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Building Your Skills in Changing Times

Written by Bonnie Van Epps, Director of Talent Development

Bonnie Van EppsRecently, some of my coworkers at First Business Bank dove headfirst into the podcast pool and I’ve been enjoying their work. As you can imagine, over the past 30 years that our bank has been working with small and medium-sized businesses in many industries, we’ve learned a lot about different aspects of business, leadership, and a whole catalog of topics that make for great podcast listening. While we don’t claim to be experts on everything, we do have what we’re calling “a front-row seat” to “what’s working and what has potential.” I really like that — from the perspective of sharing what’s working in our business and others to help everyone succeed.

One of the very first podcast episodes they released during the pandemic covers a topic close to my heart: employee development. Employee Development in Times of Change gives some unique insights and advice about how to continue to build employee skills when change is the only constant.

As Director of Talent Development at First Business Bank, a growth-oriented company that is constantly evolving, my role is to foster employee development and engagement and build organizational talent for success today and into the future. To build on the stellar guidance in the podcast, here are some specific ways we’ve continued to help our employees learn and grow while the majority have been working remotely.

ALL-EMPLOYEE DEVELOPMENT

Last March, we had to pivot quickly when all our employees went remote for safety. Due to the nature of their positions, some First Business Bank teams were extremely busy and others were in a lull. We decided to leverage their time to educate all our employees through All Company Education sessions, which were scheduled over lunch hours and recorded for easy watching later. We learned quickly to keep the sessions 60-90 minutes long so they weren’t overly taxing, as most everyone was on video calls several times during the day. The sessions were more popular than we’d imagined. At each we had anywhere from 65-140 employees join us live. The recorded sessions also have been popular and we’re taking advantage of them when we hire new employees, so they can learn more about the diverse solutions at First Business Bank.

We also offered sessions through our series, Thriving Through Change for all employees. While change seems to a be a constant these days, it was important to me that our employees felt they had strong tools and resources to help them navigate the unprecedented changes we have all experienced over the past year.

VIRTUAL SALES SUMMIT

Typically held every two years in person at a conference center, the First Business Bank Sales Summit allows our client-facing teams an opportunity to get together physically, share best practices, and learn from some clients about how we can improve. Rather than tank the entire meeting, we decided to take what works out of the meeting and bring it online. It was held over two afternoons, virtually, with breakout sessions to help our teams connect. The agenda is designed to be stimulating — in bite-sized pieces to keep it engaging for everyone attending. While we all missed seeing everyone in person, we’re excited about maintaining this piece of our culture and providing another opportunity to learn from our clients, network, and grow.

FEEDBACK LOOP

In our organization, we’ve found the feedback loop is critical for success. Our teams are evaluated on their effectiveness regularly, and managers meet 1:1, virtually, with employees on a frequent basis. Goal and development discussions are integrated into the 1:1 agenda so employees know the expectations and can contribute ideas to continue building their skills.

MY PROFESSIONAL GROWTH

My own professional growth during this time has also taken an interesting path. At First Business Bank, one of our foundational beliefs is that it’s an employee’s responsibility to seek out training they need to reach their career goals. During the pandemic, there has been no shortage of opportunities to get outside my comfort zone and bring a new perspective into my role within our Human Resources team. The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Women in Leadership series was one of my favorites and featured easily accessible live and recorded sessions that I found fit into my schedule easily.

Throughout this time, with the world changing rapidly and so many unknowns, I’ve personally found a new approach to my work that has provided new energy for me. During this time, I learned about and embraced “sprints” to narrow my focus for a shortened period of time. Doing this has allowed me to focus intensely and make meaningful progress on fewer areas versus small progress over many. I’ve found it easier to adjust and adapt as priorities change.

Growing personally and professionally, for me, also means adapting my schedule and activities on occasion to maximize my time so I can also be there for my other commitments. Lately, that has meant getting in some outdoor walks over lunchtime and listening to podcasts to expand my learning. If you’re doing the same, make sure to listen to our Employee Development in Times of Change episode of the First Business Bank Podcast and let us know what you think.

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