Bert Fisher, the CEO of Our Community Credit Union (OCCU), heads a credit union headquartered in Shelton, Washington with over 90 employees. In 2007 OCCU became a member of the Passageways family, and in 2010, the credit union expanded its field of membership to include all residents in the state of Washington. Matt Maxwell, Passageways Director of Business Development, had the opportunity to speak with Bert as well as Mark Nault, Director of Staff Development at OCCU. They recently relaunched their OnSemble Employee Intranet portal and revealed three ways OCCU has driven sustainable growth, encouraged communication, and enabled staff and middle management to step up to a new level:
- Communication: It’s critical to establish a creative and collaborative environment across departments, projects, and branches. Employees must have the tools to communicate clearly, o that goals are understood and deadlines are met.
- Culture: When you’re looking to inspire your staff, it’s important to build an enjoyable and fulfilling workplace. Your intranet can foster a culture of ownership by equipping your employees with ways to create and share ideas.
- Strategic Growth: Management must track key goals, assess inefficiencies, identify and correct negative trends, and align strategies with credit union objectives.
What follows is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length
In your role as CEO, why does communication matters so much OCCU?
Bert: Communication is the heart of success for an organization. The challenge we faced was the market. It’s constantly changing, so we were trying to find a vehicle that could centralized all communication. We needed something that employees of all levels could go to and find answers to their questions. That’s when we came across Passageways. A huge light went off for us when realized Passageways would give us the opportunity to create common thread between all of our employees, branches, and departments.
How do new hires and empowering staff fit into the communication gap?
Bert: If you look at, and I’m sure think most credit unions are like ours, we have currently about 96 employees and we have turnover of about 8-12 employees a year, and that’s just normal attrition. If you look at it from that standpoint in a 7-8 year time frame, you’ve essentially turned over 100% of your workforce. That plays a huge role in terms of the dynamics of your culture and how it’s changed over the years. Our intranet portal, which we have named Pluto, gives us a consistent base that’s adaptable, so it changes with the new employees as they come in. It’s a common area for new employees, they also get trained in terms of the resources that are available on there.
For communication specifically, how did you bring the various departments and groups together and how was it introducing something other than a shared drive or an old system?
Mark: Initially, it was a hard sell, but fortunately, the success we had really originated from the executive team down. When the staff saw executive buy in it made the change process a lot simplier. We started utilizing tools, and once the staff started realizing it wasn’t going to be painful, they started to wondered how they did things differently in the first place.
What’s the importance of having cross-functional communication, whether it’s a portal project, or other even with projects?
Mark: When we first started the portal, we had too many people working on it. When we relaunched the portal we selected people who were champions of technology and cheerleaders for change. We kept it smaller and more focused. We also used a project management outline, documented it every step of the way and communicated regularly. Communication and documentation were key to our success with the relaunch.
Bert: What’s critical is that every time you introduce change, the result is going to be stress and anxiety. One of the things Mark did a great job with was building cross-sectional teams, so people from different departments and branches were working together. Once you create that buy-in, the employees feel ownership and begin to set and accomplish their own goals. The growth, change, adaptability, and buy-in accelerated exponentially.
“The growth, change, adaptability, and buy-in accelerated exponentially.”
How did you maintain a consistent portal or theme throughout the relaunch?
Bert: When we did the relaunch, standards were a big deal. All of our public pages that everyone in staff has access to are the same. They all have islands and are every standardized. A private page can only be viewed by a work group member. Now, all of our departments have both private and public pages. Structure was a big deal leading into efficiencies of gathering data.
Would you consider your portal to be a centralized resource when it comes to communication and finding information?
Bert: The portal is it for us. Our people embrace it and take ownership of it. It’s the central spot everyone goes to. For example, the Enterprise Instant Messenger, (EIM), can drastically increase services levels across your organization, and gives administrators the ability to log chat conversations, chat conferences, and the file transfers in order to enforce appropriate EIM use. It’s real time and it’s the central location for our internal communication system. EIM allows us to create private conferences on there and for group collaboration when we can’t all be in the same place. The threat with miscommunication is reputation risk and lost opportunity and the portal just minimizes that for us better than anything we’ve ever put out there.
“The threat with miscommunication is reputation risk and lost opportunity and the portal just minimizes that for us better than anything we’ve ever put out there.”
Tell me about your culture?
Bert: At the end of the day, everyone has to agree with where the ships headed, and everyone also has to agree on how it’s getting there. That’s going to come from the top down. It’s about buy-in, approachability, core values, skill sets required for the job, etc…So, we spend quite a bit of time on the culture portion of it, because it’s important for our staff to understand that. The consistency in the marketplace with what we do is where we create our competitive advantage, and that’s a value proposition that we bring not only to our members, but to potential members, and also into the communities we serve.
How do you engage end users and help them stay active?
Bert: Since change is constant, Mark has all of our employees on a team during the course of the year and every year we rotate those teams. They go off and complete specific projects, and those projects help break up the monotony of the days, their jobs, or the department their in. Our portal is a common venue where people can go in and express the change that they are doing with their departments. They take ownership and it’s productive time that they’re utilizing within our system.
After previously using a portal such as Passageways, what was the standard for your relaunch?
Bert: When it comes to staff development, one of the critical things about re-introducing change, the next time you do it you need to do it one step better than the last time. People need to get used to the expectation and the anticipation that we are going to improve at everything we do. That standard helps drive all levels within the organization.
Essentially what we are talking about when it comes to communication, culture and change is talking about knowledge. Knowledge is power. The great thing about sharing knowledge is everyone around you now has information to make better decisions with. Pluto, the portal, and Passage gives us the opportunity to have a common venue for our staff to get that knowledge from.
Efficiency was one of the deciding factors when it came to the relaunch. We are getting more data, so we focused on standardizing information flow to increase our efficiency and share knowledge with everyone else to avoid confusion and chaos.
How did you depend on your senior management for change and strategic growth?
Bert: I’m not going to ask someone to do something if I wouldn’t do it myself. That believability and buy-in needs to be there. When I came to work here one of the first questions they asked me was: what’s your management philosophy? As far as strategic growth goes, we needed to map our future for the next 3 to 5 years. The pluto page gives us a venue where we can share our goals with management.
“I can’t overemphasize the importance of communication at the executive level. Our staff always knows what’s going on and that’s just part of our culture.”
Bert, earlier you mentioned that as leaders of a credit union, you have to step up to the next level and that there are gaps in middle management…could you elaborate?
Bert: One of the things we identified was how much time our senior managers were spending on regulatory compliance changes and demands. Our senior managers were putting too much on their plates and middle management wasn’t stepping up. The portal allows us to bring in the middle managers on certain projects to get their feet wet, and coach the experience to see how they react to complex projects. It’s grown the knowledge base of our middle management and has taken some heat off senior managers, and even some of our front long employees now understand further expectations in terms of what they need to be doing.
“OnSemble Employee Intranet has really been able to centralize our vehicle for communicating internally in many different forms. Now there’s a connection within the credit union in terms of how we communicate and it’s helped us develop and support the culture we have at OCCU.”