Culture Can Create Space for Staff to Speak Freely
There’s no silver bullet for effective workplace communication but making sure your organization’s culture is aligned to support and foster those efforts may be a good starting point.
“It is so important to live your culture. It cannot be just words,” said Denise O’Hara, senior vice president human resources and organizational development at the $1.8 billion Summit Credit Union in Madison, Wis.
“If management does not consciously build a support system for the credit union’s culture and also model it and coach to it, the desired culture will not exist,” O’Hara added. “Our culture is what makes it special to work at Summit.”
For the second consecutive year, Summit was awarded the American Society for Training & Development’s BEST Award. This year, the credit union was recognized in a number of areas: leveraging its learning function to drive its organizational culture and brand, its integrated approach to talent management and strategic alignment of the learning function to support organizational initiatives.
“Our culture is our nature, the manifestation of our shared values, attitudes, standards and beliefs,” said O’Hara. “Summit’s culture is collaborative, innovative, and fun. Every Summit employee builds our culture every day. We take our culture seriously because our culture is what enables us to differentiate ourselves in the market.”
She added that there has been a conscious effort to build the infrastructure to support that culture from honing Summit’s vision, mission and brand promise so that the entire team has a shared goal to collaboratively developing a list of core values and essential behaviors as employee, manager and senior leader. The essential behaviors boiled down to relationship building and teamwork, being member centered, operating with trust and integrity and having entrepreneurial drive for results and organizational agility.
With these essential behaviors as a significant part of the annual performance process and the development of an online peer recognition program where employees can acknowledge each other for behaviors that represent Summit values, O’Hara said it has helped ensure consistency.
“We find that many of our employees do not want to be on a five to seven- year track for promotion,” said O’Hara. “They are looking to grow and progress in the organization more quickly, which makes it especially important that the managers we hire enjoy and want to develop others.”
To that end, employees are hired for attitude and culture fit more than skills. In addition to new job postings being posted internally first, a three part program entitled CEO of Your Career has been successful in engaging employees in charting their own success.
Here is how it works. Employees are invited to hear from managers and vice presidents to learn information about specific positions of interest. They then break out for individual question and answer sessions, a personal self-assessment of strengths, and an opportunity for the employee to be a CEO and select a board made up of representatives from human resources and training as well as their own manager. Their board meets to assist them with developing plans for the career they are interested in achieving at Summit.
Suzanne Oliver, senior vice president of educational services and governmental affairs at West Jordan, Utah-based Mountain America Credit Union, couldn’t agree more about the value of developing talent from within.
For the third time, Training Magazine has ranked the $3 billion credit union as one of the top 125 providers of employer-sponsored workforce training and development. MACU was recognized for its approach to training some 300 staffers for the implementation of a new loan origination system. In addition to holding instructor-led classes for branch champions, a separate class for remaining loan officers focused on the basics of the system was made available via Webinar, regional training centers and corporate headquarters. Branch champions then supplemented the classes with on-the-job training. The effort resulted in a time savings of 20 to 35 minutes when members open new accounts.
“Simply put, better trained employees make for happier members,” said Oliver, who is also chair of CUNA’s human resources and training development council. “We’re very committed to staff development. Communication is the number one challenge for any organization and we are always working on ways to improve.”
One move that has made all the difference has been centralizing all corporate communication, internal and external alike, within the marketing department. As part of that alignment, a resource center was developed where employees can find everything from the latest campaigns and product and service offerings to new processes and training classes.
“There’s been a boost in confidence of employees,” said Oliver. “They no longer feel inundated by information, especially the front lines. Very little falls through the cracks now and no one is caught off guard by a new promotion for example.”
It’s been good for the organization as a whole and has been working well, Oliver noted. About three key messages a week are featured and the information is divided in the categories of the, operations, employee experience and charity focus. It’s changed just enough to keep interest up and drive employees to look at it.
She added it has also helped streamline and identify the best way to prioritize and send information out.
“We used to send emails for everything but with so many changes, the updates would be easy to overlook,” said Oliver. “Now, we only send emails as a news flash when needed, and managers help determine if an e-blast is needed.”
Taking a continuous, more layered approach to communications, morning meetings are also held at each branch about 10 minutes before opening.
“We all can get so busy at the branch sometimes you may not know what’s going on or who is on vacation so they take that time to cover the business of the day,” said Oliver. “We’ve been doing it for three years now and it’s been very impactful.”
Time is also spent during the meeting to focus on a service commitment value of the day and shine a spotlight on an employee living the MACU mission.
“Everyone at the branch has an opportunity to lead the meeting and it’s been a great way for team members to feel more connected every day,” said Oliver. “It opens a dialogue and another benefit is it’s helped our culture because it serves as a reminder that our mission, vision and core values are not just words on wall or piece of paper.”
Oliver said the credit union has to live and deliver on it by applying it every day with every member interaction. It also encourages everyone to be more observant in recognizing each person’s contributions, she added.