“It’s not the years in your life that count,” says Connie Peregretti, training manager for Orange County’s Credit Union ($1.1B, Santa Ana, CA), quoting Abraham Lincoln, “it’s the life in your years.”
As one of Orange County’s largest credit unions — it has more than $1 billion in assets and nearly 260 employees — OCCU sees the importance in employee growth and development. That’s why in 2008, OCCU’s executive team tasked Peregretti and Teresa Koch, assistant vice president of marketing, with building a program that supported the credit union’s mission to be “with you all the way.”
In response, Peregretti and Koch’s departments designed the LIFE Game Plan, a whole life-learning project for all employees regardless of position that encompasses member interactions, community engagement, and educational opportunities. OCCU launched the LIFE Game Plan in 2009.
“The program champions the fact that we are all representatives of the credit union regardless of our position, and we support one another in a collaborative environment,” says Peregretti, who together with Koch presented the program to Callahan & Associates during a June 2013 webinar. “We want to keep our associates engaged.”
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The Meaning Of LIFE
After the executive team and the board of directors approve OCCU’s yearly business plan, the marketing and training teams tailor the LIFE Game Plan to incorporate its key objectives. For example, the 2013 objectives are alignment, collaboration, relevancy, simplicity, and efficiency.
Both front and back-office staff participate in the LIFE Game Plan, which teaches core competency skills derived from four categories:
L Leadership at all Levels (leadership)
I Inspiration in the community (community)
F Fanatic about the fundamentals (product knowledge)
E Extraordinary in the ordinary (member service)
The LIFE Game Plan educates employees in a variety of ways to help them master key concepts. Employees read books on leadership principles — most recently StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath — interact with the community, complete online modules and instructor-led workshops, and brainstorm programs to benefit the credit union.
“LIFE packs a lot of punch,” Peregretti says. “It’s robust without being overwhelming.”
For one year the program focuses on a central topics supported by quarterly themes. Past quarterly themes have included baseball, superheroes, mystery, board games, and travel and passport. These themes are a backdrop that makes the learning cohesive, engaging, and fun. Then at the end of the year, the program rolls out a new central topic.
Peregretti estimates the LIFE Game Plan costs approximately $50 per employee, though costs are lower some years. The yearly marketing and training budgets both allocate money for the program and cover all the costs associated with it.
LIFE Should Be Fun
Although the LIFE Game Plan requires a significant time investment and hard work, the coordinated effort is an experience employees find fun and rewarding. From the process of picking the quarterly themes to competing in team activities, the program offers staff no shortage of entertainment.
“Fun is definitely an important part of making our LIFE Game Plan a success,” says Koch. “Each year we pick a theme to organize the fun around and tie it all together.”
In LIFE Game Plan’s inaugural year, OCCU chose the slogan “LIFE is Great” and handed out beads during the first quarter Mardi Gras-inspired theme, “Life is Great, Jazz it Up.”
“Our team has had a lot of fun playing with the word ‘life,’” Peregretti says.
In addition to the frivolity, OCCU attributes the success of the LIFE Game Plan to two key components: Friends for LIFE and executive support.
“Friends for LIFE” are the team members selected to represent each department. They participate in a quarterly conference call, distribute materials to their departments, and act as the organizing force for the program, relaying information to team members and keeping them motivated.
Peregretti and Koch underscore the vital role these positions play to the success of the program. As such, they choose enthusiastic co-workers who have raised their hands, enjoy being creative, and enjoy being a leader, Koch says.
Executive support also is critical to the success of the LIFE Game Plan. Executives participate in the online training modules and instructor-led workshops and support team-building exercises and community events. Without executive support, the program would be a harder sell to employees.
“At the end of a quarter, we often publish team participation percentages,” says Koch. “The executive team consistently scores 100%.”
Peregretti and Koch encourage employees to offer ideas and comments regarding the LIFE Game Plan. Participant feedback has included: “I thought the LIFE program was genius!” “Good job with Friends for LIFE and events. Keeps the team spirit alive!” “LIFE reinforces the business initiatives in a fun and engaging way.”
Although the LIFE Game Plan is meant to benefit staff, both Peregretti and Koch note the value the program adds to OCCU’s members. Because of the nature of the LIFE Game Plan, one quarter staff members improve their knowledge on a topic and the next they apply it to member interactions.
The credit union’s asset base has increased 14% since the beginning of the LIFE Game Plan, and it now tops $1 billion, according to Callahan & Associates Peer-to-Peer analytics. According to Koch, the credit union’s June 2013 member survey score of 9.66/10 represents a 2% increase since the inception of the LIFE Game Plan. And its Net Promoter Score of 90 has trended positively. Another indication the credit union is moving “in the right direction,” according to Koch, are the increases in services per household and services per new member, by 11% and 14% respectively, and the reduction in single service household percentage from 30% to 15%.
LIFE continues to evolve at OCCU. This year, it incorporated a wellness program with the header, simple ways for a healthier you. The credit union has partnered with St. Joseph’s Hospital to sponsor lunch-and-learns and has developed online modules that offer healthy living tips.
“The program has been rewarding not only for [our employees] and our members,” Peregretti says, “but for our organization as a whole.”