Strategies For 'Contagious Momentum' Shared

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SMITHFIELD, RI-When staff salaries are flat or even reduced, employee recognition programs play larger roles in the credit union's success.

During a recent Cardwell webinar titled "How to Build Contagious Organization Momentum," CU executives shared how recognition programs are not only helping align employees to organizational objectives, but are engaging teams and improving employee productivity.

A panel of three agreed that the challenges of operating in a hectic work environment have leaders so busy they often don't take the time to stop and recognize top-performing employees. So when the right things get done, no one is told. To foster high performance, the panel insisted, you need to set clear, mutually understood targets, and then reinforce the behaviors of employees who are helping to achieve them.

The $1.2-billion Navigant CU here engages staff by inviting them to nominate employees who are doing exceptional work aligned to the CU's core values. A link on NCU's intranet asks for nominations, which are reviewed by senior management. The top stories are published on employee portal, but every associate nominated receives a note from the CEO.

But Navigant believes there is another important element to employee recognition-hearing the words directly from the staffer. Navigant purchased an inexpensive video camera and shoots 30-second interviews with employees featured on the intranet. "We ask people what it means to be recognized," said NCU Marketing VP Tim Draper. "We actually think people react better to hearing the story rather than reading it."

The credit union also takes a little different approach with its annual staff meeting, not only to drive more interest and excitement around goals for the year, but to elevate employee recognition. "With all respect to CEOs who have to deliver those messages, sometimes they are dry," Draper said. "We wanted to find a way to make this employee meeting fun."

NCU played off the Academy Awards, calling its last annual meeting the "Navicademy Awards." During the event the credit union outlined goals and strategic direction, and handed out six-inch-tall golden statues-called the "Gary's" (CEO is Gary Furtado)-to top-performing teams and individuals. "We wanted to have a bigger-than-life awards show wrapped around Gary's speech," said Draper, noting that invitations to the event were handed out personally by senior leaders wearing tuxedos.

The $761-million A+ FCU in Austin, Texas, also relies on its intranet to gather nominations from staff for employees who are working toward the company's core principles. Leaders review nominations and choose the best stories to run on the portal and in the quarterly newsletter. "We get more submissions every month, and they are good submissions," said Kerry Parker, CEO. "We had over 70 in April. This is really working."

In Lowell, Mass, the $860, Jeanne D'Arc CU likes to have the recognition come straight from department leaders. During monthly organizational meetings, credit union executives share stories of employees who are excelling and supporting the credit union's core principles. Leaders take notes and then pass the information down to departments.

Nancy Richardson, AVP-HR, said the process works very well because leaders describe in their own words how employees are making a difference.

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