A Management Message Right Out Of The (Jet) Blue

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In order to become a great, people-centric credit union, the managers should define the values it will operate by, involve employees in recruiting and hiring, and constantly exceed the expectations of the employees.

That was the message from Ann Rhoades, former executive vice president for JetBlue Airways and president of a consulting company. Rhoades, who identified herself as a 30-year credit union member, gave the opening keynote at the California and Nevada CU Leagues' annual meeting and convention here.

According to Rhoades, JetBlue was founded on the notion of "bringing humanity back to air travel," which makes its mission similar to that of credit unions.

"We decided to know what we stood for before the first plane ever flew," she said. "The first group of pilots we had has hired all of our pilots since. The first mechanics we had hire all of our mechanics."

When interviewing a prospective employee, Rhoades recommends behavior-based hiring - ask the person to give examples of something they did to help somebody at a previous job. "For credit unions, that means asking what creative thing that person did to help a member, and what was the result? Ask if he or she ever broke a rule to help a member."

Rhoades said she never hired anyone who didn't break a rule to help someone.

"Those people are risk-takers," she explained. "Part of saying 'yes' to members is taking a risk. We have a rule: if there is a problem, it gets solved on the front line. We don't have to wait for a manager to step in."

The goal, Rhoades said, is to create a "disciplined culture of excellence."

"Keep improving. Don't believe your own press. Be excessive about your members-keep asking them what they want. You credit union folks are good at what you do, so keep it up."

When a mistake is made, "recovery is everything," Rhoades said. "Say you are sorry, eat the cost and track what happened."

Keeping Employees Happy

When any other organization is preparing to implement a new rule or policy, it should let the people who will be impacted help make the decision, according to Rhoades.

When she was with Southwest Airlines, company officials decided to install a drug- and alcohol-testing program for pilots. Instead of simply telling the pilots what the policy would entail, Rhoades said the pilots helped formulate it. "Not one grievance was filed against the policy. Every other airline had a grievance filed against their drug-testing policies," she recalled.

Rhoades recommends tossing the 500-page manual on how to treat members and just keep it simple.

"Constantly exceed the expectations of your people, because you are asking them to exceed members' expectations," she said. "Treat employees fairly, not equally, because people are not equal. Customize rewards and know that recognition and praise are very important."

JetBlue officers must take the place of their front line employees once a month. This means "slinging bags," working as a flight attendant or at the gate. "A CEO learns more this way than by sitting in an office," she said.

"Credit union people are in a great industry," Rhoades declared. "I know credit unions will do things right because I've used credit unions for 30 years."

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