VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Maybe it was the cookies that did it. Or perhaps the dictionary. Recently the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation tapped VanCity Credit Union for its popular Back to the Floor, a reality television program showing what actually happens when the top executive and a line worker swap jobs. It was obvious CEO Dave Mowat would head back to the floor. But who would move into his office? A message went out over the VanCity intranet inviting applicants. When Lisa Paille, a financial services coordinator who is one of the first people to greet members when they walk into the branch where she works, saw the subject line “Do you want to be CEO?,” she was immediately attracted to the idea. She struggled to shrink her requested essay down to 50 words from 200. Then she contacted a member who runs a nearby bakery. He agreed to decorate some cookies in VanCity’s colors of red and white bearing the message “Lisa for CEO.” Paille also created an illustrated VanCity Dictionary featuring words she felt pertained to a CEO’s role. At first VanCity executives weren’t sure they would attract many responses. But 65 applications were submitted. Others shared Paille’s creativity, one contestant for example designing a Web site to support his candidacy. Finally, after a series of interviews, Paille was selected. In mid-June two CBC crews arrived, one to film Mowat and another to follow Paille. They filmed virtually all day for three days, morning to night. There were no pauses or retakes. If Mowat or Paille muffed an assignment, the cameras just kept rolling. The role switch even extended to exchanging cars. While Paille zipped down the highways in Mowat’s Audi Quattro, he got around in her minivan complete with child seats. Mowat was introduced to the realities of work in the tellers’ station, mailroom and call center. He worked on a street team out in the community promoting a new Visa card. He also found himself painting a branch wall as part of a facilities crew. “In all the situations I was working to learn the job while still providing service. At the end of the day it’s a real transaction and a real member you’re providing service to. I had to keep a sense of humor and rely on the people around me to help me through the transactions,” Mowat says. “I picked up many small technical things, but more important I gained a very big appreciation for how many ways there are to build trust in the organization. Traditionally when we think about building trust and providing great service we focus on the big transactions when you come in for a car loan, to set up a retirement plan or get a mortgage for your home. “When I worked as a teller, it was easy to see those transactions might be years apart. In between you come into the branch 10, 20 or many more times to get something. The way the frontline people treat our members is really critical. The front line supports all the other relationships that are built in the organization.” While Mowat says the filming went pretty much as expected, he was surprised by how interested the entire staff was in the process. They closely followed a daily filming diary posted on the intranet. Paille found herself sitting behind Mowat’s large desk juggling a schedule that ranged from an early morning appointment with a personal trainer at the prestigious Vancouver Club to a finance meeting to delivering speeches. She faced a long series of community gatherings where she represented VanCity. She was the go-to person facing a decision whether or not to close a branch where the air conditioning had broken and the landlord stalled on making repairs. Close the branch, she ruled. “Time management was a huge thing,” Paille recalls. “People want to spend a little time and see you, and he truly does have an open door policy. But five minutes here and there add up and up.” The mayor of Vancouver called to congratulate her on filling Mowat’s job, asked how she was doing, then jokingly asked for an interest-free loan. Paille laughed, but he didn’t get the loan. Then one of Mowat’s sons called to report he needed $130 deposited in his account. She put the money in the account and was later repaid by Mowat. Her final day as CEO included a visit to the board of trade. “You have to mingle, mingle, mingle and know who’s who,” Paille recalls. “What Dave does on a daily basis really affects how VanCity runs. On my job I’m the face of VanCity for the members. He’s the face of VanCity for the staff, our community and the membership. It was quite interesting to see how it takes place and what he does do. “I never thought his job was 9 to 5. He is extraordinarily hands-on and works whatever hours are needed. I would do it again in a heartbeat, but I wouldn’t want Dave’s job.” In fact, although Paille has received several job offers from within VanCity since the filming, she enjoys what she’s doing, thank you. CBC expects the show will air sometime between October and January. It was originally planned for a half hour, but the buzz around VanCity is the producers are asking for a full hour. -

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