The Employee Of The Future

Why tomorrow’s cooperative workers will need to know more, do more, and own more, and how we can help them get there.
Helan Grays Jones & Suzanne Carlisle

KeyPoint Credit Union ($786M, Santa Clara, CA) began as the credit union for the American Electronics Association and the electronics trade. It grew with the development of Silicon Valley and now strives to serve as many people as possible in and around this booming economic hub. KeyPoint has a state charter and mainly serves employees of well-known technology companies, though it is increasingly moving to local communities for new membership as well. KeyPoint currently has nine branches and about 170 employees. Today’s OpEd is written by Helen Grays Jones, Senior Vice President of Member Strategies, and Suzanne Carlisle, Senior Vice President of Human Resources.

At KeyPoint Credit Union, we think we are in the midst of an employee transformation. The characteristics of today’s credit union employees are not necessarily a match with those that will be required for success in the near future. Tomorrow’s employees will have to be more highly skilled, culturally diverse, and solution-oriented. They will need to be capable of more responsibility, establishing themselves as both on-premise relationship builders as well as off-premise brand ambassadors. Easy to achieve? No. But achievable? Yes.

In one sense, we are not going into an unchartered future, or as they say in Star Trek where no man has gone before. In a sense what we are doing is going back to the future. In earlier days, employees had to cover a whole lot of bases including working the teller window, booking loans, covering back office duties, and managing PR. As credit unions expanded, the workforce became more specialized, which had its advantages. But some employees became lost in their specialties, working in silos while losing sight of the bigger picture. This is what we have to change, and at KeyPoint, this transition is already underway.

Think of what a credit union is meant to be. Our institutions exist to serve the credit and financial service needs of members. These individuals do not join a cooperative to interact with tellers on one level, loan officers on another, and supervisors on another; they simply want their needs addressed. They want solutions and, therefore, people who can deliver solutions. Our employees have to be capable of not only developing and enriching relationships, but also delivering real solutions to people in need. Members want real professionals who are consultative, who will stretch out of any of narrow disciplines or job descriptions, and who will truly solve a problem for them. This requires almost a concierge mentality, a keen interest in solving problems for people no matter what the circumstances. We train people to work to get to yes and to solve problems so our members can get on with more pressing parts of their lives. We also want employees to be so enthusiastic about their credit union that they act as ambassadors promoting our brand in the community.

How Do You Get There?

Credit unions have to begin hiring the right people and training them in the proper way. You have to give them a sense of ownership in the credit union and empower them to make decisions for the good of members. You also have to provide effective, consistent, and on-going coaching.

Hire The Right People

The right people are those with the right attitude. They can’t be indentified by age, background, gender, or education level. It’s possible to detect good attitude in an interview, but other times it may require a little luck. Our best hires tend to be people who were brought to us by our own employees and we reward those who effectively contribute to our success by referring top talent. Our own employees know the kind of people we are looking for, so they screen out those candidates who would not fit our needs and encourage those who would.

An employee of the future will also need to be very adaptive. He or she is going to have to migrate from connecting with Boomers, to Gen X, to Gen Y and many other demographics. They’ll need to be someone for whom delivering quality service comes naturally.

Train Them In The Proper Way

We give all new hires a week of introductory training to cover the basics. Subsequent training involves some role-playing and methods by which to get to yes for the members. We work to have employees think outside the box. We will give them procedures but also emphasize that these are really just guidelines and that they are empowered to stretch those guidelines so long as they do not violate any rules or laws.

We require all employees to complete what we call the AA Degree Program within their first year of employment. This mainly takes place through computer-based tutorials and is done on company time. Once they have completed the AA, employees can voluntarily go on to the BA Degree Program. This involves more training with financial statements, software, and presentations to upper management. It also involves a week’s internship in another department. Work for the BA Degree, except for the week-long internship, is on an employee’s own time. However, when they complete the BA requirements, they receive a $1,000 bonus.

