Empowering Employees in a Universal Branch Concept

I remember receiving the phone call that I would be managing our organization’s first non-traditional branch. The first emotion was elation; I couldn’t believe that my organization was giving me this opportunity. The second emotion was fear—what had I gotten myself into? I was giving up an established branch with an experienced staff to develop a new concept in a new market. 

Although there were many tasks that needed to be done, the most important was getting our team ready. After selecting four internal candidates for the MSR positions, we immediately implemented a rigorous training schedule while they continued working in their current branches. We expanded their organization knowledge by putting them through a modified version of the shadowing program that we use for our management training program. Additionally, I taught several interactive classes on interpersonal skills.  We examined best practices from Apple, Ritz Carlton, and Chick-fil-A. I had one goal for this training: to create engaged and empowered employees. While not a perfect benchmark, success would be measured by the elimination of the phrase “I need to check with my supervisor” from their vocabulary. I hate that response because it is an admission that the employee is unable to help the member. It also conditions members to constantly ask for a manager or supervisor for routine requests. I told my team early on that I wanted them to resolve issues that arose and then debrief me on their solution later, when we could discuss alternative solutions in case a similar event happened later.

Our transition and training time passed very quickly, and we were soon ready to open the doors to the new branch. Having worked to develop engaged and empowered employees, I was excited to see how our members would respond to them and the new concept. 

We opened in early February. Since then, several encouraging trends are beginning to emerge, and it is clear that the training and investment we made in our team is producing results. Vestavia has the highest services per member of the nineteen branches within our organization; I believe that this is a direct result of our universal MSR concept, which encourages cross-selling and ensures that our most knowledgeable employees are interacting with members. Additionally, our member quality service averages (as measured by surveys that are randomly sent to members) are exceeding both our corporate goal and the overall average for the organization. Anecdotally, members are raving about the new concept and love working alongside our employees as partners.  Finally, our loan production has exceeded our expectations each month; we are presently 28% over our goal. 

While loan production and service metrics are exceeding goals, our deposit products and electronic services have failed to meet expectations. We are presently looking for ways to change these trends and considering possible courses of action.  Although the number of deposit products has lagged, the total deposit balances have been strong. Finally, I have been extremely pleased with the results of our employee development efforts. I mentioned a goal earlier of employees making decisions without consulting me first. While they were initially skeptical, they now love it, as it allows them to help members more efficiently and without being micromanaged. In an even more encouraging development, all of the employees at Vestavia have expressed interest and taken tangible steps toward professional development goals. One employee was recently accepted into SUCCESS, which is a two year professional development program at America’s First. Another employee will be applying to LAUNCH, our internal management training program, at the end of the year. I am optimistic that she will be accepted, and we will have an employee leave for the first time; I can’t think of a better reason for turnover! 

While the new branch is progressing well, I am constantly looking for ways to improve our level of service for our members, production numbers, and employee engagement. At the end of August, I am headed to the Disney Institute's Customer Experience Summit, where I hope to gain new ideas for improving member service, employee engagement, and the interaction between front-line and back-office employees.  I hope that this experience will motivate me to aspire higher for my branch and organization. 

Thank you for reading about my journey. If your organization is considering opening a new universal branch or converting an existing location to this concept, I would love to talk to you about it. I can be reached at davido@amfirst.org.  

David O'Dell