When Sana Saleh began working as senior vice president of member relations at Premier America Credit Union ($1.5B, Chatsworth, CA) in 2008, she noticed branch employees were frustrated by all the disruptions to their workday. Even more worrisome, when she instructed her staff to meet certain targets — attracting new members or generating more auto loans, for instance — her employees always seemed to come up short.
Later, while sitting down with employees to review why an objective wasn’t met, Saleh began to hear a recurring story. Staff members would tell her, “Well, I got caught up with all these servicing issues today.” Employees found they often had to interrupt what they were doing, she says. Sometimes it was to help a member who had lost a checkbook, or review an account, or even just to let someone in to access a safe deposit box.
These myriad, everyday distractions of working at a branch often got in the way of employees making any progress toward a specific goal, and Saleh worried about the cumulative effects on the branch’s performance. “If everybody’s doing that, how am I meeting my growth objective?” she says.
The solution was role clarity, which Saleh introduced to nine Premier America branches in 2009. Role clarity essentially means limiting each job function to a set number of prioritized tasks so that employees can become more productive.
“What role clarity has helped us do is increase productivity at the associate level, and increase production and efficiency at the branch level,” Saleh says.
Established in 1957 in a Los Angeles suburb, Premier America Credit Union recently merged with the struggling Telesis Community Credit Union ($318M, Chatsworth, CA) under an NCUA management contract. Currently, Premier America has 11 branches, each staffed with seven to 12 employees. All branch employees are designated one of the following roles: teller, sales and service specialist, operations supervisor, assistant manager, financial sales and services specialist, and branch manager.
The teller, for instance, has three functions: performing basic account transactions, balancing the cash drawer at the end of each day, and informing members about other products and services. Members who need specialized assistance are referred to another employee, such as the financial sales and services specialist, who has both the expertise and time to help a member with a complex transaction. "We do a warm handoff and explain that an expert would be assisting them," says Saleh. Because tellers don’t perform time-consuming transactions, the line moves faster and members are served more quickly.
Role clarity helped improve the member experience at the branches, where Saleh strives for superior service, not just good service. “I think everybody delivers good service,” she says. Premier America’s differentiator, on the other hand, is about delivering “a flawless experience every time to every member, and role clarity has helped us with that.”
One problem with having such specifically designated roles was ensuring the credit union always had the right person on hand to assist a member. Saleh and her team devised the role of sales and services specialist, a position similar to that held by a universal employee, who can fill in when other associates, such as tellers, are at lunch or on vacation.
Saleh advises credit union managers who want to introduce role clarity at their branches to keep employees in the loop about how the changes they adopt will improve the credit union. Also, it's important that employees have a say in choosing the roles they're interested in.
“I think what’s really important is sharing your vision with the associates first,” Saleh says. “Reinforce the message by showing them the results. Share with them the financial impact, the impact on associate satisfaction, the impact on customer service.”
One unexpected result of fine-tuning the branches’ job roles is that employee satisfaction has increased, something that surprised even Saleh. According to GlassDoor.com, a site where employees rate their workplace, most Premier America employees gave positive reviews. One employee cited Premier America’s friendly work environment, its understanding management, and a culture that values employees as some of the advantages of working there.
“The associates were happier because, at the end of the day, they felt more successful and it was tangible,” Saleh says. “They felt more responsible toward their contribution because there was nothing to derail them from focusing on what the job expectation was.”