6 Tips To Host Electrifying Employee Events

The line between fun and meaningful is a moving target, but these two credit unions have some golden rules that help them hit the bull’s-eye every time.

Doors open, doors close. Cash moves in, cash moves out. Plans are made, plans are executed.

It’s a familiar story that never-ending lineup of starts, stops, and repetitions that comprise the majority of many businesses’ working hours.

But as crucial as these day-to-day operations are for institutional progress, some of the most important turning points in employee engagement stem from far briefer moments when team members can pause the machine and come together for alternative motives such as contemplation, education, or outright celebration.


TOWN & Country Credit Union
data as of 09.30.14

  • HQ: South Portland, ME
  • ASSETS: $267M
  • MEMBERS: 30,997
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 5.39%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 11.49%
  • ROA: 1.03%

In fact, these are some of the moments that leaders and employees at Town & Country Federal Credit Union and Grow Financial Credit Union value the most.

Formed in 1953 in the basement of St. John’s Catholic Church and rebranded under its current moniker in 1986, Town & Country currently boasts $267 million in assets, nearly 31,000 members, 83 employees, and seven locations in and around the communityof South Portland, ME.

The nearly 10% annual membership growth as of third quarter 2014 and 11.5% uptick in loan growth over the same timeframe, according to Callahan & Associates, is a testament to the financial and operational capabilities of this organization. Above averageproductivity and efficiency metrics point to a well-developed employee culture as well.

In 2010, we had a change in leadership, says Nicole Sears, Town & Country’s vice president and chief people officer. Our new CEO, David Libby, was focused on the idea that if our employees are happy, their work will be betteras a result.

Today, the credit union hosts everything from two annual all-staff blowouts to countless external volunteer days, hobby groups, sports teams, and other points of interaction to support employee engagement.

As long as someone is leading these efforts and is willing to stand up for them and own them, we’re open to everything, Sears says.


Grow Financial Credit Union
data as of 09.30.14

  • HQ: Tampa, FL
  • ASSETS: $2B
  • MEMBERS: 175,326
  • EMPLOYEES: 565
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 2.95%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 16.60%
  • ROA: 0.49%

Meanwhile, more than1,400 miles to the south, the Tampa-based, $2 billion Grow Financial Credit Union has pursued a similar engagement strategy for its 565 employees.

Our organization participates in a variety of events, including events held during working hours, weekend events related to our sponsorships and charities, and our all-team member events held in the fall and the spring, says Kimberly Woollard,Grow’s chief human resources officer.

Due in no small part to this emphasis on culture and teambuilding, Grow has secured the top spot in both the 2013 and 2014 Tampa Bay Times Top Workplace survey.

These organizations empower employees to take the reigns for the majority of these programs. However, both credit unions also have an internal set of rules that ensure their investments are never squandered or made in vain.

1. Hire Right From The Get Go

Frequent events and training sessions can push people in the right direction, but a lot rides on how receptive people are to the credit union’s culture in the first place.

At Town & Country, we knew we wanted a collaborative environment, Sears says. That meant hiring people who were willing to lean in to the organization and each other to help move us forward.

For example, at the entry level, the credit union hires people with career-minded aspirations. No clock punchers here. It also began more aggressively targeting applicants who had previously succeeded in high stress, empathy-based environments, includingretail, service, and healthcare.

Now, whenever we have huge, high-risk projects like an online banking conversion, we are able to tap people from all over the organization not just IT because we know they’ll be able to handle that pressure and bring somethingsignificant to the table, Sears says. The right people break down silos by themselves, which means we don’t have to spend as much time or effort doing that in other ways.

2. Work Your Teambuilding On The Clock

Special events can pale in comparison to the thousands of employee interactions that occur during normal business hours. So to avoid undue expectations for any one get-together, credit unions should first look to maximize the value of organic relationshipdevelopment.

For example, Grow uses a personality assessment from Omnia Group to not only filter out job applicants who might not be compatible with its values but also place new hires in teams and departments for which they are suited, Woollard says.

Paying attention to these existing preferences builds stronger employee connections from the get-go, which allows the credit union to focus on deepening relationships during official events rather than starting them from scratch.

Combined, all of Town & Country’s programs and policies cost slightly more than $20,000 per year, which is an exchange the credit union is willing to make for the forseeable the future.

Next: Don’t Be Afraid Of Fun

3. Don’t Be Afraid Of Fun

In 2011, a biannual Oracle survey revealed that Town & Country employees wanted more teambuilding events outside of their workplace environment.

So the credit union created an internal employee experience team to dream up and manage a wide network of these types of offerings.

We spend a lot of time at work, so it’s important our employees like and respect who they work with as people as well as professionals, Sears says. We’re not expecting everyone to be friends, but if you have a core groupof people you trust and feel safe with, you’ll look forward to coming to work.

To keep fresh ideas flowing, the credit union selects a new group of 15 to 20 volunteers every two years from across the organization to serve on the team.

It’s pretty crazy what they come up with sometimes, but we trust them and it makes a difference, Sears says.

In the years since the employee experience team formed, attendance at all-staff events like the holiday party which once drew as little as half of Town & Country’s workforce has increased to more than 90%.

As long as someone is leading these efforts and is willing to stand up for them and own them, we’re open to everything.

4. Know When To Cede Control

When it comes to encouraging fitness and wellness-related events a crucial factor for not just increasing employee satisfaction but also managing healthcare costs Town & Country stumbled through many one-off programs before uncoveringa more democratic solution.

Telling people they need to do something usually makes them shut down, Sears says. So this year we rolled out a new offering from Hubbub, a wellness website that lets people create a profile and sign up for various real world eventslike 5Ks, gym groups, or even more mental challenges like a book club.

Participation in Hubbub is completely optional; however, employees earn points within the system, which by itself encourages a natural competiveness. And those who reach certain point thresholds win rewards on the credit union’s dime.

For example, if you get to a certain level, we’ll buy you a Fitbit activity tracker, Sears says.

5. Pay Attention To Who Shows Up

Since its rebrand in 2007, Grow has focused on creating several voluntary career development paths. One path includes a six-stage Step Up to Leadership program that pairs entry- and middle-level employees with a more advanced mentor in the organization.

However, Grow is looking for leaders outside of the workplace as much as inside it, which is why participation in non-mandatory events is a big indicator of an employee’s ultimate potential with the organization.

We’re socially responsible for giving back to our community, Woollard says. People who show up at an event on a Saturday are team members that will go above and beyond. They are the people who want to be engaged regardless ofwhen the event is held. Management will look to them when it comes time to look at promotions.

6. Understand The End Value

For the past four years, Town & Country has kept its employee turnover to less than 6%. And although this trend might be influenced to some degree by its slightly higher than average salaries when measured against comparable peers, the fact it is makinginvestments in these individuals also plays a role.

Money and the opportunity to grow are big motivators, but it’s also really hard for people to leave a place where they have activities they love and friends they like, Sears says.

In addition to its semi-annual Oracle survey, the credit union uses asurvey from the Best Places to Work Institute to tease out trends and changes in satisfaction levels across the organization.

It can be difficult to correlate low turnover with specific events or training opportunities, Sears says, so a credit union might have to look deeper than numbers.

This year, our overall engagement level as an organization was over 98%, up from 97% the year before, Sears says. By looking at retention and engagement figures together, we see a strong ROI for these programs, and we know our employeesare coming to us for more than a paycheck.

Combined, all of Town & Country’s programs and policies including its two biggest annual events, a holiday party and a summer outing cost slightly more than $20,000 per year, which is an exchange the credit union is willing to makefor the forseeable the future.

March 2, 2015

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