When executives at Advantis Credit Union ($1.14B, Milwaukie, OR) noticed problems in policies and processes, they surveyed credit union employees to detect and address two kinds of miscommunication: that between management and staff and that between other information resources and employees.
The credit union administered a voluntary survey in late 2013 to 134 of its 170 employees. Within a few months, Advantis was able to attribute reduced employee turnover and improved member service to the changes implemented as a result of the survey, says Griff O’Brien, chief member officer at the 55,657-member institution.
Dissatisfied with the information past surveys had generated, Advantis this time turned to HR analytics specialists from McBassi & Company to conduct a survey that consisted of multiple choice questions divided into work, learning, and leadership categories.
“The survey asked questions about how the staff views leadership, do they feel they have enough interaction, do they trust leadership,” O’Brien says. “There also were questions about whether you felt you had the tools and training you need to do your job well.”
The emphasis on leadership perception is important given that O’Brien and several other executives were new to the institution. They joined Advantis in spring 2013 on the heels of CEO Bob Corwin, who arrived in mid-2012.
“One of the interesting things about this survey is that it did not offer opportunity for comments,” O’Brien adds, although employees did have the chance to weigh in after Advantis shared the results. “We were candid and open with them,” he says.
Advantis has since converted the survey findings into action by forming an improvements committee with members from different departments. O’Brien acts as the committee’s executive sponsor. Guided by a strategic plan that the credit union’s board and senior managers crafted, the nine-member group meets twice monthly to address the findings, with the following four changes already a direct result of the survey.
More Input From The Staff
When the survey revealed a widespread feeling of disconnect, O’Brien and four other executives — chief innovation officer Tim Clouse, chief administrative officer Wendy Edwards, CFO Laurie Wilson, and chief lending officer Jeff Schwarz — met with front-line and support staff for their input on how to achieve goals in the strategic plan. The executives and staff also discussed problems with processes and policies.
In the first month, Advantis gathered more than 20 suggestions, Edwards says. Some were easy to implement, such as delivering supplies to branches more quickly and providing fresh fruit and other healthy snacks.
“We were surprised at the amount of response we’ve gotten, and we expect that as we address and implement these changes, it will create more enthusiasm for using this feedback channel,” Edwards says. “The staff is telling us a lot of things we didn’t know.”
One Resource For Information
The credit union immediately tackled one of those things — the need for consistent policies and procedures housed in one central accessible place.
“The No. 1 thing we heard was how difficult it was to find information,” O’Brien says. “There are repositories of policies and procedures everywhere, often with slight variations.”
The committee solicited ideas for improvements and selected those that would provide the biggest bang for the buck, one of which was a software-based knowledge management system. Advantis rolled out the software in August to help members adjust as it switched to a different online banking platform. The credit union will roll out other features of the knowledge management system for internal use early next year, providing employees with a single resource for all policies and procedures.
A Broader Education Policy
The survey also underscored the need for better employee education and training opportunities, so Advantis is exploring options. Already Advantis has moved toward reimbursing coursework for any degree, not just classes directly related to the staff member’s job.
“I have one manager working on a degree through an online university,” O’Brien says. "She’s had to pay for a lot of her courses. Now we’ll pay for all of them.
Other employees are taking advantage of the offer by attending local schools such as Portland State University.
Changes to policies like this have already had a positive effect. Employee turnover was 22.5% in 2013, but so far this year, turnover is at an annualized 16.5%.
Better Workflow And Service
Conventional wisdom holds that better communication leads to better service. With that in mind, Advantis also launched a new customer relationship management system to improve workflow.
“Everyone is using one system instead of voice mails and emails just lagging in people’s mailboxes,” O’Brien says.
The system’s use has risen from approximately 1,900 to 2,500 incidences a month, a 32% increase that O’Brien says indicates employees are using the system. Members should see more consistent service as a result. For example, staff members will be able to handle sensitive situations, such as working with the surviving spouse of a deceased member, better.
“That can be complex, but we now have all that information about those member relationships stored in one place,” O’Brien says.
With more information about a member, the credit union can tailor products or services recommendations.
“Our overarching goal is to increase our number of engaged members, those who have three or more products and services with us,” O’Brien says. “Those first two — that $5 in savings and maybe an indirect car loan — are the easy part.”
He says building those ties with members is just as major a component of the board’s strategic plan as soliciting ideas from the staff. All these changes are just a start because the improvements committee continues to make recommendations and managers meet quarterly to discuss those ideas. Plus, Advantis plans to take another survey.
“We realize you can’t take care of everything in one year,” O’Brian says.
Still, after hearing from employees about what needed to change, one thing is clear: “We went to be the best source we possibly could for that information.”