If you want member engagement, you’d better invest in employee engagement

In 1917, in the inaugural issue of Forbes magazine, BC Forbes wrote that the purpose of business was not to make a profit but to make people happy. By focusing on making people as happy as possible, he inferred, the business success would follow.

One hundred and two years later, our industry is faced with multiple challenges to profitability – and we have little or no control over many of them. However, one we do have direct control over is making people “happy”. That is, engaging our members and employees to such a great extent that they are happy and, ultimately, loyal to our credit union.

We’ve all heard the adage, happy employees make happy members. However, research directly correlating those two items has been nebulous, at best. We’ve assumed that the adage is true but have never been able to really demonstrate it. A recent article in Harvard Business review reignited this issue by stating that companies that are recognized as outstanding in customer experience (CX) have 60% more engaged employees (Temkin Group research).

In previous articles, we’ve noted that highly engaged employees are also highly productive; in fact, their production is truly outstanding! Bain & Co. reports that your most engaged employees produce 2.25 times as much as your satisfied employees. Simply having “satisfied” or “engaged” employees may not be enough – to create a truly outstanding experience for members and staff, you now need to have the most engaged, or “inspired”, employees.

“Inspired employees fully engage with your members and they care about the members well-being,” says Jayne Hitman, National Relationship Manager at CUNA’s Creating Member Loyalty. “It’s an emotional connection for them which equates to an improved experience for your members.”

To create this type of culture at your credit union, you may need to break the mold. You may need to stop doing things the way you’ve always done them and try a new way of satisfying, engaging, and inspiring your staff. Here are three general ideas:

  • Make it StrategicMost aspects of the employee experience or culture was always thought of as an HR-thing. Rarely was it at the forefront of business planning and, in fact, oftentimes it only surfaced after all the business strategies were identified and finalized. Today, however, credit unions need to lead with culture and engagement. The question, “How do we create a fully engaged and inspired employee culture?” should be answered at the same time as, “What are our strategic goals for 1 and 5 years from now?”
  • Measure it Diligently Another old adage is what gets measured, gets attention. Some credit unions are pretty good at measuring member satisfaction but very few are good at measuring member engagement and even fewer are good at measuring employee engagement. How can that be? If we truly believe that our mantra is “People helping people”, then why are we so lax in measuring how well we’re helping people? (In this case, “people” refers to members and employees!)
  • Be Passionate and Purposeful Don’t just talk about wanting an engaged culture for members and staff, make sure everyonefeels You can’t fool people with a catchy tagline that you plaster on your website and walls. What people see and hear in public and on social media far outweighs what you hope they experience. And this can’t just be a 2020 thing, either; it has to become engrained in the fabric of who you are as a company – “making people happy is who we are and what we’re about!”

Hitman provided the following example of properly investing in employee engagement: “Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at an all employee development day at a $5b credit union. With great excitement the CEO laid out the next 5 years and #1 on their focus was fully equipping and empowering the team to serve their community at the highest level.  When he finished all 700+ employees were on their feet applauding. This passion started at the top and is shared throughout the credit union.”

Specifically, there are tools at your disposal to assess and improve the employee engagement level at your credit union, including:

  • Engagement Surveys– These occasional surveys should not focus only on pay and benefits (again, this isn’t just an HR-thing!) but also on the type of work environment you’ve created, the amount of emotional support they feel, and how valued they feel as an employee. And don’t just do a survey and then check it off your list … do focus groups with staff to dig deeper, create action steps as a result of the feedback, and communicate changes in the future thanks to gaining your employees’ perspective.
  • 360 Degree Surveys– Yet another old adage: people don’t leave jobs, they leave their boss. Many credit union leaders (executive, managers, and supervisors) know the business thoroughly and are good at teaching the technical or operation side of the business. By far fewer are also good at inspiring, engaging, even motivating their employees to higher levels of performance. An annual 360 survey of each leader will determine their strengths and weaknesses in this regard and produce a personalized development plan to facilitate improvement in levels of employee engagement.
  • Culture Assessment – The word “culture” has many connotations and takes many different shapes. Therefore, you need a holistic approach to assessing and improving it. Start with a survey every 18-24 months that looks at every component of a high-performing performance culture. Break those results into strata so you can see how your executive feel about the culture versus how your frontline staff feels. Focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and observations are also vital to gain richer understanding of what’s working and not working. Overlay these findings with the member’s perspective and you’ll really have a holistic and thorough assessment of your culture.

“Building and sustaining a highly engaged culture is challenging; however, when you are in-the-know, you know where your “spring boards” are and at the same time you know where your “road blocks” are.” Hitman says. “It’s too big of a risk to hope you know what’s in the hearts of your team – stop and invest in them so you are truly in-the-know!”

Is there a financial investment needed to deploy these tools? Of course there is. But let me repeat the stat from above: your highly engaged employees produce 2.25 times as much as your satisfied employees. How many other items on your 2020 strategic plan have the chance of producing a 225% ROI? And the other stat was: companies who were “outstanding” in customer experience had 60% more engaged employees. What other action items on next year’s plan have such a strong correlation to creating outstanding experiences for your members?

If you’re serious about creating a highly engaged and inspired employee culture at your credit union, let’s talk. My email is probert@fi-strategies.com and my direct phone number is 636-578-3280.

Paul Robert

Paul Robert

Paul Robert has been helping financial institutions drive their retail growth strategies for over 25 years. Paul is the Chief Executive Officer for FI Strategies, LLC, a small but mighty ... Web: fi-strategies.com Details