A Source of Innovation

Crowd sourcing ideas from CU staff leads to new breakthroughs.

October 25, 2013
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Content manager Lisa Totaro sensed that the nonstop flurry of short-term tasks assigned to the marketing department at Sunmark Credit Union in Latham, N.Y., hampered the group’s creativity.

Credit Totaro—who once interned at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum—for a grand-slam solution.

She recalled Filene Research Institute CEO Mark Meyer’s advice that credit unions must leave their comfortable but limiting cul-desac and get on the autobahn of ideas. So Totaro latched on to a concept that companies such as Google and 3M employ.

She implemented Innovation Day last fall, generating diverse ideas from her marketing team, and held another event last month.

“Innovation doesn’t always come from the top down—o?ften it springs from lower levels and moves up,” she says. "That’s a really good sign for the future of our industry.”

Participants must craft a project or idea in a single day, and present their creation the next morning to the rest of the marketing department.

One project that paid immediate dividends demonstrates how Innovation Day can circumvent a classic Catch-22: a productivity tool an employee knew would improve his efficiency—if only he had time to create it.

Another project will be unveiled soon: a “nontraditional employee communication channel” that cuts through the morass of emails, Totaro says.

Sunmark encourages innovation, as evidenced by “crowdsourcing” a wide variety of designs for a new website. Totaro’s team selected a Guatemalan designer’s layout in the open Internet competition.

“Lisa is the true defnition of a leader in that she always puts what’s best for the organization ahead of what’s best for herself,” says Cara Carlevatti, member development coordinator for Great Erie Federal Credit Union in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Totaro belongs to The Cooperative Trust and sits on the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council. She formerly chaired the Credit Union Association of New York’s Young Professionals Commission.

“I’ve had opportunities to grow, and I seek to create opportunities to help other people reach their potential,” says Totaro, CUANY’s Outstanding Young Professional for 2013.

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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 (www.appreciationatwork.com/assess) 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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