Corner-Office Vision, Front-Line Implementation

It takes more than talent to restructure your employee environment from the ground up. It takes the right attitude and a shared mentality of success.




It takes more than talent to restructure your employee environment from the ground up. It takes the right attitude and a shared mentality of success.

In the effort to be the best cooperative possible for your membership, it’s easy to rack one’s brain with balance sheet management strategies and benchmarking goals. But in the flurry of products, procedures, and figures that comes with daily operations, don’t lose track of the fact that it’s people who deter­mine the institution’s success.

“From my military background, this is a mes­sage that I learned early on: ‘You take care of the troops, and they’ll take care of the mission, regardless of what the mission is,’” says E.C. Williams, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of GTE Federal Credit Union ($1.5B, Tampa, FL). From the CEO, to the board, to the teller at the frontline, each divi­sion must work in lockstep for the institution to function.

GTE’s current mission includes becoming not only the financial institution of choice in the markets it serves, but the employer of choice. And the newly reformed cooperative is making significant strides towards that goal.

“There’s now a waiting list to come and work here,” Williams says, yet GTE’s investments in an employee centric culture didn’t happen by acci­dent, and they didn’t happen overnight.

Rebound and Rebuild From the Corner Office Out

A significant shift in the executive environment followed the arrival of new CEO, Joe Brancucci, who joined the credit union from BECU in July of 2010. As pressing as the credit union’s finan­cial position may have been at that time, the employee situation at GTE was another hurdle that needed to be immediately cleared.

In its process of stabilizing, the credit union had to balance the needs of members and the institution with the values, attitudes, and com­mitments of current leadership. In some cases, significant changes were required.

By the first quarter of 2011, GTE had expe­rienced a roughly 80% turnover of its executive team (with both voluntary and involuntary departures) and was continuing to use pay cuts for those who remained in a make-or-break effort to help stem financial instability.

Restarting the leadership experience with an eye on passion and drive required a fresh perspec­tive and an understanding of how each part of the institution was critical in its relation to the whole.

Along with Williams and a several other addi­tions to the executive team, GTE hired senior vice president of talent Cheryl Brown to address staffing strategy and aid in culture development.

GTE also took advantage of this timeframe to re-address its healthcare, benefits and com­pensation system to help it stay competitive as an employer without putting burdens of undue operational expense on members.

Immediate goals included transitioning out employees who had become complacent or lost interest in the cooperative vision, syncing those who would stay on with GTE’s member-cen­tric values (featured on a pinwheel that appears throughout the institution), and filling the exec­utive leadership holes that remained.

“Obviously, I wanted skills but I hired for atti­tude. And I wanted an organization that was much younger in age and focus,” Brancucci says. “The new team has young thoughts, they’re not afraid of anything, and they’re not married to the way it was done.”

While bringing in new talent, GTE also remembered to utilize and sharpen the resources it already had.

“What was very clear in coming onboard was for us to assess our talent in the organization and determine if there were any gaps of concern,” Brown says. “Even though we are bringing in external talent, we also want focus on developing the talent that’s in-house.”

This ongoing blend of market experience and an infusion of fresh enthusiasm has transformed the executive atmosphere at GTE, and solidified the team’s mentality of success.

“You can feel the excitement. You go into a room and you have 10 or 15 leaders in there and you can see it on their faces,” Williams says. “People want to be a part of that.”

As the executive leaders hit their stride, the credit union turned its sights to a number of HR, training, and opera­tional issues to improve the employee experience.

It’s Our Job to Help You Do Your Job

Giving staff a shared responsibility in their own employee experience can be a critical tool in bolstering performance and morale. At GTE, the pay cuts experienced during the depths of the recession soon became retroactive, but remained conditional upon on the cooperative’s future performance.

GTE also discovered the best way to get members to rec­ognize the value of their products was to fuel a stronger knowledge base among employees.

In the future, GTE plans to put “virtual centers” in every branch to walk members through their technology-based products and channels. Staff themselves may eventually host demos of products which would require them to have in-depth knowledge of each item.

“As our employees really figure out how these products benefit the member and how they work, then they’re better able to go out and educate the member,” says Lester Santos, vice president of member consumer lending. “They can say ‘here’s how you use them and here’s why.’”

Another huge investment was in employee convenience, whether it was an operating system that minimized wasted time, technology to support cross-sell and transaction pro­cessing, or streamlined channels of communication.

A bogged down operational system rife with inefficiencies and other points of pain doesn’t just translate to wasted dol­lars, but wasted employee time and sapped enthusiasm. To counteract this,

GTE recently implemented a new loan origination sys­tem that “let’s employees stop worrying about the system, and allows them to just focus on the member,” Santos says.

GTE’s open enrollment process was also automated to the point where employees could be at work or at home with their families as they evaluated the program, Brown says. Even GTE’s benefits fair has gone virtual to improve ease of access. “It is all at the employees fingertips,” she says.

At the end of the day, employees want to be heard as well as seen, so never underestimate the value of face time. GTE has initiated physical meetings where employees, the CEO, and upper management can all meet and exchange sto­ries, tips and ideas to build relationships across the various departments.

“We’ve created an environment where employees know they have a voice and that they can actually make a differ­ence,” Brown says. “We’re breaking down the silo mentality and that’s been a big plus for us.”

Money Matters, But It’s Not Everything

Economic downturn and efficiency concerns means compensation may be an issue for many credit unions, but it’s not the line in the sand you may expect for many employees.

“To draw in the talent and abilities members require, you have to have good solid pay and benefits; those things have to be competitive,” Williams says. But in the end it comes down to culture.

“Culture is the feeling you experience when you walk into an organization,” he says. “Are the people smiling? Do they treat each other with dignity and respect?” These cultural components affect not only the business but transcend out­side the organization to home life and other areas, he says.

While skills sets still tend to be a main priority when hir­ing new staff, adaptation to culture and commitment to the institution is as critical a component. If it’s a good fit, the resulting energy that employees exude is genuine.

“We’ve got to work. Why not be happy and enjoy what you’re doing? If you don’t, then you need to find some­thing that’s going to bring you happiness,” Williams says. If the enthusiasm, verve, and resulting financial stabilization going on at GTE are any indication, it seems the employees there have finally found their niche.




Sept. 12, 2011


  • It appears that many companies, credit unions, etc. are getting on the same page. We, at Arizona Federal CU, are doing pretty much the same things.

    Great article!

    Josie Gonzalo
    Josie Gonzalo