Facility Solutions: Building Consensus for the Branch Experience

business professionals shaking hands in agreement while team applauds
Independent Facilities & Real Estate Consultant
Paul Seibert Consulting

5 minutes

Get your key stakeholders on board, including front-line staff, to promote internal brand engagement and project success.

Even with the best operations input and branding and design consultation, a new branch and brand experience project will fail if consensus has not been built among your credit union’s key stakeholders.

In my early years, I witnessed such projects stall or outright fail as a result of not including the right participants in the process and focusing on design alone rather than engaging the whole credit union team. These experiences taught me who needs to be involved—and the process required—to ensure consensus and operational follow-through.

The credit union team must include executives, management across departments—from HR to lending to security, any consultants, front-line staff and even board members when appropriate. Anyone who has final say on the project must be in all the project meetings. Occasionally, CEOs will say they do not participate, but if they have final approval of the project, they must be involved or they may force additional input or express issues too late in the process that cause rejection of a new branch prototype. (I have a few painful stories about this.) The same can be true of the board: If the board has expressed interest in the design, one representative should be included. It’s also important to include a front-line staff member. Creating consensus and selling the resulting project to all other staff requires buy-in. Including one or two rising stars from your branch staff helps ensure the people who operate the branch can add new insights that help enrich the resulting prototype.

Launching a new branch project is a big deal, as it involves the cost of consultants, staff time, millions of dollars of renovations, and creating a brand experience that will impact member engagement, growth and the bottom line for years to come. There’s also a significant side effect: The process engages staff in understanding how their responsibilities impact the new branch prototype, and it can create a new appreciation for what other functional areas are doing and how they work together. The brand must be embraced by each staff participant and translated through their interactions with members and the community. Inclusion in the planning process will improve brand awareness and practical application among your employees.

Design Process Questions

While those effects all sound good, there are a number of questions that should be answered before starting this important work:

  • Does your credit union have clear brand attributes that can be translated into operations and the member and staff experience?
  • Do you have all key stakeholders in place? If your new marketing manager will not be onboarded for a month, would it be best to wait?
  • Have you completed a strategic branching plan to provide current information about your existing membership, markets and branches as well as your target market characteristics?
  • Will the new branch prototype be based on an existing or known future location, or should it be developed in the abstract and then applied to the next renovation or acquisition?
  • What future changes or events—for example, nearby construction or building code updates—could impact the branch design? How much flexibility should be built into the new model?
  • What is your budget going forward? This helps establish guidelines for the level of design and specifications.
  • Do you have a well-defined merchandising and messaging package? This is an important design element and can be developed simultaneously.
  • Are there any roll-outs of products and services or facilities that may impact the prototyping schedule?
  • Are any of your branches union? If yes, how will this impact operations?
  • Are there any considerations due to location, SEGs or member composition?
  • Will you be applying the design at different levels, such as a new branch, full renovation, partial renovation or “brand wrap”?
  • Are you making or anticipating changes in IT that will impact operation and the member experience?
  • How will you ensure consistency between your physical and virtual experiences?
  • Do you want to use local resources? If yes, do they have the expertise and track record to deliver a high-performance branch and experience? If not, and you want to go local for architecture and construction, consider hiring a nationally recognized consultant to set up and oversee the process. You can also hire a design/build contractor to handle the entire project.

Project Next Steps

Now that you have answered these questions, let’s look at a general list of next steps:

  1. Ensure your brand has been refined and finalized with specific attributes and goals.
  2. Select the key stakeholder team and get process buy-in from management and the board.
  3. Communicate with staff about the process and provide updates along the way.
  4. Hire the brand prototype consultant, if applicable. You may want merchandising services as well.
  5. Hire the architectural consultant and contractor. The former will be included in the prototyping process and the latter will provide cost estimates and timelines.
  6. Prototype specialist or architect sends questionnaires to the stakeholders and conducts phone interviews.
  7. Conduct a two- to three-day prototyping session with all stakeholders and consultants to build consensus. It is important that all attendees buy into the new brand experience through detailed decision-making rather than leaps of faith. This means that every element of design and operations must be rationalized by brand attributes and goals. Pretty is easy; effective, relevant and game-changing is the magic. At the end of the session, 100% of those in attendance should be in agreement—a feat that deserves applause.
  8. Get a cost estimate from the contractor.
  9. Develop an executive summary of the process and prototype design and gain board approval.
  10. Establish internal responsibilities and timelines to move the project toward reality.
  11. Translate the prototype into documents for permitting and construction.
  12. Develop marketing campaigns for the staff, members and community.

The success of your new branch prototype will influence your credit union’s ability to engage with members. Preparation, the right internal team, highly experienced consultants and a proven process will ensure your organization continues to grow and prosper well into the future.

Paul Seibert, CMC, is an independent facilities and real estate consultant under Paul Seibert Consulting, Seattle.

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