One phrase, “do the right thing,” has been at the core of what drives Kristina Derkos, senior vice president of employee relations/development at Redwood Credit Union.
“At 18, I was working at an employment labor law firm and I’d go through these files wondering why are these large employers continuing to make the same mistakes over and over again costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Derkos. “At that young age I thought there shouldn’t be these kind of lawsuits. They just needed good advice on how to better navigate their business and improve the treatment of their employees because it’s the right thing to do. I quickly realized there was a whole field dedicated to this and being able to guide employers to make a sound business decision by treating employees fairly has been very rewarding. I learned the compliance associated with the laws is more complicated than I thought when I was 18, but still I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
Prior to joining the Santa Rosa, Calif.-based credit union she worked at a Fortune 500 company but wanted to be part of an organization that did more meaningful work.
“I didn’t even know what a credit union was, but the more I learned about it and RCU, the more I knew I needed to work for a company like that. To be a part of a team that is doing amazing things was like being recruited on an NFL team, and I feel like I hit the lottery,” said Derkos. “No one person wins the game, it really is about the team. For me, a key HR function becomes understanding the people within the organization, appreciating their talents and abilities, and being able to motivate and commit them to the organization so we can draw on this reservoir of skills and understanding in the most effective way that helps our members and the communities that we serve. I like to call it a balance between the mind and the heart.”
Striking that balance at RCU has meant a focus on creating a framework to hire and nurture exceptional talent to ensure they are engaged at the highest level to deliver on RCU’s mission and vision.
“I know there’s been two schools of thought on the role of HR, and the old school was one of more compliance and cost control, but that’s not my passion or mission. My passion is understanding how to help the organization succeed while helping employees be more successful as well, so it’s more a combination of both worlds to create something extraordinary,” said Derkos. “I so respect anyone that has good business mind and each department brings a unique perspective to the table. So why not have respect for those different philosophies and abilities as a team member, and use that to create something greater than just the one piece to take delivering on RCU’s value proposition or strategy to the next level? I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to work with an outstanding board of directors and senior leadership.”
“I get to work side-by-side with the best employees any business professional could ever wish for, and they inspire me to be a better person and a better leader.”
She added that a carefully cultivated team mentality, where everyone knows their contributions truly matter, has helped create what she likes to call RCU magic, where employees are genuinely excited about doing right by the member and the community.
“It doesn’t happen by accident. Our approach to attracting top players is to always be our own talent scouts. Every manager senior level executive, board member keeps an eye out for talent not just for a particular open position but all positions. So we have people warm on the bench ready to fit into the right position,” said Derkos. “We’re constantly recruiting to attract A players and retain them so employees that just aren’t a good fit for our culture either get coached up or coached out. We’re really proud of our culture but it’s not for everyone.”
When those tough decisions do need to be made, Derkos said she makes sure it is never a surprise.
“Again if you do it right those circumstances are few and far between often the individual will self select out as we help them discover what they really want to do to be happy and identify their strengths and weaknesses,” said Derkos. “It’s important to connect with people on their level. It’s a constant battle to change the perception of apprehension most people have when they think of HR, especially the new employees. They usually come in shell-shocked from their past HR experiences, so I like to be real in my interactions with them and not be formal or stuffy.”
According to Derkos, the RCU mission and vision permeates everything from product development to culture management. It has defined the company's passion for delivering ways to improve its members’ lives.
Success depends upon employees' daily performance and behaviors embodying RCU’s key cultural attributes. Reinforcing a unified culture and driving consistently higher employee engagement levels has been something the team has been working on over the past several years.
“Under our CEO’s guidance, one critical focus that we took to the next level last year was cultivating upwards communication, the feeding of the information, concerns, and ideas, what is on our employees’ minds,” said Derkos. “At RCU, we measure everything related to HR, and we track our results. Our goal was to gain positive momentum even in this very tough economic climate.”
Their efforts have paid off. Not only has RCU garnered best place to work accolades for six consecutive years, but its latest engagement/motivation score was 88%, and 93% of staffers believe that RCU has been effectively fulfilling its mission, vision and values. In addition, satisfaction with senior management has steadily improved from 70% in 2008, to 80% in 2011 and overall work environment/culture of the organization went from 75% to 83%. She credits Net Promoter, which measures everything in real time as a key part of RCU’s holistic approach to creating an amazing internal universe.
“It’s really provided a communication tool for us as far as feedback in the members voice, which allows us to focus on responding to their needs,” said Derkos. “It’s another lens to check the pulse on what and where changes need to be made based on hard data. We can implement those changes immediately because it takes the guesswork out and we can see instant satisfaction that yes we are moving in the right direction and here’s the data to prove it.”