Leadership Matters: Employee Engagement Can Transform Credit Union Culture

engaged group of masked employees bumping fists in a circle
Karen J. Hewitt Photo
Author, Consultant

4 minutes

The “Build, Buzz, Bake” framework helps turn a desire to do good into ingrained behaviors and action.

Employee engagement and culture are important issues for any organization and are especially significant for credit unions, where ethics are already the “raison d’etre.”

Giving employees the opportunity to be engaged at credit unions is imperative, because those employees are also stakeholders in the business—meaning stakeholder satisfaction and employee engagement go hand in hand.

A credit union also needs a particular type of culture, where everyone believes in and knows the right thing to do and is actively involved in upholding it.

Where mistakes are made, from an organizational perspective, it is in:

  • assuming that employee engagement and culture are two separate challenges;
  • thinking that these challenges can be addressed quickly or on a short-term basis;
  • not focusing engagement efforts on long-term drivers of motivation;
  • not linking employee engagement to the cause of the organization; and
  • not having a framework to guide engagement and culture-change efforts.

Fortunately, such a framework does exist, and it’s a framework that challenges employees themselves to “be the change they want to see,” as per the Gandhi quote that we all know and love.

This framework has three key steps or phases.

Step 1: Build

The build phase is focused on the preparatory work you need to do to successfully engage employees to transform organizational culture.

Start with a compelling vision—one that instantly connects every single employee to the cause of the credit union, the one they signed up for when they joined.

Find a simple statement that describes, in ambitious, inspirational and positive terms, what the organization wants to be known for—e.g., “We want to be the most ethical (or sustainable) credit union in our industry.”

Now define the behaviors that you need to have from all employees in the culture you want to see. Make sure these behaviors are meaningful to employees by basing them on your own internal research as to what is working in your credit union and what needs to change.

Then persuade senior leadership and management to adopt and role model these behaviors consistently, to make them a part of their daily routines. We all know the power of seeing leaders set the example, so once you have that commitment, you are ready to move to the next stage!

Step 2: Buzz

To create a buzz around what you want from your employees, you’ll need to have many two-way conversations. You will need to train your team in what you want them to do and why—but this won’t be a training course, per se. It may be rolled out in a top-to-bottom cascade fashion, with others trained to deliver it, but that’s where the similarities with training end.

Creating behavioral change is a facilitated conversation, and for that, you need space, lots of good questions and an exchange of views.

At the heart of all behavioral change is the word “inspiration.”

How can we present ideas that inspire and challenge every single employee to be better, to do better and to think differently?

How can we light up a path for them so they can clearly see how their unique strengths make them ideally placed to make a difference?

How can we get them to see the importance of the new behaviors, and of integrating them into their daily work?

To keep these types of meaningful conversations going, we need to train others how to conduct them. What if every single employee were trained in basic listening and coaching techniques? Imagine the engagement that could be unleashed in every single conversation!

Step 3: Bake

With the buzz in full swing, how do you make sure the culture you want becomes a reality and the behaviors really stick?

If you have done your build phase well, you will already have a lot of the “bake” prerequisites in place, but there are three key things you can do to bake behaviours into company culture:

1.    Create opportunities for conversations around the new behaviors, and watch the engagement and ownership grow.
2.    Devise a mechanism for both managers and employees to assess their progress in adopting the new behaviors.
3.    Find touchpoints in your business processes for the behaviors to be integrated.

Credit unions are already predisposed to employee engagement and strong cultures. Sometimes all it needs is a framework to follow to make the good work stick.

The “Build, Buzz, Bake” formula has already been tried and tested in a number of organizations. Are you ready to give it a go?

Karen J. Hewitt, MBA, has spent the last decade creating leadership movements for health, safety and well-being that save lives and boost business performance. Fluent in five languages, Karen uses transformational leadership, coaching and cross-cultural approaches to inspire employees and challenge the paradigms of leadership, health, safety, well-being AND employee engagement. Her first book, Employee Confidence: The New Rules of Engagement, was a finalist in the leadership category of the Business Book Awards, 2019. Her second, People Power: Transform your Business in the Era of Safety and Wellbeing, is out now.

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