Developing a Cool Corporate Culture—and a Twist

At CUES we strive to implement many of the best practices ideas that our event presenters bring to our members and attendees.

For example, this year’s CCCU and CUES International Convention in Panama City, Panama, brought our attention to Jackie Freiberg, co-author (with husband Kevin) of Guts! Companies that Blow the Doors Off Business-as-Usual.

In the book, Freiberg quotes Jim Goodnight, CEO of database giant SAS as saying:

“Remember, your most valuable resources drive away at the end of every business day, and it is your job to make sure they are eager to return the next morning.”

That’s a statement we at CUES have been taking to heart. In April, every staff member gathered for a day’s look at our organizational culture. Our goal was to develop ways to more deeply engage our team members, who were already highly engaged employees by U.S. standards. As an outcome of the April all-staff meeting, several teams were created to develop key ideas further and present back to staff.

One team developed a CUES constitution to set down CUES’ core values. It begins: “We the CUESers, in order to form a more perfect organization, establish strong connections with co-workers, insure cultural tranquility, provide for the common good, promote responsibility, and secure the delivery of unparalleled service for our members, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Credit Union Executives Society.”

One reason we got such a high level of staff buy-in and energy, I think, is that we removed the sometimes-ominous question of budget from our initial brainstorming sessions. I didn’t want people concerned that dollars alone were going to drive strategy. Instead, we asked staff to focus on possibilities and end results. Now, as we budget, management will put heads together to find ways to invest our resources to support the directions staff, members and the overall market have pointed us in.

I’m pleased that we have also been able to act on a neat twist on the theme of creating a fantastic culture that you might not read about in a typical article on the subject. The twist is that we invited staff members from deeper down in the organization to be the leads on fleshing out—and presenting to the board—our key organizational strategies, originally conceived with full staff input.

Instead of senior executives, the presenters at the last CUES board meeting were staffers from various departments and levels. It gave them a tremendous professional development opportunity, and is something we think they’ll talk about with other staff members.

Having such a variety of staffers as board meeting presenters gave our directors the opportunity to see the depth we have with our staff. In the meeting, I tried not to cut the presenters off and jump in very often; I wanted them to do their own thing, and directly answer the questions posed by the board. They all hit home runs. Next year we’ll be able to do it with a whole new set of people.

Our board members—all CEOs or senior executives themselves—were clearly taken with the experience. Several commented that they had no idea what an impact hearing from a wider range of CUES staffers would have on them. They found it gave them a better idea of the breadth of the organization they were serving as directors. And it charged them up, giving them new perspectives for policy-making and strategy creation for CUES—and for their own credit unions.

It’s been very rewarding working to ensure that CUES’ best resources—its employees—are excited about coming into work every morning. What are you doing in this regard? I’d love to hear from you at

Charles Fagan

Charles Fagan

Charles E. “Chuck” Fagan, III is President and CEO of PSCU, a credit union service organization that leverages the cooperative model to better serve credit unions and their members through ... Web: Details