FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.-It's a simple problem with enormous consequences; yet similarly simple steps can resolve it.

In this case, "it" is poor sales and service cultures within credit unions, along with the related issue of staff turnover.

With most employee recognition and compensation programs, "There is more recognition than there is accountability, but both are very, very critical," observed Steve Langley, vice president of sales and Service with the $2-billion Travis Credit Union in California.

Speaking to the CUNA CFO Council annual meeting, Langley cited Zig Ziegler's research that found employees have three primary needs: 1) interesting work; 2) recognition for doing a good job, and 3) being let in on things that are going on in the company.

A show of hands of credit union executives in the room found most feel their CUs don't do a particularly good job of communicating internally.

Show of hands indicated not many felt they did a great job of communicating internally with their teams.


Increasingly Unhappy

Langley cited another survey showing that overall employee satisfaction has decreased from 65% in 1987 to 45% today.

Greg Inman, SVP-retail operations with Neighbors Federal Credit Union in Baton Rouge, La., who joined Langley in speaking to the CFO Council meeting, pointed to Conference Board research has found an even more "alarming" number: employees under the age of 35 have an overall satisfaction of only 35.7%.

"The number-one reason people leave their jobs? They don't feel appreciated, according to U.S. Department of Labor. How much does appreciation cost?" asked Inman.

Answered Langley, "The cost is zippo. Other things do cost, but appreciation is not very expensive."

Another key issue is that just one-third of American employees view their managers as leaders.


No Emotional Connection

"As many as 90% of American employees leave their jobs when they fail to make an emotional connection with their boss," said Langley, citing Gallup research. "To me this one is the most alarming findings. How many of you do exit interviews when employees willingly leave the credit union? (About one-third of those in attendance said they did.) The cards are on the table. It's candid. People tell it like it is. People don't quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. We are no exception.

"We find that in our organization people love the credit union but say they can't work another day with their manager," Langley continued. "If you're not doing some kind of exit interview, you might want ot consider getting feedback on why people are leaving your organization. You might think they are leaving for money, but they may be leaving because of their manager."

Inman said employee recognition can be something as simple as a high five or a fist bump.

"I heard of one CEO who struggled with how to recognize people and pay attention to the things they did well," said Inman. "So he came up with something simple. Every day he put five quarters in his pocket. Every day he tried to find something people were doing well. He started with his five quarters in his right pocket, and moved a quarter to his left pocket every time he recognized someone."

Eight years ago Travis Credit Union implemented a sales and service culture within its operations and has discovered the critical piece of the process is the people. And that can mean getting rid of some people.

"The word 'accountability' is a bit of a scary word in the credit union world," said Langley. "We're nice people with nice employees. If you aim at nothing you will hit it every time. How many of you feel you have solid accountability processes in place when it comes to a sales and service culture? (Only a few hands were raised). You have to say what you mean and mean what you say.


What Are The Consequences?

"Accountability in your organization is a philosophical decision. Some credit unions will never have consequences for not meeting sales goals," continued Langley. "And that's cool; we're all different. However, sometimes individuals will under-perform where there are no consequences. When we started formulizing our sales and service culture seven years ago, some of employees thought it was just a passing thing. We will end up terminating an employee who doesn't achieve their sales and service goals. That's a tough stance."

Inman encouraged credit unions establishing such a culture to set the standards high, saying "you will get what you set."

When those standards aren't met, however, it can mean a termination. "Our CEO has a philosophy that as long as you provide them the coaching, training and opportunity to succeed, and steps to follow when not succeeding, then we have done what we should be doing," said Langley. "But it can come to a point when it is not working out. Don't hire someone who can't communicate with other people. We did do some personality profiling and sales aptitude profiling, but we don't do it anymore. No one was qualifying. We did a better job of coaching our managers in their interview techniques. I don't think anything surpasses intuitiveness when it comes ot hiring people. Leaders, if effective, can far outperform a personality profile."


Personality Profiling

Neighbors FCU does do personality profiling, according to Inman, who said NFCU has built its profiles based on its own top-performers. The profile, however, is just one component of what it looks at when hiring.

"You can promote some folks into a position of incompetence, especially if you're culture changes," acknowledged Langley. "Some of our people have self-identified and said 'Uncle.'"

Langley reminded credit unions to keep in mind that the "banking model is product-centric. If you want to stay in this business, it's member-centric. You've got to sell the right product to the right member. Sales is service and service is sales."

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