Five steps to creating credit union cultures that work

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For more than two decades, Credit Union Journal's A Day in the Life of Credit Unions program celebrated the magic of the CU difference in action. This feature acknowledged the complexity of changes in workplace culture and the unique opportunities credit unions have to keep both employees and members engaged.

The demand for healthy workplace culture isn’t just a trend that will pass. Millennials and Gen Z are driving a fundamental shift in expectations that is quickly becoming the status quo for all workers. Employees expect to work for organizations that prioritize well-being, flexibility, professional development, and diversity and inclusion. They’re ready to leave jobs if their employers don’t meet their expectations, and credit unions are not immune to this trend.

Smart credit union leaders are responding to these rising expectations by prioritizing the necessary resources to create and maintain a vibrant workplace culture that ultimately will deliver an excellent member experience.

Defining and nurturing your workplace culture is a long-term investment because it’s fluid and changes frequently. However, there are five basic steps any credit union can take to ensure it’s building and supporting a workplace culture that will help keep members happy and the business healthy.

Start with mission and values

Credit unions are in a unique position to align their workplace culture with their mission and values because their members often already have a shared sense of purpose or common set of experiences. This can be a clear and guiding force in developing a culture specifically designed to meet those members’ needs.

Let’s consider a credit union chartered to serve health care workers who make health care more accessible to rural communities. The workplace culture at the credit union should attract employees who also are committed to wellness and have an appreciation for rural lifestyles.

Organizations that shape workplace culture around their mission and values are well-equipped to:

  • Attract and retain employees who believe in the company’s purpose or mission
  • Engage and motivate employees
  • Differentiate themselves from competitors
  • Provide clarity on employee expectations
  • Deliver an authentic and differentiating member experience

Evaluate existing culture

The next step is to understand your existing strengths and weaknesses to identify areas for workplace culture improvement. There are a variety of ways to do this. Digging into cross-functional metrics like absenteeism, PTO and sick time usage, realization reporting, and recruitment and retention metrics is important. Learning how to read these numbers can help you identify issues often caused by unhealthy workplace culture, including burnout, low employee engagement, decreasing tenure length and difficulty filling open positions.

Credit unions can better understand how employees are feeling and where there are opportunities to support them by listening to them using a variety of survey methods like engagement studies and pulse surveys.

Looking at external indicators is another tool. Employee review sites like Glassdoor and Indeed give former and current employees a platform to share honest feedback about the organization. These can be powerful sources of information that uncover insights about the culture that employee reviews or exit interviews didn’t reveal.

Align leadership and communication

Traditional workplace culture relied on top-down, hierarchical leadership and indirect communication. Today’s modern workplace culture requires collaboration and transparency. Employees want accessible and authentic leadership that asks for their feedback, listens to their input and considers it when making business decisions.

Two-way communication between employees and leadership encourages connection and engagement. Employees feel trusted when they’re asked to contribute, and they’re more likely to participate when they notice leadership listens. Engaged employees are more invested in the organization’s success and are inspired to do their part to help the organization achieve it.

Organizations that effectively leverage two-way communication channels create a feedback loop between employees and leadership, which builds trust, enhances the employee experience and improves workplace culture.

Engage employees

Credit unions as individual organizations play a significant role in shaping workplace culture, but employees are ultimately responsible for bringing culture and values to life. Engaging employees in improving workplace culture increases the likelihood of successful initiatives.

One way to do that is by collecting informal feedback can uncover insights about the culture that formal methods can’t. Once you have it, be sure to demonstrate how you are incorporating or responding to it.

Recognition also is an effective way to reward employees who embody the key elements of workplace culture. This acknowledgment reinforces the desired behaviors and signals to employees how seriously the credit union is taking the culture initiative.

Measure and plan for future initiatives

Ongoing measurement and benchmarking are essential for nurturing sustained, healthy workplace cultures. Remember, workplace culture evolves continually as employees and the marketplace change, which means culture work doesn’t end when one initiative is complete. Workplace culture is built and nurtured over time, with mission and values always at the center.

Culture initiatives are significant and complex. Credit unions that make culture a priority will reap the rewards, including:

  • Attracting and retaining top talent
  • Improving employee engagement
  • Improving productivity, profitability and driving business growth
  • Providing a compelling member experience
  • Inspiring creativity and innovation
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Workplace culture Workplace management Employee engagement Employee relations Employee communications Employee retention