unCUlturers: musings on organizational culture & development (and stuff about credit unions too)
 
It really is a shame, but many employees trudge into work every day on autopilot. They punch a clock, meander to their workspace, plop down into what may or may not be an ergonomically correct chair, and begin their daily countdown to 5:00PM. For these employees, there's no real passion, no real desire, no pressing urgency about their work. And why is that? For some, the work just doesn't matter. And before you go chalking that up to those employees' bad attitudes, I think we, as credit unions and other organizations, need to look in the mirror first.

We like to speak in lofty terms about the credit union movement, and rightly so. It's a very human movement, built on certain principles meant to help us all be more appropriately human. The difficulty is that we often forget to reinforce this idea with our employees as strongly or as regularly as we ought.

What I'm saying is that our employees need to know their work is relevant. They need to know it matters. And they need to know how it matters and to whom it matters. We're not just running transactions; we're helping people, day after day. Our call center employees are, call after call, helping people understand and manage their finances. We're helping them plan for their future, manage their present, and perhaps recover from their past.

A few months ago, I was speaking with some folks in the lending department at a credit union. As I often do during such conversations, I asked them why they came to work. I asked them what they did during the course of the day. I asked them if they even liked what they did. The answers I got were sadly familiar. "We fill out paperwork," they said. "We process loan applications," they continued. "I'm just here because I can't find another job," one even said in a moment of transparency. My response? "Man, when you say it that way, your work does suck."

I went on to explain what I thought of when I thought of a loan department. It's entirely different from what they were expressing to me. When I think of a loan department, I think of a group of dream facilitators. These employees come to work every day, and yes, perhaps fill out reams of paperwork. But it's not just empty paperwork. It's paperwork that is a means to an end. The lending department enables other people to accomplish their dreams on a daily basis. Do you see the huge distinction here? They're helping people, day after day, accomplish something that's a big deal to them. They're consolidating debt to make it more manageable. They're getting a new car or boat. They're finally purchasimg their first home. After saving for years, they're buying that retirement condo somewhere warm. The loan department isn't just lending money - they're fulfilling dreams. Their work matters. It's more relevant and meaningful than they know.

Credit unions and other organizations that get this idea will have more passionately engaged employees. It's actually a huge competitive advantage for your organization when your employees really understand how relevant and meaningful their work is. The question for us all is this: Do they get it? Do they know and clearly understand how meaningful their work is?
 
 
I've seen and heard it time and again. "We're going to fix our culture." Or, "For the next six months we're going to focus on our people." Or, "I hope we can get our morale issue under control so we can get back to business."

Yikes.

Imagine if you took this approach to a health and wellness program. In fact, many of us have had this very experience (don't judge me). It usually begins around January 1, doesn't it? We get really motivated to get in better shape, eat right, and so on. We buy gym memberships and workout clothes that fit a little snugly (because after all, we're going to lose weight, right?) and march off to the gym, determined that this time will be different. This time we won't give up in March. We'll at least give it until June.

We all know that to get lasting results in the health arena, we have to continually manage ourselves in this area. We have to keep eating right, and we have to keep getting to the gym to exercise. It's an ongoing thing, or at least it should be.

The same is true in regards to group culture. In our organizations (for most of my readers, that means our credit unions), we too often try to stick bandaids on culture issues rather than taking a long-term, strategic approach to them. Rather than understanding that culture is an ongoing initiative, we relegate it to some sort of temporary project.

Six months later we end up on the couch, bothered that we can't fit into our workout clothing; but not bothered enough to actually do something about it on an ongoing basis. There's always next year.