- Stephens said HR’s role has to be that of an effective and strategic partner in all areas and at all levels of the organization.
- The credit union has managed avoid layoffs and has reduced turnover to 18%.
- Stephens has implemented a variety of innovative programs that have increased Mountain America’s employee engagement to a current score of over 83%.
It’s amazing how dreams change. Early in his career, Lynn Stephens thought working in the great outdoors in the Forest Service was a dream job until he got into management.
"At that point I read everything I could find on management and organizational behavior, and I realized if I like it so much I should probably get an MBA to learn how to do it better. And I’ve been in human resources since then," said Stephens, who is senior vice president of human resources at Mountain America Credit Union. "Every business has a human element even if it’s highly automated or technical, and it’s the human capital that is key to any successful organization. When it comes to helping management in making sure that human capital is invested in, cared for and treated appropriately, that’s HR’s expertise."
At its core, Stephens said HR’s role has to be that of an effective and strategic partner in all areas and at all levels of the organization.
"I think if you look at the 50,000-foot level, most owners and leaders have some level of expertise in their field where they know how to run it, but what they may not know as much about is how to deal with the human aspect of that business. That’s where HR steps in, and we try to help people be the very best they can be," said Stephens. "The better we care for our employees then they in turn will care for our members, and that is a key part of retention."
When many organizations were experiencing layoffs, the Salt Lake City credit union has managed not only to avoid taking that step but also to reduce turnover to 18%.
"Admittedly, considering the state of the economy and unemployment, I don’t know how much of the credit we can take for that," joked Stephens. "That being said, I do believe the key players and best people always have options, so I will say that we’ve done an excellent job of retaining our top talent."
When he first came to Mountain America, Stephens recognized that there was no formal program in place to help develop future talent. Based on employee feedback concerning career and growth opportunities within the credit union, he implemented a strategic and comprehensive talent management process, including succession planning and leadership development.
During the early stages of the program, Stephens put the responsibility in the hands of employees by reiterating, "Nobody cares as much about your career as you do." This philosophy helped eliminate much of the administrative burden that typically plagues these types of programs and empowered employees to be individually and personally responsible for their own career development. He also helped create a new career path for those staffers interested in remaining in the sales arena. To this end, he helped pilot and implement a new position, financial services representative III. Through this new position, Mountain America has been able to retain more of its top sales performers, give them a valid and rewarding career path and provide opportunities for internal mentoring.
"Our culture and work environment are all related and tied to our philosophy of business vision and values, which have to align with our employees’ values," said Stephens. "So communication is key. We ask how they feel about things, provide development so even those who only plan to stay with us while they are in school feel there’s opportunity to grow," said Stephens. "It’s a matter of somehow retaining a high level of touch and maintaining engagement among employees and I believe really listening and effectively communicating the why behind the moves made and programs implemented are key to everyone understanding how each individual’s contribution has value."
During his tenure at the credit union, Stephens has implemented a variety of innovative programs that have increased Mountain America’s employee engagement to a current score of over 83%. To further reinforce the concept that all effort, whether big or small, matters and should be acknowledged, Stephens developed and implemented "Applause!"–an informal on-the-spot rewards and recognition system. Because the system is Web-based and easy to use, employees can send e-cards of thanks or share a message of a job well done with any deserving individual instantly. Managers also have the option to award their direct reports points that range in value up to $100, which can be redeemed immediately or saved to buy something special. To help ensure managers are recognizing their employees effectively and frequently, the system is able to track how much is spent on rewards and recognition and which managers are participating. In 2010 over 90% of all managers used the system to recognize their employees and they sent over 3,000 Applause! e-cards. In addition, staffers sent over 1,600 e-cards to co-workers.
"What’s great is that it’s more than just the financial award aspect, the participation has been great because who doesn’t feel good receiving a thanks or hearing ‘great job,’" said Stephens.
According to DecisionWise Inc. Director of Talent Assessment Linda Linfield, Stephens has always been a forward thinker with a deep commitment to the growth and development of the people and organizations he leads.
"Lynn exemplifies the lifetime learner. He is on constant lookout for a better, more straightforward way to help his executives, managers and employees contribute the best they have to offer," said Linfield. "He is always the first leader to pilot a new developmental, mentoring, or coaching program that promises improved results and performance breakthroughs."
With an eye on improving Mountain America’s bottom line, Stephens took a closer look at his own department and through the "Cut the Phat" program, challenged his team to find spending that wasn’t adding value to the business. This program saved $850,000 for the credit union over a two-year period and was accomplished without reducing service levels. In total, HR was 24% below budget in 2009, the first year of this program, and over 5% below budget in 2010.
"It’s been fun and interesting to do," said Stephens. "Some of the savings ranged from $100 here and there to several tens of thousands from different contracts. Having everyone get involved really helped. For example we were paying a vendor $5,000 annually to run a test to ensure servers would run smoothly for open enrollment. Well our HRIS guy saw that and told me he could actually do it internally. I never would’ve known that if he wasn’t part of the process–that’s why it’s so important to have input from everyone."
The quest for cost savings opportunities did not stop there. He is also a big proponent of contract review and renegotiation. For example, in reviewing a contract with a compensation vendor, Stephens lowered its yearly premium, eliminating services that weren’t being used, and extended the length of the contract, benefiting all. The negotiation saved the credit union 75% on the cost of the service.
A search for a new 401(k) resulted in a national provider that offered better information and resources to employees, while saving the credit union money. By moving to the new vendor, Mountain America has realized an annual savings of $50,000 and 93% of staffers participate in the 401(k) program.
In 2010, Mountain America offered a new HSA plan for employees. While the industry standard of participation in these plans when other more traditional plans are offered is 5%, after an intense education effort and a generous company donation, the CU experienced 28% employee participation.