Manage Flatter, Not Fatter

Can more flexibility in management styles and employee responsibilities benefit credit unions?


Last week, I blogged about the use of social media at work and its impact on attracting and retaining young employees. It’s no secret that many companies, even those who can also afford to offer top-tier salaries, increasingly use these low- and no-cost benefits to rake in young talent.

But modern employee also value the ability to work flexible hours so they can slate a portion of the workday for passion projects, work-related hobbies, or even good old-fashioned downtime.

Last month, the leak of video game company Valve’s extremely creative and astoundingly sparse HR handbook offered a glimpse into how their no-hierarchy, no-task management, completely open work environment functions. The first page of the Valve’s manual explains they want employees to have “a fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s there telling you what to do.”

And another excerpt makes it clear just how far the company believes in this concept:

“When you’re an entertainment company that’s spent the last decade going out of its way to recruit the most intelligent, innovative, talented people on Earth, telling them to sit at a desk and do what they’re told obliterates 99% of their value. We want innovators, and that means maintaining an environment where they’ll flourish.”

Reading on, the message of employee ownership become increasingly clear as Valve explains that even the founder and president “isn’t your manager” as the company wants employees to is steer themselves toward opportunities and away from risks. “You have the power to green-light projects. You have the power to ship products,” the manual reads.

We’ve  heard of this type of work environment before with Google’s 20% rule, in which 1/5 of engineer’s time could be used for passion projects. This culture resulted in a slew of successful products lines, including AdSense, which currently generates 15% of Google’s profits, as well as a few stinkers. But with the labs feature now defunct (it’s where most employee innovations were housed) and rumors of tightened requirements for 20% time (including manager approval), Google is adding more structure to its workplace, not less.

The regulatory aspects of the credit union business may not permit employees as much free reign as large creative firms, but the idea of loosening up is possible and has been verified by other credit unions’ experience.

Though hours are typically tracked by some sort of workforce management software, many credit unions with remote workforces also rely heavily on the honor system, like Valve does. Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union ($1.6B, St. Paul, MN) developed top-notch talent and drastically improved many facets of its operations by requiring every employee to use some work time to brainstorm and implement one improvement for any aspect of the business, even if it’s outside their field of specialization.

Yes, having too little structure is risky, but too much oversight or not enough variety can kill innovation and make talent acquisition, retention, and development a struggle.