Empowering Employees to Serve Members

'You've got to keep yourself pumped up.'

November 08, 2013
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Sandra Sullivan-Woods’ personality is a hit with employees and members at Spartanburg (S.C.) Regional Federal Credit Union.

Described as “fun, caring, and creative,” the branch manager raises the bar on member service at her credit union through coaching and empowering employees.

“I always try to make everything fun,” says Sullivan-Woods (pictured above right), who has been known to sing to her staff and make up motivational credit union cheers. “You’ve got to keep yourself pumped up.”

Her methods are paying off, says Spartanburg Regional Federal CEO Patricia West. Through Sullivan-Woods’ leadership, employees have become empowered to better their workplace and members’ lives.

“She has created new and unique ways to show staff how not to miss opportunities and to realize they’re in control of their future,” West says. “Her coaching has given employees a sense of ownership and pride in helping our members.”

Sullivan-Woods encourages her staff to figure out what works and what doesn’t and suggest ways to improve operations.

“I direct it back to them,” she explains. “I let them tell me.”

And she leads by example with high energy and empathy.

“I love laughing and joking around,” Sullivan-Woods says. “And I don’t ask staff to do anything I won’t do myself.”

West recalls a time when Sullivan-Woods saved an account from closing “by using her ability to put members at ease.”

West tells the story this way: A member approached the credit union intending to close his account because he was moving to another town where he was buying a new home. He mentioned that he was having trouble sprucing it up and Sullivan-Woods actually spent time going over color choices with him.

At the end of the conversation, the member chose to stay with the credit union due to the personal attention he received and the products that made his membership too valuable to lose, even though he was moving to another city.

The great thing about Sullivan-Woods, according to West, is that she’s ambitious, always willing to learn, and will continue to grow with the credit union.

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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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