9 Ways To Build A Culture Of Fun And Still Get Things Done

Mazuma knows that happy employees create a happy membership, not the other way around.

Mazuma Credit Union ($524.3M, Overland Park, KS) is serious about fun. In fact, the Kansas City credit union is committed to sustaining a workplace where values such as positivity, teamwork, learning, growth, and creativity permeate the walls to such a degree that members feel it, too.

It’s a vision Brandon Michaels, who became Mazuma’s president and CEO in January 2012, says he made clear during his board interviews and the strategic planning that followed.

I said I wanted Mazuma to be a best place to work’ Michaels says. I wanted to have an active, vibrant, and fun culture and I wanted to do things different than anyone else.’

Mazuma gives Mazumans places to play like this game room equipped with board games and interesting places to meet, such as the Sea Room, shown here.

These ideals are engrained into the design of the credit union’s new Overland Park headquarters, with its airy, ultra-modern meeting areas and playful themes designed to inspire creativity. But more important than the look of this building is the feeling employees have when working there.

Treating one another like family is important to us,’ says LaToya Rozof, the human resources director who joined Mazuma two years ago. It’s not just lip service. That’s what makes us different.’

I sometimes hear new hires say, Oh, they’re just being nice to me because I’m the new person,” Rozof continues. But if you need something six months down the line, somebody is still there to help. And they’ll be sincere about it.’

After only four years as CEO, Michaels’ vision is quickly becoming a reality. Rozof says the credit union often gets a hundred or more applicants for a job, many from other financial institutions, as word gets around about the investment Mazuma is making in its people and its culture. Indeed, the credit union’s ratio of salary and benefits per team member has risen from $66,045 in second quarter 2013 to $72,252 in second quarter 2015.

To reshape any credit union’s employee environment, Mazuma recommends following these nine guiding principles.

1. Let People Dress The Part

All 182 full-time and 20 part-time Mazumans as the credit union calls its employees follow a dress code that dictates they wear branded clothing reflective of the credit union’s positive identity and marketing mantra Bank Happy.’ That can include T-shirts that read: If you want to check your balance, stand on one leg.’

2. Be A Kid Again

Employees have the equivalent of a 15-minute recess twice a day, which often turn into impromptu Frisbee sessions on the headquarters’ groomed back lawn. These gatherings sometimes attract as many as 50 Mazumans out for some fresh air and frolic.

3. Leave The Bad Attitude At Home

We’re not afraid to fire people who don’t align with our culture; we’re just not,’ Michaels says. Now granted, everybody has a bad day, so it’s got to be a series of things that derails them.’

4. Catch Those Social Butterflies

Finding people who won’t become robots on the job has turned into an art and a science at Mazuma. Group interviews and building walk-arounds are a part of the hiring process, and managers watch closely to see how job seekers interact with one another and potential colleagues.

We’re trying to gauge their ability to engage and how much they’ll fit into our team dynamic,’ Rozof says. Do they say hi’ or are they stand-offish? If a group interview puts you off, maybe this is not the culture for you.’

5. That Goes Double For Executives

The same rules go for hiring executives, too. Michaels points to Mike Schreck, his Frisbee-playing director of risk management who began his Mazuma career as an internal auditor, as one example. Another is soccer-loving CFO Justin Mouzoukos, who sat cross-legged in his desk chair with Zen Buddhism books on his office table while chatting with Callahan visitors.

They have all the credentials, all the letters after their names, and I’ll match their specialized skills and knowledge against anyone,’ Michaels says. But they also know how to have fun. They’re in jobs that tend to be very focused and see the world in black and white. We need people who are flexible and accommodating enough to see the gray.’

6. Expect Great Things…

The credit union begin to evaluate new Mazumans on their job performance in as little as six weeks.

We have clearcut evaluations so we can catch it quickly if someone is not going to make it,’ Rozof says.

Job evaluations are based 76%on culture and 24% on role. The cultural portion asks such questions as: Are you being positive to our members? Are you giving quality service? Are you getting along with your peers? The role portion weighs things like training class attendance, the level of contribution to group projects, reactions to challenges, quality and quantity of loans generated, and relationship building.

7. …But Don’t Let People Drown At Their Desks

Lots of employees dream of a better work-life balance, and Mazuma is one organization that doesn’t want its employees to focus so much on the former that they sacrifice the latter.

There are a lot of things you can’t ask employees, but you can see how they prioritize their work and how they meet deadlines,’ Rozof says.

She says applicants often volunteer information about their kids and how they make time for family needs.

That’s important because we want people to have the autonomy, within reason, to do their job well and still be whole as a person,’ Rozof says.

8. Farm Your Own Leaders…

When you’re trying to grow out of a baby credit union mindset and into a $500 million or $1 billion organization, you’ve got to make sure you have your infrastructure ready,’ Michaels says. And candidly, we didn’t have our training infrastructure ready at first. Now, we’re getting there.’

The Future Leaders in Progress, or FLIP, program is one of the reasons why.

It has a strenuous acceptance process,’ Rozof says. Employees must answer essay questions and participate in individual as well as group interviews. Those selected participate in monthly sessions that address topics such as servant leadership, human resources, communications, and conflict management. Then, the program concludes with a capstone project.

9. But Don’t Forget Everyone Else

For those not interested in the leadership track, the HR department offers a three-class development series that includes sessions on identifying career goals within the organization, interviewing and internal resumes, and even mock interview sessions. A recent series concluded with an internal job fair in July where every department was represented and participants indulged in a fair amount of Mazuma swag, candy, and networking.

It’s as much about getting to know one another as it is learning about all the different opportunities here,’ Rozof says.

All In The Family

Mazuma CEO Brandon Michaels has cooperative values running thorough his veins.

His mother, Diana Michaels, the current CEO of Western Healthcare Federal Credit Union ($35.97M, Concord, CA) and his grandmother, the late Helen Turney, ran the former Avon Refinery Federal Credit Union in Martinez, CA, for more than 30 years.

I started out at 5 years old, piddling around in Grandma’s office, thinking it was cool that she was in charge of the place,’ he says.

In high school, Michaels became a teller at Avon Refinery FCU and then at other credit unions, where he learned how to successfully watch over other people’s money. His familial background and own experiences helped instill in Michaels an appreciation for the old and new.

It allowed me to connect with different generations and develop an appreciation for when you can change things and when you can’t,’ he says.

August 1, 2015

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