There is no “I” in Culture

For any credit unions out there currently working on their organizational culture, or ones soon to begin this exciting journey, there is one important step to this process that I want to share with you: remember your employees! It isn’t just about buy-in. It’s about empowerment, development, and even <gasp> letting them fail at times in order to learn from their mistakes.

In my spare time, I love to bake. For example’s sake, let’s say your employees are pure vanilla extract. I’ve made the mistake of forgetting the vanilla extract in recipes before. It’s only one ingredient, right? True. But what did I end up with? A bland, tasteless dessert that did anything but satisfy my insatiable sweet tooth.

Vanilla extract - a seemingly secondary ingredient - is actually one of the most important ingredients in most good desserts. Forget employee buy-in, employee engagement, employee development, and employee empowerment, and you are forgetting the most important ingredient for success of your organizational culture.

Just as vanilla is a powerful background flavor, adding a full-bodied complexity to desserts and tying the entire thing together, your employees are the ones who will add flavor to the brand experience and culture of your credit union.

I’d like to share some of the successful ways in which Members First Credit Union has actively engaged its employees in building our culture, which has led to employee ownership, better performance, creative ideas, and a happier work environment… all things that contribute to a successful organizational culture.

We are ALL marketers

Each year at the January staff meeting, I present what we’ll be doing throughout the course of the year from a marketing and business development perspective. While the staff always knew what was going on in marketing, they hadn’t been intimately involved in the marketing plan until this year.

Our Member Relations department meets every Tuesday morning at 7:45, so I started attending these meetings to discuss marketing initiatives. I talk about upcoming promotions, share great articles and blog posts I’ve come across, and sometimes I just share a goal I would like to accomplish and they pitch in ideas on how they think we can best get there. But they now know that they are the most important component of any marketing campaign that we launch.

Revisit the “basics” often

It is clear from our membership reports that the biggest area of member growth is our “friends and family” category. While fancy marketing campaigns look slick and get the marketing geek in me excited, word-of-mouth continues to be our biggest area of growth. The 2011 marketing plan for MFCU is heavily focused on internal and external branding and culture initiatives that strive to deepen relationships with our current members… our die-hard fans.  

In February, we held a “Brand Celebration Day,” where we had lengthy discussions on the vision and culture for the credit union. These discussions answered the question “what makes Members First a great place to bank and work?” While the credit union was closed, and I think most of the employees at first just wanted the day off because they thought it would be “another boring meeting,” it was a turning point for us as an organization. Employees who usually sit in the back with their heads down were actively participating, providing feedback and ideas for what they think our member experience should look like.

The employees are now actively living the credit union’s culture by consistently providing unique member experiences, presenting ideas on ways we can engage our membership, and taking more ownership of their positions by focusing on their strengths.  

The Power of teams

Members First has a culture that inspires free thinking and new ideas. With this new territory sometimes comes failure. A lot of executives have a hard time delegating to folks because they don’t have time to deal with the project if it fails. This thinking is illogical, but it also puts limits on that person and the people to whom that project might otherwise be delegated.

Our last Core Value states “respect individual strengths. The sum of the team is greater than the individuals.” This means that we can only stand in our own strength when we are also letting others stand in theirs. Failure happens. It’s what you do with that failure that can make your team even stronger.

The VP of Fun

Another successful program for employee engagement has been our “VP of Fun” position. Applications were open for two weeks in March, and appointed two Co-VPs of Fun, as they wanted to do it as a team. Since then, we have had Members First “Spirit Day,” an employee ice cream social, “Pop-a-Palooza” and other fun events just for staff that help keep the morale high.

Moreover, the VPs have instituted an Employee “Lover of the Month” program where employees can nominate one another for random acts of kindness performed to fellow employees and members. The “Lover of the Month” is recognized at the staff meeting, where the VPs are always given 10 minutes of time to present and talk about upcoming events and important information.

It’s about recognition

Incentive plans are abhorred by some credit unions, but they work well at Members First. Part of this success stems from the fact that they are individually-based and set for “above and beyond” our average numbers. In the big scheme of things, incentive pay is a blip on the radar for our operational costs. So what makes ours so powerful?

We begin each monthly staff meeting with success recognition for our employees. The employee reaching the highest number of goals is not only recognized at the staff meeting, but they are presented with a check, given a premium parking space behind the building, rewarded two Columbus Blue Jackets hockey tickets, and get lunch with a manager of their choosing. Additionally, any awards received by an employee or successes one has achieved in or outside of the credit union are also recognized during this time.

Many times these employees say that it is the recognition in front of and competition with their peers that gets them to step up and do a good job. Our organizational culture encourages our employees to continually set the bar higher for themselves and for the credit union.

As you ponder what you can do for your staff in regards to an organizational culture, remember that the biggest asset and most important resource you can invest in your employees is time. Like all great investments, it will yield a high return. This return is in the form of happier employees, a better work environment, and ultimately a wonderful experience for your members each time they visit or connect with someone from your credit union.