My first day working in a credit union was almost 38 years ago. I was 18 years old, had just graduated from St. Mary of the Valley High School and decided to leave my 4 year “career” as a serving Wench to get a real job (wearing real clothes) in an office. I didn’t really understand what a credit union was, but they told me that I was hired as a teller because I had previous cash handling experience. My ability to do basic math, like calculating change from a 20, was about to launch my career.
On my first day I met with Judy from HR for the beginning of my orientation. After the tour of the branch we ended behind teller row where I was to be handed over to the Teller Supervisor, Mean Jean. As we made our way through the locked gate that separated the employees from the members I remember approaching this very tall woman, huge head of blonde hair (it was the 80’s and Aqua Net was your friend) she was smoking as if her life depended on it. The ashtray on her desk was overflowing with cigarette butts adorned with bright pink lipstick. Mean Jean didn’t even look up when we got there, instead Judy had to politely get her attention with a throat clearing noise.
“Jean, this is Denise, she’s your new teller.” Judy explained. And Mean Jean said the words that I will never forget, “Oh sh*t, I forgot YOU were starting today.” This was the beginning of a day that almost ended my credit union career. I was told to sit at an empty desk while she found something for me to do. I ended up spending the day going through thousands of signature cards in metal file drawers to make sure they were in alphabetical order. I went home with bleeding cuticles, a broken spirit and I burst into tears. I almost quit after one day and returned to the safety of the restaurant. On my first day as a Serving Wench my boss told me “We are put on this earth to serve one another, and when you are serving someone, you are doing work that matters.” I loved working for that boss. And he shaped the values that would carry me through my personal and professional life.
Back to the credit union – I was determined to wear “real clothes” and be an adult with a real job, so I returned the next day. Eventually I learned what a financial cooperative was supposed to be about and felt like the work I did “mattered.” I hope I’ve made a difference in the movement.
This week I experienced the craziest feeling of deja vu and it made me so sad. Two years ago I signed up as a driver for the Cochiti Volunteer Fire Department. After a year I decided to get my Basic EMT license. And now I’m going to the next level and pursuing an Intermediate EMT license. Part of my training includes 72 hours of clinicals, half of which will be in the Emergency Room at the local hospital and the other half with Albuquerque Ambulance, the busiest service in New Mexico. On my first day with the hospital, I checked in with the front desk and told them I was here for the “morning huddle.” I’m required to wear a bright red embroidered polo that says University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Intermediate Student. So it’s pretty clear why I’m there.
The receptionist showed me to a small conference room. I was the first to arrive. Slowly the room filled up with silent zombies. Nurses, techs, and paramedics who barely acknowledged one another, but rather buried their faces in their cell phones. It was almost 7:00am and it was standing room only in the room except for the head of the table. In walked the charge nurse. “Mean Jean.” She didn’t say good morning or smile, just sat down, heavy sigh, picked up a piece of paper and started reading all the rules that had been broken in the last week. Things like, your hair needs to be tied back if it’s longer than shoulder length, nails must be natural, etc.
Then she began reading off assignments. Name, station, name station … reminded me a bit of a baseball coach assigning positions. You could tell by the reactions if that assignment was good or bad. Everyone was dismissed. There was no rallying cry, no “Let’s make this a good day” or “Let’s go save some lives!” As the room emptied the only person left at the table was me and “Mean Jean.” She gave me that oh so familiar look and I could read her face, she was thinking, “Oh sh*t, I forgot YOU were starting today.” Instead of an empty desk, I was told to go find Sarah. She would be my proctor.
Now I will tell you I had a great experience in my three days at the hospital and Sarah was great. I’m 56 years old, I have a lot of experience dealing with difficult people so this really didn’t bother me in the sense I flashed back to my 18 year old insecure self. But rather it made me sad to think that we still have leaders that don’t understand their role. A great leader is a coach. Can you imagine if a baseball coach just assigned positions and then went back in the clubhouse and sat in his office for the rest of the game checking emails? And yet that’s what often happens.
Alyce Cornyn Selby wrote a book called Whatever Happened to Team Work? It’s a quick read and she gets right to the point. We don’t work well as teams in the business world because we don’t follow the principles of what make a good team, or tribe. It’s pretty simple:
Your team needs to know:
- What game are we playing? What business are we in? What is our mission? Goal?
- Who’s on my team?
- What position do I play? How can I best contribute to our victory?
- How do we know when we’ve won?
And a good leader will start the game (or the day) with a rallying cry!
Our Fire Chief reminds us why we do what we do. Our goal is to help people get through their worst day with dignity and compassion and to return home safe at the end of the day. Sounds like our mission. Have you thought about the simple, memorable mission you want to communicate to your new employees, so they know what their goal is in your credit union, no matter what their job is? Helping people get through their worst day with dignity and compassion and help them return home safe is a simple, effective statement of our goal, and it helps inspire me and keep me focused.