Employee Engagement & Satisfaction Done Right

People Perspectives LLC

9 minutes

I love working at Consumers Credit Union. We hire extremely talented individuals and have great team synergy in every office and department. Members love us and trust us. It’s great coming to work every day when your co-workers and members love you!”

That is just one of the many positive comments echoed by employees at $650 million/69,000-member Consumers Credit Union, with 240 employees in Kalamazoo, Mich., on its 2015 employee engagement and satisfaction survey, conducted by my company, People Perspectives. The CU had the highest employee satisfaction average and the highest employee engagement average of all of our clients last year!

“We survey our employees because we understand how vital their satisfaction is to delivering exceptional member service,” says CUES member Shawn Premer, chief human resources officer at the CU. “If we see a problem forming or a trend that we find bothersome in the survey results, we address it immediately.”

The value that employee engagement and satisfaction surveys bring to the table is substantial. Experts who study employee engagement and satisfaction have found that both have a direct impact on several critical and costly variables, such as employee turnover, employee absenteeism, member satisfaction, member loyalty, product penetration and sales, employee productivity, employee safety, and overall company performance and financial gain.

At Consumers CU, the benefits and impact are striking. “Employee turnover has averaged less than 10 percent for the past several years,” says Premer. “Our net membership has seen double digit growth each year for the past 30 years. Over 98 percent of members report either being satisfied or highly satisfied, with 88 percent reporting that they are highly satisfied.”

This year People Perspectives decided to recognize the credit unions that have done exceedingly well on their surveys,  and Consumers CU was named our first Distinguished Credit Union of the Year!

The CU had especially high averages on three survey dimensions: organizational satisfaction, salary and benefits satisfaction, and department satisfaction. Let’s take a look at the practices that have contributed to such high engagement and satisfaction levels across these particular areas as reported by the CU’s staff.

Organizational Satisfaction

Studies have shown that company communication and cooperation are predictors of employee engagement levels. Companies that have ineffective communication and cooperation strategies typically have less teamwork across the company, have groups with less knowledge of what other groups do, and have a more isolated view of their own group.

Consumers CU puts a great deal of emphasis on communication and cooperation with its employees. For starters, employees have many opportunities to express their opinions to management through such resources as focus groups, employee committees and an online forum for submitting ideas to management.

On the other side, management emphasizes communication with employees by being as transparent as possible. Each month, Consumers CU’s CEO, CUES member Kit Snyder, CCE, has global calls with all employees, in which Snyder provides an update on progress and shares important CU-related information.

Additionally, management reports to employees at least monthly on how the CU is performing, how the CU is progressing on its strategic plan, and areas in which the CU is striving to improve. This information is posted monthly on the CU’s intranet. Moreover, updates and results are provided during monthly managers’ meetings so managers, in turn, can share this information with their teams. Minutes from the managers’ meetings are also posted on the intranet for all staff to view.

Cooperation across the credit union is also very important. In fact, the CU has a strategic plan item focused on department cross-training. Consumers CU aims to have employees cross-trained in various areas of the CU through internal internships, job shadowing and interdepartmental job sharing. Currently, more than 10 percent of employees are participating.

Consumers CU has an individual development plan for each employee. It is from the IDPs that management determines who will be cross-trained.

In addition, when new committees are formed (examples include wellness, charitable, sustainability, and innovation committees), the CU makes sure employees from different departments are selected. This ensures each business area is represented when implementing something new.

Salary and Benefits Satisfaction

Communication is also a big contributor to employee satisfaction with the compensation. With respect to salaries, Premer notes, “Every other year, we do market and CU compensation comparisons and adjust our ranges accordingly. We share with employees their pay range, where they fall in the range, and we are transparent with our compensation strategy. Our employees know that our goal is to have them paid at the mid-point of the range within three to five years of being in the job.

“With their bonus, 401(k) match and benefits, their total compensation is at 75-90 percent of max pay in the market, using pay surveys as well as credit union-specific surveys for benchmarking,” she says.

Consumers CU matches 100 percent of employee 401(k) contributions up to 10 percent of salary and pays 80-90 percent of health insurance premiums for employees, depending on the plan.

“We keep our benefit plan at a low cost and keep our copays/deductibles and co-insurances low,” notes Premer. “We are transparent with our employees about our benefits and their costs, so even when we have to make plan changes or increase premiums, they understand why.”

