Human Resources

Employees’ Opinions Create Change at Grow Financial FCU

CU traces top workplace honor to staff-suggested improvements.

August 05, 2013
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At Grow Financial Federal Credit Union, Tampa, Fla., there’s no understating the significance of employee feedback in creating an enviable work environment.

The $1.8 billion asset credit union entered the Tampa Bay Times’ Top Workplaces competition in 2012 in large part because the newspaper Bob Fisher, Grow Financialbases its awards on an employee survey it facilitates. Individual responses are confidential, but companies receive an aggregate report.

Grow Financial placed 16th among mid-level employers—no small achievement in a metropolitan market—but president/CEO Bob Fisher noticed “a couple of things we felt we were really falling down on,” the foremost being internal communication.

So Grow Financial hired a public relations professional from Tampa’s Museum of Science & Industry to champion in-house and external messaging, and created an auditorium and video facility in an unfinished portion of its headquarters.

Now, Fisher records a monthly video for employees, often filming on location in exotic spots such as Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or at a branch that's under construction to energize staff about the progress.

In this year’s contest, Grow Financial moved up to the largest class of employers, with more than 500 staff members—and finished No. 1.

“We worked hard at addressing the comments people had, and beat all the big companies,” Fisher beams.

Be an ‘employer of choice’

At the credit union's long-range planning meeting last summer, Fisher took a cue from Google, Microsoft , Facebook, and other forward-looking companies.

He asked that Grow Financial Federal scrap the “legalese” in its mission statement, which was something “nobody could ever remember or repeat.”

The credit union's new mantra: “Be Bold. Be Great. Have Fun.”

Grow Financial Federal embodies “fun” by promoting staff activities, such as Take Your Kid to Work Day, featuring a visit by Radio Disney; outings to professional sporting events; and an annual diversity fest, where employees bring dishes inspired by their ancestry.

“Our idea was to become an employer of choice,” Fisher says.

That commitment consists of more than just novel activities. Grow Financial Federal took its lumps during the recession but continued its commitment to employees with no layoffs, pay cuts, or salary freezes. The credit union also continued its merit increases—generally 2% to 3%—and its 8% match on 401(k) plans.

Longstanding perks include family leave plans, flexible work schedules, an onsite health club, and college tuition reimbursements.

“If we don’t have happy employees,” Fisher says, “they’re not going to take good care of members.”

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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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