How To Use Culture And Perks To Achieve Hiring Happiness

Employees asked, and Horizon FCU made Black Friday a paid holiday. The Pennsylvania cooperative has made other decisions by following its mission, vision, and values, too.

Some interesting things happen in Williamsport, PA. For one thing, it’s the home of the Little League World Series. For another, it’s where a not-so-secret secret sauce of culture and perks has helped a small cooperative punch well above its weight in staffing and thought leadership.

Through a pandemic that has left many employers grasping for straws, Horizon Federal Credit Union ($135.4M, Williamsport, PA) has seized the opportunity to grow while picking and choosing candidates who fit its culture and needs.

Justin Howard, President and CEO, Horizon FCU

Horizon had 21 employees when Justin Howard came aboard as president and CEO in April 2015. Now, it has 44 FTEs and eight part-time slots and has added 14 new positions in the past year to accommodate its expanding footprint it now has six branches and new mortgage department.

As for thought leadership, Horizon sponsors Expand Expo, a leadership training and development conference set for Oct. 24-28. Approximately 300 credit union professionals are expected at the session featuring 20 presenters, a vendor show, and a setting at a Pocono Mountains resort that lays claim to having the largest indoor water park in America.

The credit union also hired one of its consultants as the new chief branding officer, a role that combines marketing with human resources and a heavy dose of training. Learn more about that in What’s In A Name: Chief Branding Officer on

If It’s Broken, Fix It

For the past five years, Horizon has worked to refine its hiring regimen and build employee engagement that has helped shrink turnover to less than 5% from the 20% or more with which the credit union had been struggling.

So, what did Horizon do? And what can credit unions learn from the credit union?

“There’s no silver bullet,” Howard says. “If it’s broken, fix it.”

“That fixing began with blowing up how things had always been done and recreating a culture that’s focused on people,” he says.

“Every decision we make is guided by our mission, vision, and values,” Howard says. “That’s not just something nice we put on a wall that nobody follows.”

For example, employees reported on a survey that they’d like Black Friday off. Now, Black Friday is a paid company holiday.

“But it’s not just holidays. Starting pay was minimum wage, below $8 an hour, when Howard arrived in 2016. Since then, it’s risen to $15 for entry level with no experience; most new staffers come in at $16.50 to $18 an hour,” Howard says.

There also are bonuses on July 4, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, enhanced maternity and paternity leaves, and a regular lineup of staff get-togethers like summer picnics and holiday parties and outings.

Doing Homework; Hiring Deliberately

According to Howard, he and his senior leadership team read dozens of books about hiring and culture, he particularly recommends Hiring for Attitude. They also undertook approximately 140 hours of formal training and reviewed 60 to 70 personal assessment tests to create the application system Horizon uses now, which aims to identify attitudes as well as aptitude. For example, the application asks, “Could you tell me what kind of people make a company a great place to work?”

Hiring employees who fit the company’s culture is a key part of Horizon’s staffing success but not all of it.

“We monitor and manage our reputation as an employer in our community, including through press releases, social media posts, and reviewing comments from current and past employees,” Howard says.

He notes with pride that Horizon did not cut jobs or reduce staff pay when the pandemic forced the credit union to reduce hours, something that happened at other employers in the community and drew a fair share of negative attention.

“Who’d want to work for a company that would do that?” he asks. “You expect people to be loyal when you did that to them when they needed you most?”

Howard dismisses the idea that enhanced unemployment benefits were keeping people at home and making hiring more difficult. That’s not the case at his shop.

“We hear that all the time,” he says. “But I don’t know that we’d want someone who would rather sit at home. We want people with drive and work ethic and we’re finding them.”

Credit unions should make their teams their competitive advantage. Prices and promotions can be copied in a matter of weeks. People can’t be.

Justin Howard, President and CEO, Horizon Federal Credit Union

“Other financial institutions in the area are among sources of new staff,” Howard says, “but regardless of where they came from, carefully hiring for culture and attitude is helping both brand and business, and Howard says that’s the way it should be.”

“Credit unions should make their teams their competitive advantage,” he says. “Prices and promotions can be copied in a matter of weeks. People can’t be.”


October 18, 2021

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