ply their trade to motivate employees.
By Mary S. Gilbert
This is an article from the June 2006 issue of Credit Union Management magazine.
Credit union marketing departments have realized that the same outreach techniques that they employ to persuade external customers apply equally well to employees. The key methods for encouraging members to join, buy a CD or take out a mortgage can also motivate employees. When it's fun to do so, staffers may make an extra effort to understand the corporate mission, policies, business goals and new programs. The net result of such efforts can be greater job satisfaction and performance and, undoubtedly, staff retention.
Adding a fun factor can make employees better marketing tools, says Natalie Baker, CME, VP/marketing at $130 million Dominion Credit Union in Richmond, Va.
"When you deal externally, you have to always keep in mind to answer the question 'What's in it for me?'" she says. "It's the same internally. We need to constantly tie in and reward employees. Clear communications are critical, and employees need to be the first to know even the small things. Our role is to make it easy on our internal customers, our employees. Every employee is a marketing tool and it's critical that we make the most of that.
"Our biggest challenge is motivating employees when there's a disconnect between what they're being asked to do and the big picture. Recently we introduced an online mortgage application called Mortgagebot. We needed to educate the staff about it and generate excitement before the rollout. Management knew the big picture, but employees doing the day-to-day activities might not make the connection. We could pump out marketing pieces for members all we want, but we needed the staff to share the message with members."
So Baker planned a series of training classes on the features and benefits of the product and how to promote it, in essence, ice breakers for conversing with members. A live demonstration was followed by an activity for staff to look at the product on line and answer related questions.
This was not just another ho-hum training class. Baker added an appearance by "Botman"a good-sport vice president garbed in a silver, futuristic costume reminiscent of a sci-fi superhero. Botman was the keynote figure in a host of election-themed inaugural events that would make even George Bush proud. At the swearing-in, Botman promised to make the online mortgage application easy, fast and convenient. Staff asked Botman questions at a mock press conference. Botman was essentially his own parade, walking to every staff member's desk distributing candy and product reminders.
Staff voted on ballots for their own reward if Dominion CU met its goal of 20 valid online applications. With 47 actually coming in, the CU fulfilled the staff's top-vote-getting rewardwearing blue jeans to work for a week.
Like Dominion CU with its Botman character, $138 million First American Credit Union in Beloit, Wis., personifiedor should that be demonized?its motivational staff program. The overriding visual of its two-year-old program to engender more employee loyalty is a red, white and blue Frankenstein-like face coupled with the tagline "Get excited about the transformation." It references the CU's intention to become a MONSTER credit union, built upon MONSTER service that incorporates these fundamentals: Memorable, Outstanding, Non-stop, Sincere, Timely, Exciting and Reliable.
"Everything we do is branded with MONSTER," says Ariel Bilskey, marketing director. "The initial feedback we had was good, but people were a bit shocked at first at how odd it was because it is wacky. People thought it would fizzle out, but it's lasted.
"The idea is that we can get members in our branches to buy our products, but if our employees aren't knowing, welcoming or warming, then it won't happen. We want employees to be happy at work, like their jobs and convey that to members."
The first full-scale event was a MONSTER mash, a family-oriented party at an employee's home that boasted an outdoor swimming pool and a golf hole. Management assumed the roles of valet parkers, servers and cleaning crew. Employees dined on cookout fare. Clowns and face painters entertained the kids, while adults scoured the neighborhood on a scavenger hunt. The Britney Spears "Oops, I did it again" award went to repeat offenders who regularly forget to punch in on their computerized time clocks. An employee who shooed away a rogue turkey from the drive-up lane at a branch also earned kudos.
MONSTER is omnipresent in the offices, too. Employees can attend the monthly MONSTER college, which offers classes in business writing, Internet programs and more. MONSTER's visage appears on all support materials. His "bride," aka Bilskey, visited the branches at Halloween.
To encourage staff meeting attendance, management performed a live version of a computer-based program called Solutionator, similar to the Internet's Ask Jeeves search engine. Creature Feature is a get-to-know-you segment during which department representatives discuss their jobs and how they contribute to the CU overall.
"Post-MONSTER surveys show that employee satisfaction has improved," Bilskey says. "New employees also have told us they had heard that First American is such a great place to work. We'd like to equate some of that response to MONSTER."
for the Close-up
$787 million Spokane Teachers Credit Union, Spokane, Wash., also looked to Hollywood as a reference point to kick off its new brand to employees. It rented the 1930s art deco Garland Theatre to showcase to employees the CU's overhauled brand.
"Our marketing is very distinctive, and rebranding has been integral to our success and growth," explains Daniel Thorpe, advertising manager. "Our logo is warmer, more colorful now and reflective of our diversity, and we wanted to encapsulate that feeling and show the brand in its glory. We wanted to have the materials and the kick-off reflect what a $1 billion financial institution does, and we wanted the utmost professionalism in how we rolled it out." Thorpe notes that the CU is nearing the billion dollar mark and needs to start thinking as such now.
"We put 'Billion Dollar Brand' on the theatre's marquee," he says. "We had buses in full graphic wraps parked outside the entrance. Directors' chairs for the presenters were in the colors of the new logo. We showed our new TV commercials, print ads and outdoor campaign. We unveiled the redesigned business cards and corporate apparel. Employees ordered food from the concessions. We also showed the movie 'The Incredibles.' This was much more than a typical corporate presentation.
