Stop and listen before planning this year

For many of you, it’s strategic planning season – that time of year where you venture off to some exotic resort (or the local Hampton Inn) with the Board on a Saturday and chart the future of the credit union. Next, many of you, unfortunately, will transition into what some call “amnesia season” where we gradually forget everything we defined in strategic planning and slip back into day-to-day survival mode. It’s definitely not intentional but it certainly does happen to the best of us.

Not only does your strategic success suffer but, most importantly, so does the success of your members and employees. One vital step you can take to help guard against this loss of focus is to base your tactical plans squarely on the current near-term needs of those employees and members. And a great way to crystalize this focus is through a culture assessment. In short, clearly identifying what’s working and not working in your regular member interactions. Identify what you need to do more frequently and better to make members and staff as happy as possible in the foreseeable future.

“When you ask employees for their opinion, they’re usually very forthcoming with their thoughts, pain points, observations and ideas,” says Jayne Hitman, National Relationship Manager at CUNA’s Creating member Loyalty. “Gathering the voice of your employees can become the catalyst for higher retention, increased efficiencies, improved morale, greater employee loyalty, and increased member service.”

When completing this assessment of your culture, focus primarily on three critical aspects:

  1. Member Perspective – even if you have a current VOM (Voice of the Member) in place, make sure to incorporate more of their “voices” into this assessment. Ask your employees what they hear from members. We all know that many members are not shy about expressing what they don’t like about their experiences with your credit union. Well, let’s make sure we capture those perspectives from the employees. After all, they’re the ones who have to endure the brunt of that feedback on a regular basis. But, don’t just be negative – capture the positive things staff hears from members, as well.
  2. Ease-of-Use – ask employees about their frustrations with their day-to-day performance. What’s keeping them from being optimally successful? What would they like to do more of? If they could change one thing, what would it be? Some of this will derive from the previous aspect – the member perspective – but others will come straight from the employees’ frustrations about your inefficient processes and operations. If a Loan Officer is frustrated with all the manual paperwork in your process, there’s a good chance your member is frustrated, too. If a Universal Teller is frustrated by how long a simple transaction takes, your member is probably equally frustrated. Etc.
  3. Employee Engagement – maintain your finger on the pulse of your employees, especially your member-facing ones. We all know how damaging turnover is to our credit union’s performance and that members don’t like talking to strange faces every time they come in or call. This assessment is an opportunity to catch those issues that become “dis-engagers” – the seemingly small things that’ll eventually lead employees to leave. Ask them about issues like teamwork, autonomy, recognition, coaching, and development … issues that are fundamental contributors to a highly engaged workforce. Learn how well you’re doing now so you can make modifications before it’s too late.

“It’s amazing how when you have an honest conversation, really listen and encourage dialogue how much your employees will open up and share from their heart,” says Hitman. “If you’re not gathering the voice of your employees you run the risk of wasting time, efforts, and resources on those strategic and tactical plans.” 

Your culture assessment should consist of multiple components, including anonymous surveys and focus groups, and you should attempt to hear from every employee. When analyzing the results of your assessment, look for significant gaps in some very decisive areas of your organization:

  • Front line to back office
  • One branch to the next
  • Contact Center to the branches
  • Top performers to low performers
  • Managers to their direct reports
  • Executives to everyone else
  • Members to executives

Stratifying the assessment is these ways will allow you to truly see the hottest of the hot-button issues and prioritize your tactical plans so you focus first on the issues that will drive the most positive and significant results. 

So, before investing heavily in any new technology or training initiative or culture transformation, capture the perspective of your employees and members. The assessment will take a little time to do (and, of course, there’s a right way and wrong way to do it) but it’ll be time well-spent because of the rich and actionable data that’ll be produced. Further, you’ll be showing your employees and, ultimately, members that you care about their perspective and success.

If you need help or advice on how to complete this critical assessment process, let’s talk. My firm has worked with credit unions of every shape and size and conducted hundreds of these assessments. We’d be happy to get you on the right track with yours. We can be reached at .

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: Details