Sink or swim: The credit union with the best people will win

by Jamie Swedberg

When it comes to leadership, it’s either sink or swim. Or at least that’s how it’s viewed at $12 billion Servus Credit Union, Edmonton, Alberta. That’s how CUEs member Devin Selte ended up with the title corporate trainer/leadership, leading a team of six.

“I’ll give you a quote I heard at a conference,” says Selte. “It came from a CEO in the Canadian credit union system. He said, basically, that the credit union with the best people will win, will really make a successful credit union. I think the more we focus on developing our employees and our leaders, the more they’re going to create better experiences for staff as well as for our members, which will ensure that the credit union system continues to be a viable option in the financial services industry.”

And then there are Servus CU’s particular needs. In 2008, when the credit union merged three billion-dollar credit unions into one, it found itself running on three separate banking systems, three different sets of policies, three different sets of procedures, and three different sets of products—all of which would eventually need to be streamlined and consolidated. It was a lot of change all at once, so the CU decided to create formal programs to help employees deal with it. Selte’s leadership and training department is in charge.

“What we have done is develop some programming to support all of our employees and leaders in change,” he explains. “We’ve developed two programs. The first one is called ‘Understanding Change,’ which gives you a better understanding of the emotional responses that we go through when impacted by change. The other is ‘Change Conversations,’ which allows us to have good conversations with our leaders when we’re being impacted and struggle with some of the changes that we’re experiencing. From the leader’s perspective, we want them to understand going through change as well, but we’re also giving them additional information on how to communicate change to our staff and then coach them through the changes that they’re experiencing.”

The benefit is hard to demonstrate in terms of ROI but, without it, Selte believes, the credit union would have a hard time surviving and thriving.

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