment you decided to adopt the Universal Associate model in your branches, fully driven to make the transformation objectives you’ve scribbled on whiteboards for your branch of the future a reality.

As you’ve followed along with this guide, you’ve read about the benefits of Universal Associates, what branch setup sets the tone for success (hint: it’s more than just a coat of paint!), and defined how to find and hire the right employees for the Universal Associate role.  Looks like we’ve covered just about everything you need – good luck and let us know how it goes for you!

Wait…that’s it? We couldn’t have covered everything already, right?

Sure – we gave you the tools, tips, and techniques to slam dunk putting the universal model in place– but did we really do anything to help you bring all the pieces together to help you execute it? Did we give you full confidence that you and your team could implement this in your branches tomorrow, without any outside help?

No. We didn’t do that at all. That feeling –the deer in the headlights, falling off a cliff, realizing you’re running on a hamster wheel – is the probably pretty close to the exact feeling your employees get when they experience massive changes in culture, process, people, technology…without the right preparation to be successful when it goes live.

Surprisingly enough, there are many organizations that believe making the switch is easy. That all you need to prepare for this model is an open branch design with the latest technology and a brand new title for staff and then you’re done.  Unfortunately, it’s not that simple – and we often see that training is the most overlooked (and underemphasized) element when Universal Associate models are brought back to branches.

To tie everything together, maximize the benefits of Universal Associates, define where you need to start and ensure your staff can fully embrace and execute on your strategic and operational intent, training must become a priority for your branch network.

Why is training so important?

One word: COMMUNICATION.  The move to Universal Associates requires a massive shift in mindset, process, people and technology from the entire team – and changes of this magnitude are too involved (and too important) to roll out through a company-wide email or Powerpoint presentation.

It’s all about employing a consistent, “all hands on deck” approach from the very beginning to strengthen your team and break habits of the past. Not only does this clear the slate for a solid new foundation, it helps refresh your current culture to thrive within this new model.

That’s right – culture really counts! Think about the company culture you’ve always wanted to build or be a part of. Now, look at the current state of workplace culture and communication:

What’s missing here? Communication is a key factor in what builds great cultures – and luckily, training can jumpstart more effective strategies to keep staff in the loop and more connected to your branch. Training allows you to control the message when announcing the move to Universal Associates (there’s nothing worse than hearing about tremendous changes through the grapevine!). In an open forum, this helps your executive team explain the reasoning behind the change, define the Universal role and its impact on your staff, explain what it means regarding client experience, and starts the conversation to answer questions, address concerns, and raise excitement about what’s ahead.

Another reason why training is so important – do you want employees to be great at their jobs? Assuming the answer is yes – would you rather take the time up front to train them to be great right away, building up their confidence as they master their skillset (meaning you can delegate without worrying!) or let them operate with training wheels on, creating inefficiencies with the amount of help they continue to need from you and other staff members?

Of course, you’d rather invest the time up front to make sure they’re great right away – and hiring, training and developing top performers surely doesn’t hurt your culture (or client experience). It also doesn’t hurt your attrition, as universal associates tend to stay in their roles longer due to mutual investment in their success – from your training and their self-development.

How long should the Universal Associates training program last?

The typical length of a Universal Training program ranges from 8 – 12 weeks.

After the model is piloted, evaluation will surely follow. Career paths become more defined, technology is tested, and feedback is given for constant improvement. Because of this, consolidated ongoing training to “refresh” employees on the universal strategy, branch goals and potential modifications, if any, will be key.

What should a Universal Associate training program include?

The Universal Associate training program can be broken down into three key areas:

  1.  Focus Shift Training
  2. Skills Training
  3. In-Branch Practice

1. Focus Shift Training

Start off your staff’s onboarding by overcommunicating the shift in focus. By helping your staff truly understand the universal model, the strategic intent behind its implementation and what it means for them personally, you ‘ll begin with  correct expectations on what delivery of the enhanced client experience should be.

In this first portion of training, it’s all about transparency. In addition to creating an open dialogue for any questions or concerns, anticipate what your staff may ask ahead of training and plan on delivering answers to questions like the below before they ask:

Lastly – ensure your staff walks away knowing that you are all in this together as one team. Without every moving part operating at its full potential, this model won’t achieve the results you’re looking for. Every staff member plays a significant role in delivering an incredible client experience from end to end – and every interaction counts!

2. Skills Training

Now that you’ve helped your staff define the Universal Associate strategy and their individual roles, it’s time to train them on the skills they’ll need to master for their daily responsibilities.

While Universal Associate skillsets performed can vary from branch to branch, comprehensive training on the below areas (and technology used to complete them) should be completed:

  • • New Accounts
  • • Teller Training
  • • Regulatory and Compliance
  • • Small Business Lending
  • • Community Involvement
  • • Operations
  • • Service Quality Standards
  • • Consumer Lending

In addition to the areas above, more in-depth training must be done on the skills that are equally important but not clearly defined. While teller training can be transactional, there are plenty of situations within the branch without predictable outcomes, requiring Universal employees to think on their feet and rely on instincts, such as:

  • • Client relationship building
  • • Understanding products and services and where they fit into a client’s lifecycle
  • • Understanding customer needs, promoting needs-based selling
  • • Non-negotiables – minimum service standards
  • • Conflict resolution and best practices for handling tricky situations
  • • Teamwork and best ways to support other Universal Associates in the branch

The blend of both technical skills and “social savvy” will better prepare your staff for not only the defined elements of their job, but all the other interactions occurring outside of the training manual.

