How To Create A Culture Of Accountability

Seven core cultural beliefs at Vantage West Credit Union shapes a future of "deliberate success."

In 2011, Vantage West Federal Credit Union ($1.6B, Tucson, AZ) was a few years removed from crossing the $1 billion barrier in terms of its assets but on the precipice of even greater growth.

It was this potential for growth that spurred conversations, specifically relating to the institution’s internal culture. Nothing was broken, but Sandra Lueders, Vantage West’s vice president of human resources, says things were siloed.

If you talked to the lending department, they had their perspective, she says. If you talked to HR, they had their perspective. Departments were fairly insular as opposed to having an overall company perspective.


Ventage West FCU
Data as of 06.30.16

HQ: Tucson, AZ
MEMBERS: 139,769
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 12.7%
ROA: 0.72%

For the credit union to grow, Lueders says, all employees needed to be able to articulate the institution’s future goals rather than focusing on the goals of specific departments. She wanted to build a culture that led employees to an all-encompassing view of the institution. She even had a name for it: Culture of Accountability.

It was success that set us off, she says. It made us say, We’re fortunate and doing the right things, but let’s be more deliberately successful by building a culture we own, shape, understand, and feel engaged by.

Building The Culture

It was in mid-2011 when Lueders and Vantage West CEO Robert Ramirez first sat down to talk about what a new culture would look like. It didn’t take long to realize this was a conversation that needed input from the entire leadership team.

This was not going to be an HR program or the CEO’s program, Lueders says. This is the credit union’s program.

As a matter of fact, Lueders balks at calling the Culture of Accountability a program at all. Simply put, this new culture is how the credit union has done business going forward.

Whether the result of a merger, a change in leadership, or a simple reboot, changing the culture of a financial institution is no easy feat. But sometimes that’s exactly what a credit union needs to break out of a rut and achieve its true growth potential. Find more culture-building strategies in The Cultural Wars.

In addition to Lueders and Ramirez, the other members of senior leadership involved in development were the credit union’s senior vice president and chief lending officer, vice president and regional sales manager, vice president of enterprise risk management, and vice president of finance. The group spent days debating what the culture would look like before finally rolling it out in early 2012 through communication and training.

What Is The Culture Of Accountability?

The Vantage West executives identified seven core cultural beliefs and several key metrics they wanted to achieve in their new Culture of Accountability. The cultural beliefs are behaviors that describe how the credit union will achieve its key metrics. If employees exhibit these behaviors, the credit union will be successful.

The seven behaviors are:

  • Speak Up
  • Provide Solutions
  • Embrace Culture
  • Expand Business
  • Reach Out
  • Own It
  • Act On Fact

When you think about a person who has a high sense of accountability, these are the behaviors they demonstrate, Lueders says. If we behave in this way when we tackle issues, projects, or goals, we are going to drive the results we want.

Key metrics include loan growth, deposit growth, membership growth, and ROA.

Since the start of 2011, Vantage West’s average loan growth has outpaced that of peers with $1 billion or more in assets. In addition, average share growth overtook peer average at fourth quarter 2013 and remained above that average until a dip in first quarter 2016. And although both member growth and ROA lag peer average at second quarter 2016, these metrics have held near peer average since 2011.

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By shaping our own culture we started behaving in a way that is supportive of healthy results, Lueders says. We’re not going to work in a siloed environment or get in one another’s way. We’re going to follow these behaviors and control our own destiny.

Rolling Out A New Culture

When rolling out the new culture, Vantage West focused in on two aspects of the process: training and communication.

In fact, that’s why the credit union gave this new culture a name.

A culture sounds like something, Lueders says. It’s not a thing, but we needed to have an identifiable concept so when we talked to employees everyone would know what we were talking about.

We needed to have an identifiable concept so when we talked to employees everyone would know what we were talking about.

Sandra Lueders, Vice President of Human Resources, Vantage West

Vantage West’s implementation plan had several stages. First it created a train-the-trainer program in which members of the senior executive team trained team managers on the culture: why it was needed, how it should work, and what it was set to accomplish. From there, managers trained their own team members.

Second, the credit union held a one-day, eight-hour intensive orientation training session in early 2012.

All of our employees went through it, Lueders says. It was a workshop where we did nothing but talk about culture and defined what a personal sense of accountability means. We wanted to leave them with the idea that being accountable is not something to avoid but to embrace.

Then, as constant reminders of the culture, the credit union hung framed posters in its branches and passed out two-sided cards summarizing the cultural beliefs and key metrics. The cards are small enough that employees can carry them in their badge holders.

But since Vantage West wanted to weave its new culture into how it does business, it developed what it calls focus recognition. Employees can send cards across departments to thank others for helping them with a certain task, letting them know their hard work has positively impacted the institution and to keep up the good work.

In addition, the credit union has created feedback sessions where two employees sit down face-to-face and give each other feedback on their work. It’s always a positive conversation, Lueders says.

From an HR perspective, new hire interviews assess candidates against the credit union’s cultural beliefs to see how well potential employees fit the culture. The credit union’s performance review process also includes measurements for how well employees are behaving in terms of culture.

Each year, HR gathers feedback from different areas of the credit union, says Jill Casey, the credit union’s assistant vice president of communications and content marketing. Vantage West has found some aspects of the culture work well for some teams but not others. So, HR takes what it learns and makes alterations or provides clarity.

The Culture of Accountability is part of our foundation that takes shaping if we want to feed and nurture our business, Lueders says.

It’s been nearly four years since the credit union implemented its new culture. And as the credit union grows, the culture remains strong internally. Lueders and Casey are most impressed with how those outside the organization recognize the culture.

Lueders tells a story about having lunch with an intern. She asked him why he decided on the credit union for his internship.

There was something about your business when I met with you that I knew this was where I would thrive, she remembers him saying. No one had to tell me the culture was healthy, I could see it.

Casey has another story:

I was at a local event with four other companies and because of my questions and behaviors I had someone approach me and ask if I worked for the credit union, she says. They recognized I had Vantage West coming out of me.

August 29, 2016

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