If you’ve never heard of The Bancorp, that’s by design. We offer private-label banking and technology solutions to non-bank companies ranging from entrepreneurial start-ups to those on the Fortune 500. However, chances are that The Bancorp is already in your wallet or phone.

Over the past year, The Bancorp — like many other companies — has experienced sweeping change. Our employees have adapted to new modes of working. We’ve faced many challenges head-on because of the workforce’s collective ability to navigate change. As a result, The Bancorp finished a challenging year with double-digit revenue growth, increased lending and expanded service offerings.

Breakthrough success doesn’t just happen. Even under the best circumstances, exceptional performance is only possible because of employee resilience and the ability to evolve in a changing landscape.

How does any company, especially one in a heavily regulated industry, promote an environment where individuals are motivated to perform well? At The Bancorp, the effort to boost employee engagement is years in the making (since 2018). Our story begins by reimagining the learning experience for all employees — individual contributors and people leaders alike.

This article shares the three talent management strategies we applied to rebuild our learning programs from the ground up while fulfilling regulatory requirements.

How Does L&D Transform Outdated Perceptions of Learning?

Our first step was to take a hard look at what we — the learning and development team (L&D) — were doing. We examined three questions through the prism of talent acquisition, employee experience, learner needs and business objectives:

  • What strategic value does L&D provide for the organization?
  • How can L&D drive strategic opportunity and move beyond necessary functions?
  • How else can L&D encourage employees to invest in their professional development?

We crafted a vision that captures the spectrum of work: To maintain regulatory standards while cultivating an environment that educates and inspires all employees to reach their full potential. The team identified ways to embed learning throughout the organization at all levels — from the C-suite to front-line staff. Three approaches guide our work:

  1. Weave our vision into established processes and secure executive buy-in.
  2. Engage managers and high-performing employees as learning advocates.
  3. Co-create new experiences with our audience to gain a fresh perspective.

Strategy #1: Put Vision into Practice through Self-directed Learning

We focused on overcoming our most significant barrier to learning — time. To start, we worked on creating frictionless experiences across several platforms. As a result, employees can now access relevant learning content in their moment of need. We also removed administrative hurdles such as course approvals. This change provides employees greater control over their development path.

Next, we concentrated on communicating learning as “part of” work, not “apart from” work. We seized an opportunity to augment The Bancorp’s performance management process. Our Take8 program helps bridge any knowledge or skill gaps identified by employees or managers throughout the year.

Take8 encourages employees to complete at least eight hours of elective professional development annually. To be clear, L&D is not asking employees to take on more commitments. The Bancorp is simply offering recognition for this work and celebrating it. Take8 awards credit for various live and asynchronous learning experiences such as webinars, technical boot camps, academic coursework, conferences, and workshops.

At The Bancorp, L&D works with individuals, teams, and departments trying to achieve specific goals — often deepening or expanding skill sets. We’re responsible for facilitating effective performance. This charge includes supporting the infrastructure for sharing and practicing newfound knowledge. To that end, ask yourself if you have the guardrails in place to sustain self-directed learning:

  • What are your employees’ barriers to learning? Are they different from what managers perceive?
  • If you already have programs in place, are you rewarding the behavior you want replicated?
  • Do you recognize employees when they meet the goals you’ve set out for them?

Strategy #2: Spread the Word

Our audience hears about L&D offerings through traditional communication channels such as email campaigns, corporate initiatives and targeted events for managers and emerging leaders. We also integrate our learning programs into the onboarding process. Besides these tried-and-true approaches, we make it a habit to brainstorm additional marketing tactics that activate a broader cross-section of the workforce.

We created the learning ambassadors program to engage departments and develop leadership opportunities that elevate individual contributors. Each department identified a non-manager to represent them as a liaison with L&D. We sought out individual contributors to discover their pain points and hear how we can refine our offerings — a bottom-up approach to improving engagement. Next, we started holding monthly meetings with our ambassadors to initiate a dialogue. We focused on making each interaction with L&D, especially our group discussions, better than the last. Through regular touchpoints, we’ve learned what’s on their minds and what matters to their peers.

