Beware the secret saboteur in your credit union

He or she lurks hidden inside of almost every organization. They smile at you. They nod in agreement when you make bold statements of purpose. They cheerlead when you announce new initiatives. Meanwhile, when out of your sight and hearing ranges, whenever any opportunity arises, wherever weakness or uncertainty in another person seems to exist, the secret saboteur promotes dissatisfaction among your team members. They place mines between your leadership, your purposes, and your initiatives and your team members. Unseen and unheard by you, the secret saboteur is actively eating away at your corporate structure, purpose, and goals. Fail to find the secret saboteur at your own peril.

Just as credit unions are struggling to adjust to meet new challenges presented by changing technology, regulations, generational preferences. and member expectations, so too are hospitals. Faced with increased regulation, mandatory and published independent satisfaction surveys, new and more restrictive insurance rules for repayment, and greater competition, hospitals are spending great treasure in time and money transforming their cultures. Now, patient and family satisfaction is something to which they can no longer give mere lip service. Many, as I have noted in a previous article, are doing a remarkable job of navigating the mines faced by any organization attempting to make fundamental changes to its culture. Yet, as time goes on, it is becoming apparent that hidden saboteurs often lurk within the depths of the organization.

This point was driven home to me in an article I recently read written by a physician who quoted liberally from an article written by a nurse. The original article appeared in “ATLANTIC”. The author of the original piece titled, “The Problem With Satisfied Patients”, Alexandra Robbins, went after patient and family satisfaction and its measurement by survey with a vengeance. Unfortunately, her protests were ever so familiar to me. I had heard similar protests and occasionally still do hear them from bankers and credit union employees. As I read the article written by the physician, Dr. Alex Smith, I thought it might be useful to examine the complaints against customer service in hospitals and compare them to what I have observed in credit unions that were attempting to become more member focused.

Examples of why some believe it is unwise to force nurses and other hospital employees to try to be more customer/patient focused and their approximate equivalences in credit unions follow:

A patient complained that a roommate was dying noisily and therefor he was unable to sleep all night. That became a nurse’s fault.



The hospital doesn’t have the sweetener she likes in her coffee. Nurse says it isn’t her job to keep her sweet tooth happy.


His nurse was not treating him fairly because my pastrami sandwich had too little pastrami on it after receiving quadruple bypass surgery.




I don’t have time to answer the phone beyond saying my name or “credit union”. There are too many other things I need to do.



Standing and greeting with a handshake and smile isn’t me. I just do my job and they like me.


Wanting me to sell is not what I signed on for. I do transactions fast and accurately. Salespeople sell, tellers do transactions.

These are just a few examples of potential dissatisfaction and misunderstanding that a skillful secret saboteur can easily use against your best efforts to initiate effective and beneficial change within your organization. The problem in both types of organizations is identical. The reasons for change and implementation of those changes have not been properly explained, motivated, coached, and monitored. Beyond that, and here is the hard part, when a person fails to embrace those changes they have not been helped to find a job where they will fit in.

You see, if the roommate of the dying person would have had it explained to him that a critically and possibly terminal case was going to be in the next bed, and all possible would be done to limit that patient’s care becoming a problem to him, it may well have diminished his irritation. Perhaps not, but it certainly would have been worth the effort. The unhappy owner of the sweet tooth could have been told of her choices in a positive way. If okayed by the doctor, she may have been allowed to have a family member or friend bring some of her favorite sweetener to her. A dietician, speaking to the patient in advance of the surgery, could have counseled the unhappy delicatessen connoisseur on the reasons behind the foods and portions he would be receiving. Managing expectations and doing so in a friendly manner can often help reduce later anger, resistance to change and conflict.

In the credit union environment proving people wrong about not wanting to use a professional, albeit eight second longer, telephone greeting, standing and greeting people at a member service desk with a smile, introduction and handshake, identifying member needs and helping them decide to take sensible action to meet the want or need (selling through service) are similar issues to those listed for hospitals in one key way. The issue?, resistance to change. Finding exceptions to the rule is always an easy way out for self-justification for resistance to change. The effective leader is a proactive advocate for change. He or she must be able to seek out and destroy secret saboteurs before they can do irreparable harm to the culture shift.

Pointing out, forcefully, how taking any of the little steps required in the culture change action plan will benefit patients and families, or credit union members and their families will help discourage and limit the effectiveness of the secret saboteur. Find stories to tell and ways to help people visualize the effectiveness of each new action you are asking them to take that forcefully demonstrate the effects of those changes. Find and help champions of your new direction and assign them with seeking out the naysaying hidden saboteurs in their departments. With the help of those champions you can find ways to bring home your message along with the need to change. Educate everyone, coach everyone, assess everyone, reteach and coach everyone, until the hidden saboteur either shows himself or changes. If he shows himself and refuses to change you must cut out the cancer before it spreads.

I will provide one example of a resisted change I had to surmount early in my tenure at Healthcare Systems Federal Credit Union. I wrote a brief telephone greeting for everyone to use. “Good morning (or afternoon, thank you for calling Healthcare Systems Federal Credit Union. My name isc (insert your name). How may I help you today?”. The pushback was terrible. Only one person embraced the change.

One by one I brought each employee into my office and had them answer an imaginary phone call in their own manner. I timed each answer. Average time, three seconds. It doesn’t take long to say good morning, or credit union, or Tamie speaking. Then I had them read my script and had them smile when they did. Oh, were some of those smiles forced! Average time, eleven seconds. Then I asked them each if it was worth eight seconds to make a member feel important, welcomed, and sense that the person on the other end of the phone wanted to help them. They could not say no. So, we rehearsed until it became second nature, Soon members were coming in and telling them how much more professional they sounded. Hey told our member service team members how much more they liked calling! When that happened all but one person fully embraced the change. Eventually that person left. Before she left she tried all she could to destroy the changes, but the reinforcement the team received from our members made her efforts useless.

The demise of the secret saboteur will happen when leaders help people understand that no change is ever universally effective at first, if ever. We are after all dealing with people. Additionally, if we are to make the influence of secret saboteurs minimal we must demonstrate how complying with the changes will make things better over time. Most importantly, we must help people visualize how much better things will be by using stories and real life situations. For when good people truly get together to do the right things for the right reasons almost anything is possible.

Brad Roteman

Brad Roteman

Brad Roteman has served HSFCU since February 2005. He is a former district sales manager with Bankers Systems, Inc., now Walters Klewer Financial Services. Brad has won numerous awards for ... Web: Details