Case in point: Oregon Community CU’s decision about ancillary insurance products for members, plus tips for your initiative
While he’s most famously known for saying “None of us is as smart as all of us,” best-selling author Ken Blanchard penned another quote that’s always been a favorite of mine: “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
As a credit union executive, there are many important decisions to make during the year. Whether it’s implementing a new product offering or changing to a new vendor who better aligns with your needs, you carry the burden of decisions that will impact your credit union, your staff and your members for a very long time. A 2019 Alpha survey of 300+ executives found that collaboration between junior and senior stakeholders can help bridge the gap between business needs and customer needs. More importantly, the responses showed that the most successful projects include user feedback.
What Does Feedback Look Like
During my nearly 27 years in the credit union industry, with more than 16 of that in the insurance space, I’ve seen many methods for making decisions. Each organization is different in how seriously it treats product, solution or partner decisions. Sometimes a major decision is simply handled by the person who oversees a particular department and other times by a blended team of individuals in management. However, one thing is critical to the decision-making process: engaging feedback from cross-departmental staff, including end-users and/or front-line staff.
This study by McKinsey is part of the company’s research into team decisions and creating an environment of open and honest feedback. This body of work suggests that such factors help businesses accelerate decision-making while improving the confidence and quality of those decisions. Accordingly, it continues to be a hot topic for business leaders around the world today.
Engaging staff in different areas and levels of responsibility doesn’t mean that you have to make the final decision as a team. Ultimately, senior management must be responsible for charting the path and making the final call. That being said, there is tremendous value in surveying or conducting roundtables with the folks who work with the programs daily. Even in a workplace environment that encourages employees to speak up, without being officially considered, important objectives may be missed.
During my career I have seen multiple cases where management had a certain perception; yet conversations with staff revealed something very different. What I’ve found to be most common, are situations in which members or staff have an important need that isn’t being relayed up the chain of command. This is where management can engage to bridge this gap.
A Case in Point
Recently I had the pleasure of consulting on a project with $1.8 billion Oregon Community Credit Union in Eugene, Oregon (OCCU). This large credit union in a competitive market wanted to make sure it was offering the right insurance products and services to its members. Solutions like debt protection, GAP insurance and extended warranties offer critical protection for members and the lender, and they play a key role in overall portfolio protection.
CUES member Russ Bernardo, chief lending officer at OCCU, made it a priority to engage front-line staff from the beginning.
“It was important that we understood the experience our front-line staff have when providing these types of products and services to our members,” he says. “Not only did we want to improve our products to best meet the needs of our members, we wanted to understand how to improve the experience for our employees. Our goal was to work together to choose partners that created efficiencies both in delivery and service and we needed staff input to do that.”
Through surveys and roundtables, staff provided feedback that would have been challenging to obtain without a thoughtful process. Furthermore, by having group sessions, OCCU was able to play out various scenarios as a team and weigh some of the pros and cons of various product decisions.
“Taking steps to engage our front-line staff allowed us to gain buy-in and support of the change very early in the process,” Bernardo explains. “They saw firsthand not only how we were working to enhance the offerings for our members, but also how we were taking the impact to their jobs into consideration.”
Oregon Community engaged not just front-line staff, but also key personnel and departments impacted by offering ancillary insurance products. This feedback became critical, not only to share what staff liked or disliked, but to present any possible challenges associated with product changes and shifts in member experience. From marketing to compliance to technology, these staff interactions helped provide key information to drive better decision-making.
“It was important that our decisions not only addressed issues at the program and employee level, but that they included foresight and opportunity for the future,” Bernardo says. “We needed to understand the ramifications if, for example, we were to change our loan origination system in the future, and what impact that would have on staff involved in making and delivering on those decisions.”
In the end, OCCU senior management was able to utilize the staff feedback, balance it with financial proformas and make an informed decision. Not only does doing this build confidence in the final decision, allowing staff to participate will bring deeper organizational support to any future offerings.
Putting the Process in Action
Credit unions can do several things to facilitate conversations like these and gain valuable feedback, without slowing the decision-making process. Whether you engage an outside consultant to manage this for you or handle it internally, here are some recommendations:
- Before beginning your product evaluation or vendor search, survey the staff who engage with your members daily with plenty of open-ended questions. For insurance products, those are likely to be lenders, call center agents and claims support staffers.
- During the vendor evaluation phase, continue to solicit feedback from these teams as you consider pros and cons of any offerings and how those might impact your business. If a vendor is pushing a new solution, is it the right thing for your members and your credit union?
- Before making a final decision, and possibly as part of the formal product presentations, engage with the departments that will be impacted by a business decision—whether that be staying with your current partners or converting to a new product/service.
By implementing these steps, your organization can move efficiently through the evaluation process while increasing confidence in key business decisions.
Kellie Lowder, founder and president of Lowder Consulting Group, works with credit unions across the country to evaluate their insurance product offerings and manage the proposal and vendor contracting process.