By engaging directly with employees, we’ve cultivated another channel to amplify our messaging and raise greater awareness about L&D services. As a result, participation rates in Take8, and other programs, have grown considerably because of peer recommendations from learning ambassadors. In turn, we express our gratitude for their support through public recognition and visibility to senior leadership.

Since the program’s inception, The Bancorp has promoted several learning ambassadors. These alumni, who are now in new roles, have selected ambassadors of their own—what better way to encourage continuous learning as a worthwhile investment at work!

Learners lead busy lives. More distractions are competing for their attention than ever before. We leverage every communication outlet at our disposal to reach our audience. If you would like to explore this approach, consider the following:

  • Audit your existing communication channels. Identify which avenues were successful.
  • Are you effectively leveraging high performers across the organization at all levels?
  • How can you get others invested in spreading your message?

Strategy #3: Promote Workplace Learning through Co-created Experiences

Our third approach to boosting engagement was to promote workplace learning. Inspired by Employee Learning Week (ELW), a campaign developed by the Association for Talent Development (ATD), we hosted our version in 2019. Our theme was “learning is everywhere” to socialize the idea of self-directed learning as a catalyst for employee engagement.

Our goal for ELW was to transform the outdated perception of corporate education as driven solely by regulatory requirements and tedious training exercises. To help envision this event, we borrowed an element of design thinking called co-design. This well-established problem-solving process uses creative participatory methods to meet the needs of end-users (or, in our case, learners). We reached out to our community of ambassadors, managers and senior leaders to gain a fresh perspective. They were eager to share their ideas, and we gladly listened. Thanks to their candid feedback, we planned an event that sparked curiosity.

In our first year, ELW consisted of employee-led, in-person sessions and a series of asynchronous digital experiences. Live and virtual offerings covered topics ranging from public speaking to healthy eating — each designed to address professional skill development or personal well-being. We generated repeat traffic to our event website by sharing “try-at-home” activities and “five-minute skills,” catering to time-pressed attendees. In addition, we encouraged learners to “share their favorite moments” to be eligible for our daily raffle. The feedback we captured from the daily contest provided us with a wealth of data on the employee event experience.

Last year, we pivoted ELW to become an entirely virtual experience — inviting employees from across the organization to share their skills and knowledge with us. Thanks to the data we collected previously, we avoided the common pitfalls of making assumptions about our employees’ wants and needs. ELW 2020 provided a mix of synchronous and on-demand experiences on topics ranging from fostering inclusion in the workplace and managing mental well-being to prepping a keto-friendly meal together in real-time. By co-creating events like ELW with engaged members of our workforce, we highlighted the talent our employees bring to The Bancorp community while demonstrating the value of ongoing professional development through skill improvement.

Creating a culture of learning takes time. Although many employees are engaged with L&D today, our team is acutely aware that maintaining this level of awareness and trust is a continual investment. When other priorities take center stage, ongoing development and a growth mindset are the first things to fall by the wayside. As a result, we have to take risks to shift employee perceptions about L&D. To that end, ask yourself:

  • What is your organization willing to do differently?
  • What’s the cost of not trying something new?
  • What is the manager’s role in driving learning and engagement in your organization?

After reading this, what actions do you plan to take? It could be as simple as scheduling a brainstorming session with some of your key stakeholders to explore the next steps.

At the beginning of this article, we asked how L&D fosters an environment where individuals are encouraged to achieve their best. Learning is one way for employees to feel connected to one another and valued at work. Since 2018, we’ve shared our vision. We continue to be frank about how we could improve L&D with every level of the organization. Through many cycles instituting new initiatives, soliciting feedback, and adjusting along the way, we transformed perceptions about L&D into a strength and a chance to realize new opportunities. Today, every interaction with the business is another chance to flex a habit of working together to solve problems and navigate changing circumstances together.