How to create trust.
If you’re Island Savings Credit Union When the old guard retired at Island Savings Credit Union 10 years ago, new president and CEO Pam Marchant retired the management style with them. Marchant, 53, began her watch at the Vancouver Island institution by visiting the four branches and talking to all 211 staff. She also commissioned an independent survey of staff attitudes. “The survey showed that Island Savings didn’t score high on the issue of trust and it was something we set out to change,” she reveals. “The company was well managed but I was setting out a new culture and I wanted to create a very different management style.” Marchant began by acting on the results of the survey. When filling it out, employees were encouraged to add their no-holds-barred thoughts with the promise that only Marchant would read them. “I waded through the comments and they were very honest but it was very tough. We took the results of the survey back to the staff and had a pretty long list of issues. We let each location choose the five things that were most important to focus on and we looked at the things that could be tackled at a corporate level. It was really a two-way process.” Individual branches were given more autonomy to do things their way, such as organizing the style and format of their in-house meetings and how they wanted to organize the regular get-togethers with the president. Changes at the executive level included improved channels of communication with all employees and the introduction of a recognition and awards program which was previously non-existent. Today, Island Savings has a range of formal and informal initiatives, from personal thank-you notes and intranet profiles to the WOW points scheme that rewards staff for outstanding work with a choice of gifts and the annual Night of Stars gala evening at the Chemainus Theatre. The most surprising element of improved communications was the corporate financial education program, which saw Marchant touring the branches with her CFO to explain how they actually ran the company and what they did with the money. “We felt the more staff knew, the better they would do their job and we shared a lot of information on the company’s financials. They could not only read the financial statements but understand what they meant.” The high level of openness encouraged in the early days has become an established way of life at Island Savings, says Marchant. “When I go out to the branches, staff can ask me any question they want and they know there will be no repercussions. Nothing is hidden.” More formal feedback is encouraged through Island Voices. The committee is made up of a group of 15 non-management staff from each of the now 12 branches who meet at least six times a year with the management team to provide feedback on future initiatives. Membership to the committee is flexible with no fixed limit on time served and places on it are much in demand. Potential candidates apply in writing explaining not only what they would get out of the venture, but also what they could contribute. Before every meeting, committee members will canvas the opinion of colleagues on upcoming projects and on some occasions, head office will ask branch staff to take a vote on a particular issue coming up for discussion. Ilke Bene, manager of employee relations, believes Island Voices has been one of the company’s most valued initiatives. “The primary role of the committee is to validate the projects and then communicate out to the branches. But they don’t just rubber stamp a project; they will look at it from the perspective of our most critical member who comes into the branch.” Ideas don’t just come from the head office in Duncan and employee suggestions are often put into action. Last summer’s revamp of the Island Savings’ student services package started with a conversation between branch staff a few months earlier. “Our employees have a lot of skills and experience and they are the real experts at what they do,” says Bene. “They hear every day from our members what works so they are the ones who have the intelligence to improve business.” The environment of trust is further enhanced by inviting staff members onto interview panels for senior hires, ensuring employees spend a day with the leadership before they start the job, the creation of the compassion fund to support employees during emergencies, a shared incentive scheme, sizeable donations to nominated charities and a generous ten-day allowance of health-care days that enable staff to care for dependents and relatives without losing vacation time. When Pam Marchant became CEO, Island Savings had four branches and assets of $316 million. Today, the assets of the 54-year-old credit union have swelled to $776 million, there are 328 employees and branch numbers have tripled. While trust, honesty and openness are not the only reasons behind its success, she believes these values have encouraged employees to take more pride and play a more active role in the company. “Trust adds value to the company and we will be successful by being the best place to work. We know that when the employees are engaged, the enthusiasm that they feel is felt by our members.” As Marchant has shown, you can’t establish a sense of trust overnight, but you can start by listening to your employees, reacting to what they say and giving them an opportunity to be at the centre of change.