3. In-Branch Practice

Great – your team is up to speed on the all the skills they’ll use in the branch….but they haven’t even stepped into the branch as a Universal Associate (yet!).

Your practice runs shouldn’t include clients as your test subjects for Universal Associate training – in fact, clients should feel like your staff has been in a Universal Associate role for years from the moment they begin a conversation. Without playing out scenarios in the actual branch environment, your staff may walk in on a Monday morning and completely freeze – especially if you’ve recently made any changes in design, layout or technology!

There’s no better time than training to get all the awkward, silly interactions out of your staff’s system before they serve your clients. The easiest way to facilitate “practice makes perfect” is the tried and true method of role playing in the branch:

  • Role play as many scenarios as you can until staff has absolutely mastered the interaction from the moment the “client” steps in to the branch to the moment the Universal Associates says goodbye
  • • Practice switching roles until all staff members comfortably play both the client, and Universal Associate
  • Encourage engagement from the staff members not actively participating in the role play – have them take notes, ask questions, give positive feedback or supply coaching tips
  • • Recap individual interactions and get group feedback, highlighting the key takeaways and any do’s/don’ts you’ve noticed
  • Emphasize the cross-sell opportunities within each role play interaction
  • Ask for more detailed feedback from the team – how could we have made that interaction more meaningful? What could we have done to serve them better? Was there any opportunity to cross-sell, and if so – how did you know?

This last part of training is the final piece of the puzzle, taking staff from the immersion into the new Universal mindset, then utilizing the branch space, technology and skillset to seamlessly complete a start-to-finish interaction with phenomenal customer service.

How can I make sure this training doesn’t fall into the ‘training’ stereotype?

In other words, how can you make sure that employees don’t check out for 8-12 weeks? We get it – training typically has a negative connotation, and your staff is probably envisioning the drone of Charlie Brown’s teacher under fluorescent lights in a corporate setting.

Did you forget something? We’re disrupting here! Just like you’re changing the game in how banking experiences are delivered by your staff, take this opportunity to disrupt how training is typically done – there’s more than one way to help your staff learn and with luck, you’ll shatter another stereotype in the process.

  • Acknowledge that you realize training is a long commitment and you’re asking for their active involvement for an extended period!
  • •  Set expectations: schedule out what you can to define the time frame and topics, supply basic ground rules and let them know there’s no such thing as a dumb question.
  • •  Keep different learning styles in mind as you develop your content. Some staff members may love taking notes, others may need to act out scenarios, the rest may just need a great visual for things to click. Switch up how you’re delivering your message to cater to the entire group.
  •   Keep it light. Even though the content is important, you don’t have to settle for low energy! Stay conversational, positive and flexible.
  • •  Read the room. It’s easy to operate on autopilot to stay on schedule, but it’s easy to overcommit or underestimate in the planning process. If everyone’s eyes are glazed over, or you can actually hear stomachs rumbling before lunch, just take a break – switching up schedules is easier than repeating concepts!
  •   Make it fun! Games, competitions, and spiffs are encouraged – this is your chance to get the entire team involved and better connect them in the process.
  • •  Don’t rush it. Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day,neither was the perfect branch. Space out concepts, allow time for breaks, questions and discussions.
  • •  Be patient – training isn’t easy for everyone (particularly when it comes to role playing in front of a crowd). Create an environment where it’s OK to make mistakes, and work with individuals in a private space if you’re concerned they’re not 100% up to speed.

With limited time and resources, how can we provide the best training possible?

Training can make the difference between getting average results and completely knocking the ball out of the park. You can build the perfect branch with a design even Apple envies, integrate the newest, most innovative technology and a hire great staff – but if your staff isn’t trained on how to deliver on your strategy to elevate the branch experience, you’ll never see the results you’re looking for.

Developing a training is a lot of work (it’s a full-time job on its own!), and new initiatives within the branch are too important to let slip – that’s why CFM offers a program called Delivery Defined to help you support your staff and maximize the success and benefits of your new staffing model.

Delivery Defined allows your staff to get involved in the training process, compiles extensive research on your market and desired branch state, and packages up everything you need to flawlessly execute a universal staffing model – customized to your branch. This includes:

  • • Hiring process, including roles and profiles
  • • Training
  • • Talk tracks
  • • Sales playbooks
  • • Onsite presence to train your staff
  • • Role playing and other exercises
  • • Branded playbook to map out every transition or situation that could happen (trust us – we’ve seen it all!)

If you’re interested in learning more about bringing the Delivery Defined program to your branches to simplify the introduction of Universal Associates, click here to get in touch with a member of the CFM team.

The clock is almost at zero – and you’re all trained up to disrupt! While there are many moving parts within the implementation of Universal Associates, the focus on the people should never fall in your lineup of priorities. A shift this big won’t happen overnight, but when you craft your Universal Associate strategy with a foundation of communication and support via training, you’ll proactively address issues and educate staff on every level of change: from the job description, navigation of the physical space, to operation of enabling technology eliminating the inefficiencies for better client service. Congratulations – you’re one step closer to your branch of tomorrow!

Want to learn the right way to bring Universal Associates into your branch network? Just click here to contact us – a CFM advisor will be happy to bring you up to speed and make customized recommendations for your unique situation.


Editor’s Note: This is Part 4 of our Complete Guide to Universal Associates  – a multi-part series devoted entirely to helping financial institutions understand how to bring the Universal Associate strategy to life.•