Gary Vien serves as the chief administration officer at Suncoast Credit Union ($5.77B, Tampa, FL). Before that, Vien led HR efforts at theme parks, including Six Flags and Busch Gardens, across the country. With a master's degree in organizational management, Vien is an HR expert for the credit union and on social media. He tweets at @Gary_Vien, where his hashtag #LeadersTips highlights thought provoking and engaging leadership advice. He has a twinkle in his eye and a beautiful tenor singing voice. He also has an interesting way of encouraging employees to succeed — by telling them to think like business owners.
After almost 40 years in the theme park business, how did you manage the shift to credit unions?
Gary Vien: In the theme park business, it's a 365-day-a-year job, 24 hours a day. There are people working in the park all day and night – wash-down crews and attendants caring for animals, delivering food and merchandise, developing and building rides. It's constant motion! When I came to the credit union, there was no longer the high-volume recruiting pressure to meet that demand. Instead, my time was focused on our members and employees. It was a role that used my head more than my hands.
With any job change, I know it will take three to five months to find my cadence, to get to know my new peers, the organization, and its culture. I don't believe you need to come in like a bull in a china shop, but you do need to build relationships. I would set up meetings with each employee and ask them to tell me about HR at Suncoast. What did the department do effectively or ineffectively? Give me the good, the bad, and the ugly of HR.
That's a good way to get feedback from everyone outside of the HR department. What did you do to get feedback from within your department?
GV: It's vital to know your resources, especially the people. I met with the entire team, and I gave each person a sheet of paper with about 12 different questions: Who is the most knowledgeable about technology? Who is the best writer or the go-to person in a crisis? If folks thought they were the best, they wrote down their name. I tallied those results and put them on a chart. From there, I received their interpretation of who was good in their group and the organization. I had more information so I could make decisions. If I had a writing piece that I needed to do right away, I knew whom I could go to or count on with those skills.
Some people wanted to know how they did. They'd ask, "Did I make your list? Was I one of the top three?"
I'd ask them, "What do you think you were the best at?" Then I'd tell them, "According to your peers, you're in the middle." This is tough love stuff. But then I'd say, "If you think you're good at this, you need to prove to everybody that you can do it."
What are you doing to make yourself the expert on that matter? Are you going outside of your comfort zone to help people? Are you doing extra work to help them with their tasks? There are different ways you can prove yourself.
That type of feedback can create a completely different set of competencies and metrics for success.
GV: When I began my role with the credit union, shifting the appraisal environment from passive to active was a high priority. By working closely with senior staff, we evaluated our processes and developed new competencies to meet that goal. For example, one competency we added was act as an owner. This ideal embodied many of the qualities we looked for in employees, and that's the aspiration we want. Do you act as an owner? When you go into the branch and you see a piece of trash on the floor, do you pick it up because that's not what we want our members to see? If you were an owner, would you always be late? The answer is no, I'm an owner. I strive to be here before everyone and put in a greater effort to make my organization successful. That was the mindset we wanted to instill.
That's a great concise way of summing up a competency – act like an owner.
GV: We wanted competencies that created an image. We wanted a phrase that makes a light bulb go off because someone reacts, "I know what this means!" Adding words muddies things up. I developed competencies to be clear, concise, and direct. Act as an owner brings together many competencies and sets high standards of conduct. This is someone who follows through on commitments, follows policies, and is a good example for others. Additionally, it's someone who is dependable, who projects pride and Suncoast spirit. Ask yourself, would you work for you?
There's a real emphasis on self-awareness.
GV: Exactly. You have to be aware of yourself first. Then, you can start to plan and act like an owner.