Give Them A Sense Of Ownership And Empowerment

Employees need a sense of ownership of the credit union; they need to know that this is their enterprise and that its success drives their wellbeing as well as that of our membership and our community. Every employee should enthusiastically recommend KeyPoint to their family and friends.

We have a member growth committee made up of front-line staff throughout our branch network. We ask for their input, ideas, and suggestions to make KeyPoint a better place for members and employees, and we pay attention to the feedback we receive. This gives the employees justifiably a sense of participation and helps them influence how the credit union moves forward. They are creating their own environment, and for young employees today, this is vital. They don’t want to spend their working hours in a dictatorship.

We engage our employees in celebrations but we don’t presume we know what kind of events or activities they prefer. Management can’t predict these preferences because employees have their own ideas about what makes them feel good about where they work. We made that mistake many years ago but we now poll employees about what they want to do; it could be anything from getting to wear jeans for a day, to having a half day off, to playing team games.

Another thing we do to facilitate employee ownership and empowerment is provide tuition reimbursement and this is a popular benefit. We subsidize courses at accredited academic institutions for either graduate or undergraduate coursework and we have found that this benefit is more welcome by employees than 401(k)s, perhaps because it is more immediate than the long-term planning involved with retirement. Of course, as a credit union we understand that younger generation employees who take advantage of tuition reimbursement may move on and that we might not always receive the benefit of their education, but this is a risk worth taking. Even if they leave, they are ambassadors of KeyPoint for life. This benefit also helps us attract prospective employees.

Above all, employees of the future will need to feel engaged. Start by creating ways for staff to provide input on the way the credit union is run. Allow them to present initiatives they feel are critical to the kind of people they are serving in their branch. One way we accomplish this is through a program called Smarter Today Stronger Tomorrow, which provides cash rewards from $25 to $500 for suggestions employees make to improve the credit union. Our staff receives swift feedback and reward for their suggestions and this approach has been so successful that it has replaced our old suggestion system.

Supervise And Incentivize

Employees of the future will be supervised differently because they will be functioning and performing jobs differently than at present. We expect our management team to be pro-active in the supervision of employees.

It’s often easier to supervise to numbers; you just set a specific mark and then hold people to it. This year, a large portion of our employee goals focused on accountability for the member experience as well as more effective mining of member feedback. It’s harder for supervisors to manage to this kind of non-number goal, but we think it’s better. We also believe employees like it more. Tellers find it hard to act in a manner that promotes number-oriented goals such as ROA, asset growth, and expense control, but they can work to retain and build relationships that will contribute to these benchmarks. So we set our goals there and reward all employees up to 40 hours of pay if those goals are achieved.

Out In The Community

The right employees, properly trained and motivated, will feel so good about the credit union that they will serve as ambassadors for our brand wherever they go. They will feel proud to wear the credit union logo on their shirts and to represent us in their community activities and groups.

KeyPoint is involved in quite a number of niche organizations in the communities we serve. These include libraries, parent groups, education groups, and senior citizen groups, the latter of which we find to be vastly neglected by financial service institutions. Working with these groups really gets our name out in the communities and shows we are a grass-roots-oriented financial institution devoted to improving the communities we serve. This service works two ways: the benefit we provide to the niche groups is appreciated by the employees involved and it also helps instill pride in them as employees of the credit union.

Each branch manager offers their support to help improve a local school and employees also work with the local chambers of commerce, city administrations, and various non-profits. Our staff is involved in every aspect of their communities and it really makes a difference.

Taking The First Step

As cooperatives, we have to think about employees differently. We have to think about who we hire and how we can help cultivate the inter-personal skills that will be necessary to succeed in tomorrow’s world. We have to be more respectful of our employees, so that they will be more respectful of their place of employment. We need good people who understand how to create cooperative value for members and who will strive toward the goal of a well-functioning, efficient, and democratic credit union community. That’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

March 14, 2016

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