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PR Insight: Don’t Forget Your Employees!

February 2012 – Vol: 35 No. 2
by Heather Sugg

Implement an internal communication plan that works

February 2, 2012

Credit Union Management’s online-only “PR Insight” column runs the first Thursday of every month.

Effective communication with credit union employees is often overlooked, or not even considered in public relations planning. The truth is that employees are a very important public of your credit union – one that is integral to your success. Stop and think for a moment about what your office or branch would look like if your employees did not have any motivation, or vision for your credit union. If something along the lines of “Office Space” or, even worse, “Animal House” came to mind, you may be close. It’s a scary thought.

Employees, an Often-Overlooked Public

In reality, credit unions are known for having some of the most member-focused employees – representatives that are bright, friendly and caring. Understanding and implementing an internal communication strategy will help your credit union motivate and maintain its finely trained professionals and, as a result, better serve its growing member base.

Just like the member public relations plan you have in place (For more on developing a public relations plan, read our March 2011 “PR Insight” article: “Make Your Credit Union Stand Out”.), internal communication should be a strategic management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between your credit union and its employees. The goal is not to push propaganda on employees or have them memorize your mission statement, but to include employees in your plans and facilitate a trusted, two-way communication medium, thus developing a sense of cohesion in the branches and a true purpose for their work.

Employee Communication Planning

The details of the plan will vary based on the size of your institution, but all credit unions – from $5 million to $35 billion – should have a solid plan. Smaller credit unions with no branches or a few close branches may receive direction directly from key executives and derive a greater benefit from all-inclusive group meetings. Larger credit unions will need to include more participants in the planning, such as human resources and various managers. They may see more benefit from mass written communication, which lends itself to stricter approval processes.

Once your objectives and strategies are determined, several tactics can be leveraged to deliver messages to your employees. Be sure that a channel for feedback is available with every communication method considered. Larger credit unions must be even more cognizant of welcoming responses. Key tools include:

  • Email updates enable credit unions to share their news with employees as needed. Let them celebrate growth and new milestones. And, if possible, let them be the first to know. Sharing a press release the day before it is issued can avoid any awkward conversations that leave front-line employees feeling left out. (Note: public companies, or announcements involving public companies, cannot be shared in advance due to fair disclosure regulations. For more information about Regulation Fair Disclosure, visit www.sec.gov/answers/regfd.htm.)
  • Employee newsletters are great ways to keep everyone updated on personal matters, while giving staff a voice. You can choose to spotlight employees, or encourage interaction and build camaraderie with team challenges such as wellness competitions for exercise or weight loss.
  • FAQ documents can be very helpful for explaining confusing topics, new technologies, or misconceptions. They are also a good tool for front-line employees that may receive questions from members. Do your best to predict unwanted questions (they will be asked), and provide the most strategic answers. Always be truthful.
  • Wikis and intranets give everyone the chance to contribute. Setting up such an online forum provides a channel to share knowledge and expertise, letting your innovators and forward-thinkers shine.
  • Award and recognition programs show employees how you value their hard work and effort and encourage excellence.
  • Face-to-face meetings should never be neglected. Staff meetings, individual meetings and mentor meetings are all valuable ways to facilitate two-way communication. Once employees are educated on the direction and goals of a company, they can be encouraged to provide information, bringing valuable ideas and potentially ground-braking initiatives to the table.
  • Action! The most important thing to remember is that people inherently believe in what you do, not what you say. Management’s behavior must reflect everything that you communicate. Duane Ackerman, the last chairman and CEO of BellSouth Corp., explained, “Those around us know we're committed, because we live it. That's true in a family, and that's true in a business. If you're consistent over time, it will permeate.”

Other channels include memos, performance appraisals, employee handbooks, retreats/conferences and training resources. Most successful campaigns incorporate a mix of written, electronic and personal media. This meets each employee at the level on which he or she is most comfortable communicating.

When Crisis Hits

One more area where internal communication must not be ignored is your crisis communication and disaster recovery plans. Your credit union has a responsibility to protect the safety of its employees. How will you reach everyone in the event of a natural disaster, such as a tornado or flood? Do you have a back-up plan? A recent NAFCU survey reported that nearly one-third of credit union respondents have had to use their business continuity plans – I cannot emphasize how important these are! For additional information on communications during a crisis, visit the “PR Insight” column: Are you Ready for a Crisis?

Once you have cleared up all the uncertainty about your credit union’s goals, vision, strategy and culture, employees will feel more empowered to contribute to the company. This also fosters a sense of credit unions’ greatest advantage: being a true part of the organization. In turn, such a culture will be shared and your members will feel more like part of the credit union family. This is the foundation upon which credit unions were founded. As you finalize your public relations plan for 2012, be sure to include your employees in proper internal communication strategies.

Heather Sugg is an account supervisor and regional manager for William Mills Agency, the nation’s largest independent financial services and technology public relations firm. I invite you to follow William Mills Agency on Twitter as well as check out our FinTech Marketing blog.

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