Do Employees Have a 'Voice' at Your CU?

July 26, 2010
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How well do credit unions get information from their employees? And how comfortable do employees feel about speaking their mind?

The Filene Research Institute sheds light on those questions in a new study, "Employee Voice and (Missed) Opportunities for Learning in Credit Unions."

Most credit union leaders recognize the need for employees to speak up and share their ideas, and that recognition often leads to formal processes designed to encourage "voice," according to the Filene report. The problem: Formal reporting mechanisms aren’t very good at getting ideas to senior leaders.

Researchers describe several interesting--and some troubling--findings:

* Demographicand psychological variables—including age, gender, tenure, and education level—don't correspond with the quality of ideas. Good ideas come from everywhere in the credit union.

* About 60%of employees indicated they had more ideas than what they ultimately communicated to their supervisors.

* Formal upwardreporting mechanisms are less efficient at getting ideas to senior leaders. But leaders who actively seek ideas, demonstrate openness, and follow up tend to elicit more voice.

The research highlights an instructive organizational metaphor: a web. Most organizations are formally depicted as chains, with each level reporting up in defined ways all the way to a single leader or board. But information and ideas actually tend to cluster in webs, not chains. In-the-know employees are the central nodes, and unconnected employees occupy the outer, less-informed reaches. Holding a leadership title does not push you to the web's center, and managers who assume their chain of command is ideally suited for delivering good ideas to the top will be frustrated.

While a chain sometimes works, it fails on the inability of any of its links to deliver important information. The take-away: Effective leaders need to seek out ideas from all organizational levels.

How can credit unions create an authentic environment for employee "voice"?

Some do provide what Ben Rogers calls the lowest common denominator: an employee Web site, a committee, or an idea box. "These are the least effective methods because they're passive. Employees have to seek them out," say Rogers, Filene's research director.

The onus should be on midlevel managers to seek information from employees, he says. Also, consider incentives for managers who do so and hold accountable those who don't.

Just collecting new ideas from employees won't have the impact that implementing them will. "Employees have to know that they've been heard," Rogers notes.

Two ways to get started, according to George Hofheimer, Filene's chief research officer:

1. Assess how well your credit union currently collects employee ideas and listens to employee "voice."

2. Get more people inside the web. Not everyone is blessed to have a boss who listens. Train employees on how to effectively present their ideas and how to find managers who will listen.


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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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