"Beyond wanting our employees' buy-in, we wanted their excitement and for them to become the biggest champions of the brand," Thorpe says. "We saw them as the first target audience, and we wanted them to embrace it. As we were presenting the brand, the audience applauded and, once the rhythm began, the event took on a life of its own. We let the night speak for itself."
With The Show
$1 billion Citadel Federal Credit Union in Thorndale, Pa., followed its own "let's put on a show" strategy when it held the aptly named Citadelpalooza, a precedent-setting extravaganza to explain how the results of a recent marketing research project would influence the way the CU would position itself in its market going forward.
"We were in an identity crisis," recalls Cathy Graham, VP/marketing. "Our current members loved us, but people who use banks instead of us don't understand what a credit union is, and that's a barrier to growth. We're in an extremely fast-growing, affluent market with lots of new banks, and we wanted people to know that we're already here and we can do business better. It was a big shift in perception. Our message would be that we're a credit union and we understand that our brand strength is our service, what we call Citadel Class Service."
Graham decided that an event was in order to present the new brand concept to employeesan event she determined would "make an Amway meeting look like a funeral. There was a business reason for the event, but we needed to do it in a fun way," she says.
She rented a hall and decorated it. Employees were divided into teams, given shirts and taken through a variety of team-building exercises tied into branding. A disc jockey spun tunes. Employees received redesigned Citadel FCU merchandise. They played a homegrown version of "Family Feud" and took part in games that fostered teamwork, such as developing commercials to spoof competitors. Interspersed with the levity were presentations by management on some of the key research findings.
"We made our employees feel comfortable with our identity and talking to people about it, because they represent our brand every day," Graham observes.
Citadel FCU had combined with Atlantic Credit Union in the spirit of a true merger. Doing research, Citadel FCU found that the mismanagement of cultural issues is the primary reason for failed mergers. Intent on avoiding that pitfall, Citadel FCU formulated a cultural integration plan to create an environment of corporate cohesiveness, a key element of which was a themed event with an overriding goalto provoke a "wow" response from the attendees as they began to build relationships.
The feedback from an earlier, more traditional management meeting indicated that employees were curious about their departmental counterparts in the other organization. In essence, they wanted to meet their twins.
Graham ran with the idea and designed the Citadel Premiere Party, held at a local hotel. Employees received an invitation that looked like an oversized movie ticket. They entered what appeared to be a movie theatre lobby, adorned with giant posters reading, "Now ShowingTwinsstarring Atlantic Credit Union and Citadel Federal Credit Union." The photos on the poster were from the movie "Twins," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito. They showed a portion of the movie, edited with customized content relating to the merger to express the shared values of the two organizations. Staff munched on popcorn and candy, and team leaders, dressed as ushers and carrying flashlights, led staff to their seats.
The show-stopper was the light-hearted segment showing photos of people with the same jobs morphing into a single photo.
"We wanted employees to understand that they're worth our time and money to make them comfortable in their jobs," Graham explains. "But the events fostered their participation and they caused a buzz among the staff afterward and a sense of excitement. They're now milestones in the folklore of Citadel."
Results For All
$450 million Watermark Credit Union in Seattle follows a different approach to employee motivation. Rather than holding a hoopla-laden event, they take a more financially based approach.
President/CEO Chuck Cockburn eschews individual incentives as ineffective and counterproductive, and prefers gainsharing. He proposed that Watermark CU improve efficiency and cut unnecessary spending using Scanlon Plan principles, a participatory process to continuously improve an organization's productivity and develop its employees.
Watermark CU's "EPIC" plan, named for the four component principlesEquity, Participation, Identity and Competencewas designed by employees and is supported by the board of directors. EPIC encourages employees to share ideas for improving the ratio of expenses to income so everyone involved benefits, explains Marketing Director Jerry Sparrow.
To describe the program to members, Sparrow produced an informational brochure entitled "Watermark's Route to Success."
EPIC complemented the CU's recent change to a more open culture brought on by the adoption of the management philosophy of quality improvement espoused by the late W. Edwards Deming.
Cockburn, a CUES member, elaborates, "We're the only financial services institution that has put in the Scanlon principles. Our employees were heavily involved. We conducted internal marketing and educated them on the principles. They held elections for representatives to develop the plan. We had a two-hour presentation of the plan at an all-staff meeting, and the employees were solidly behind it, voting 86 percent in favor.
"The plan says that, at the end of the quarter, if we improve the ratio, employees get 50 percent of the savings from the improvement. For first quarter 2006, the first since the plan's implementation, all hourly employees received a maximum 9.65 percent of their first quarter pay. Management's cap is limited to that of the highest paid hourly employee. We all together split a total of $122,436."
Each department elected staffers to review and approve suggestions that cut waste or improve processes. These were among the 173 suggestions received during the first quarter:
- Regularly review the free online bill payment service to ensure that we are not paying to support online bill payment accounts that are no longer being used.
- Automate the billing method for safe-deposit boxes.
- Automate payments from IRAs to eliminate the need to send checks.
"Financial rewards aren't the key to success in the long run," Cockburn says. "The main thing is that we're tapping an intrinsic motivation."
Mary S. Gilbert owns Gilbert Group, Pittsburgh.
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