True employee engagement goes beyond just the human resources department to include buy-in at every level of the organization.
That approach has helped foster innovation at State Employees Credit Union of Maryland, better communication at UW Credit Union and growth at NuMark Credit Union.
Where some may have seen just another upgrade, SECU saw an opportunity to reinvent its approach to training. In 2010, the Linthicum, Md.-based credit union incorporated an e-learning platform into the latest upgrade of its strategic alignment and performance tool known as Connections Online.
Instead of traditional brick and mortar training outlets, SECU implemented a multifaceted approach that used multiple e-learning modules, fewer classroom sessions, and on-the-job learning that allowed employees to practice in a training database.
The Connections 4.0 learning program was headed by both the business strategy team and the training and development team, with executive level buy-in and support. According to Rod Flowers, vice president of human resource development at SECU, that support and buy-in was critical to ensure that the Connections tool was used consistently across the organization.
"I think first and foremost there was lot of pre-work going into this opportunity with Connections, and we did a good job of having cross-functional team managers, IT project managers and communication in deciding how we were going to build this into something more meaningful," said Chera Poulin, senior manager of organizational development at SECU. "We paid careful attention in designing the training so that learners would walk away with a newly acquired set of knowledge, skills and attitudes."
She added that it essentially was a cultural change in how to view this tool in a new way, which has laid the foundation for future learning initiatives and allowed SECU to integrate the e-learning style into other programs. In addition, by relying less on bringing all employees into headquarters for training, it impacted the credit union’s bottom line with a total cost savings of approximately $15,000.
"It can’t just be HR driving engagement," said Lee Wiersma, executive vice president/chief human resources officer at UW Credit Union. "To be effective it has to be the entire organization, and it starts with executive management and a board that expects and supports developing that culture that truly lives its core values."
To Wiersma, there’s more to employee engagement than a vision statement or surveys, and an emphasis on the management team accounts for about 90%.
"That relationship between supervisors and their direct reports is key," said Wiersma. "The analogy we use is if you work for a good organization but you have a bad supervisor, you may not like your job and leave. But if you have a great supervisor, you respect and you’re loyal to that person and less likely to leave regardless of whether the organization as a whole is good or bad. We believe management plays a large role in creating a highly engaged workforce."
To sustain a high engagement culture at UW Credit Union, he said an infrastructure has been developed that communicates the value and importance of employee engagement to the organization and leaders, and that management are held personally responsible for the engagement of their employees. For example, each year 20% to 40% of leadership employees’ overall performance ratings are based on their performance as leaders.
The percent of the overall performance is based on the number of employees they are responsible for within the organization, and the annual engagement survey results are also considered as a factor of their overall performance.
As far as leadership development, it directly ties back to the purpose and goals of the organization. Each leader is required to evaluate their engagement survey results and share and gather input from their staff, resulting in the creation of an engagement action plan for the year.
The engagement action plan addresses areas of opportunity to increase their employees' engagement levels for the coming year. Once an action plan is established, leaders are expected to share the plan with their direct leader and employees and revisit it throughout the year to evaluate their progress.
"What we’re able to then do is achieve and live our core values," said Wiersma. "A lot of organizations have a vision statement that’s just on paper or something on the wall. To us, our core values are important and serve as a framework and something we work toward every day. If we work within that framework then we’ll not only be able to satisfy members but also be more adaptable to change and really look for ways to continue to create alignment with our core values and our strategic plans."
He added that highly engaged employees make for an empowered workforce. For Joliet, Ill.-based NuMark CU, employee empowerment came from a very unlikely source–an accounting program and board game called Profit & Cash.
"Sometimes you have to look outside what you think is normal," said Linda Krakora, trainer at NuMark CU. "An accounting program turned out to be just what was needed. We have staff of very long tenure–about 50% have been at the credit union for over 10 years–and now we see a total attitude change toward having a sales culture. It was so out-of-the-box that it has just had a huge impact."
The board game focuses on the business side so staffers play different roles designed to help them learn the responsibility of decisions and experience what it’s like for the management team.
"You learn how to read the numbers, see the impact of those numbers and many decisions are determined by the roll of the dice, which really since no one knows where the economy is going is sometimes what happens in real life," said Krakora.
"What happens is that it builds a new awareness not only of what the management team does but the why behind the decisions," she said. "A huge chunk of expenses for the credit union are the employees, and they realized their value and how everything you do impacts the bottom line whether it’s a good loan month or suggesting additional products and services–it all added up."
She added that everyone from the top down attended the training, so for example the executive vice president or CEO would play the role of branch manager or a financial representative, further building understanding.
"I can say it was a great learning experience for all, and there was a huge participation at every level to do what they can to meet strategic goals," said Krakora. "What’s great is that everyone has really taken ownership, and when they talk about NuMark, it’s so thrilling to hear them refer to it as theirs."