The “Employees-First” Approach, also Known as “There is No #2”



“The member is number one. All of you are number two!” This was part of the introductory remarks by a leading credit union executive during an employee orientation I attended many years ago. Thinking of the references of my classmates way back in grade school I thought “Boy do I feel like crap now.” (Pun intended.) And that was only my first day on the job.

I found that the culture at that credit union seemed to lack the u, r, and e portion of the word. Given that independent thought was widely discouraged my employment with that institution was very short lived. During that employee-orientation speech, as well as every time I think back on that day, I think of what many marriage therapists teach. That is if one partner is continually and consistently subservient to the other that you have an unhealthy relationship. In other words, there is no number two!

“Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your customers.” This quote from J.W. Marriott, Jr. in the 1997 book, The Spirit to Serve: Marriott’s Way, creates a much better cultural tone. This is not suggesting that employees are more important than our credit union members. Instead it suggests the symbiotic reliance on each other. Just as you won’t have any employees without any members, you won’t keep any members without any employees to serve them.

I talk about The Employees-First Approach in my book, The Formula for Business Success = B + C + S, and discuss how while the employees may be 1A, customers may be 1B:

“If employees are 1A then customers are 1B. Similarly, the (board) may be 1C, the community may be 1D, the media may be 1E, and so on. My point is that every group of stakeholders of the business is important. Once we start thinking that we need to rank groups in order of importance we begin deteriorating our brand in one way, shape, or form. It’s almost like a two-faced approach that reminds me of the old British sitcom Fawlty Towers where the owner of the hotel, Basil Fawlty — played fabulously by John Cleese, would treat the employees and most guests like ‘rubbish’ but embarrassingly fawn all over customers he thought were part of an elite class.”

My argument is simply while everyone is important, the tone of a proper brand experience almost always begins internally with the culture.

q3Here are some of the primary ways your institution can set that tone and concentrate on your employees so they in turn can focus on the member:

  1. Continually and constantly reinforce your credit union’s unique philosophy. By this I’m not suggesting the ubiquitous “people helping people” that has long been the brand principle of the entire industry. I’m talking about what makes your organization unique in and of itself. Through the mission statement, vision statement, values, service standards, and consistent communication of each of these four organization drivers make sure the importance of member service, and the manner in which it is done, is clear to every employee from day one.
  2. Ensure that staff has the proper training. Product training, job training, educational opportunities, whatever you want to call it make sure staff has it. The more knowledgeable your employees, the better they will be at their job. And, get input from them as to the specific type of knowledge they want to build whether that be as a team or an individual. As Richard Branson has stated, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
  3. Provide incentives for a job well done. Management needs to encourage and reinforce the proper behavior. This doesn’t always have to be done through monetary incentives. Many companies have developed programs where employees earn points that can be redeemed for merchandise or gift certificates. In some cases this provides an even greater incentive as employees get the opportunity to earn prizes they wouldn’t normally buy for themselves. Remember also that sometimes the best incentive is simply the recognition and appreciation from management for a job well done.
  4. Create a feeling of ownership among staff. This doesn’t necessarily mean actual ownership in the form of equity, although if q4your employees are also members they are obviously also owners. It does mean that the employee takes pride in his or her job and is allowed to make decisions like a mini-CEO within the boundaries set forth by the institution. This also means the encouragement by management for staff to share ideas.
  5. Communicate AND Involve. This is the most important tip. In fact, if you don’t implement the four above at least implement this one. Many organizations pride themselves on transparency and open communication. This is a great start but many don’t take the next step which is involvement. It is important to let staff in on what’s going on. However, if they are not involved you may only get a collective blank stare during the all-staff meeting instead of the passion you were looking for. Get staff involved in the projects, ask them for solutions to the organization’s problems, and have them develop initiatives on how they will play a part in achieving the credit union’s goals. As I heard one father say once, “If you want to get your kids to eat your vegetables have them help in the kitchen to prepare them.”

Instead of trying to determine which group of stakeholders may be #2, it’s better to think happy employees = happy members. As with any equation, it’s nearly impossible to get the same result when you mess with the formula.

kenneth-batorKen Bator – Your Organizational Culture and World-Class Service Standards Expert – is the author of The Formula for Business Success = B+C+S and the founder of Bator Training & Consulting, Inc. (BTC).  Credit unions hire Ken to create environments where employees actually want to come to work and members want to keep coming back. BTC accomplishes this through a combination of Branding, Culture building, and Strategic planning. This is the unique B+C+S Formula created by Bator and featured in his latest book. To have BTC assist your credit union in creating a differentiating and engaging experience, contact Ken directly at 714-681-2821 or Learn more about BTC’s training and strategic planning sessions at



This content is for CU BUSINESS eMagazine , Special Deal: 2 websites , and NEW! The Leadership Team Builder Group Subscription members only.
Log In Register

Share post:


More like this

Your Credit Union Is Missing More Opportunity Than It Captures Here’s How To Fix It

What is the most important conversation a credit union...

Credit Union Employee Boot Camp

The New England-based Cooperative Credit Union Association has been...

Credit Union Employee Boot Camp – November 17, 2022

Credit Union Employee Boot Camp is a one-day Certificate...

Vizo Financial Embodies Concern for Community with 2022 Day of Service

Greensboro, N.C. (October 11, 2022) – Vizo Financial Corporate...