Consumers CU has made a strategic decision to offer above-market staff compensation. As Premer notes, “We know that in order to recruit and retain the best talent, we need to pay people enough so they can focus on things other than pay.”

Many studies have consistently shown that compensation is an important factor in employee satisfaction. According to Aon Hewitt, for example, compensation ranks among the top five drivers of satisfaction (but is not the top driver). Compensation is not considered to impact employee engagement, however, as it is more of a “maintenance factor” to avoid dissatisfaction, according to Deloitte Review.

Department Satisfaction

Managers at Consumers CU go through an extensive in-house leadership program to help them lead their teams. They are held accountable for meeting with their teams every month and giving them solid feedback for development. Moreover, managers are directly accountable for keeping their teams happy and engaged. Consumers CU measures this through the employee engagement and satisfaction survey as well as through “stay” interviews conducted by HR and senior managers. This helps the CU identify areas of improvement, usually before there is an issue.

One of the foundational values for Consumers CU is “servant leadership.” Employees are held accountable to this value and are expected to “lead themselves and others well,” regardless of their hierarchal level in the credit union. There is also a great emphasis on teamwork throughout the credit union, which is substantiated by Snyder. As he has said, “The best way to lose our job in this credit union is to speak about someone as if they are not in the room.”

Consumers CU strives to uphold this 100 percent of the time. Employees are expected to bring any concerns they have about a teammate directly to that person and give them the opportunity to work on it. If the teammate doesn’t respond, they then go to the manager.

According to the Society for Human Resources Management, both an employee’s relationship with his/her supervisor and relationship with department co-workers are top 10 contributors to employee satisfaction. Many studies have shown that employees’ relationship with their manager is also a top predictor of employee engagement. Moreover, Avatar Solutions has found that if employees like the people they work with and generally get along with them, they are much more likely to be engaged.

Employee Selections & Indoctrination

Premer points out that selecting the right candidates is also instrumental in fostering high engagement and satisfaction among staff. Given co-workers’ impact on an employee’s satisfaction, hiring the right people is very important. As Premer notes, “We hire for culture first. We will very often leave positions unfilled instead of hiring someone who doesn’t fit our culture.”

As one recent example, the CU had 16 positions to fill by Feb. 1, but found only nine people who fit the credit union’s culture. Managers decided to leave the remaining positions unfilled until their April hiring window. Their teams decided they would rather work together to get the work done than hire the wrong people.

Consumers CU’s hiring process is also quite lengthy. It consists of an initial phone interview, followed by a “2 on 1” interview and a cultural interview. With these interviews, Consumers CU has roughly 10 staff members (made up of senior managers, managers, supervisors and employees) who are trained and certified in house as “talent magnets.” Before each new hire group, the two-person interview teams are chosen, and they participate in each interview stage of the selection process.  (To ensure consistency, the same talent magnet team is used for the whole interview process for an open position.)

Successful candidates then go through a two- to four-hour job shadow, which provides a realistic view of the job. Only after a candidate successfully completes every phase is he or she offered a position.

Premer says the CU has five values that they hire for (and use to make termination decisions). “The talent magnets are using behaviorally-based questions that identify how the candidates align with those values. We are also asking skill-based questions, such as problem solving and analytical skills, and are assessing such basics as communication skills and professionalism.”

Once a candidate joins Consumers CU, he or she goes through an in-depth orientation that actively involves the executive team.

“Our executive team is committed to forming relationships with our staff,” explains Premer. “The first one and a half hours of every person’s first day is spent with the executive team. From there, the executive team strives to regularly spend time in each location/branch and makes every effort to get to know the teams in each location.”

After working on Consumers CU’s  employee engagement and satisfaction surveys for the past several years, it is evident to me that Premer lives and breathes these practices. She came to Consumers CU in 2011 after working in the public accounting industry. As she explains, “Consumers CU has become home for me. It also is amazing to lead HR in an organization led by a CEO (Snyder) who ‘gets it,’ meaning, he understands that when you invest in employee engagement, the business results follow.”

In subsequent CU Management articles, I will highlight the best practices of our other Top 5 Distinguished Credit Unions for Employee Satisfaction & Engagement. Stay tuned!

Kerry Liberman is president of People Perspectives LLC, a consulting firm that conducts employee engagement and satisfaction surveys for CUs. She can be reached at or 206.451.4218. Follow People Perspectives on Facebook.

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