An Interview with CEO Tyler Valentine About How They Used the Leadership in Action Grant
The Foundation’s Leadership in Action Grant was created as a way to support Credit Unions as they implement leadership initiatives within their own organization. The grants are primarily intended to support programs that focus on the creation of strategies, systems, and methods for achieving performance excellence, stimulating innovation, building knowledge and capabilities, and ensuring organizational sustainability.
Leadership initiatives that are values-based and help to encourage the entire workforce to contribute, develop and learn, and/or be innovative and embrace meaningful change, are key to funding these grants. Additionally, elements that underscore ethical behavior, trustworthiness, and personal involvement in planning, communicating, and coaching the workforce are particularly encouraged.
Laramie Plains Federal Credit Union was awarded a Leadership in Action Grant in 2015. We sat down with the Credit Union’s CEO, Tyler Valentine, to talk about the lasting impact of their leadership initiative and what they would do differently if they had it to do all over again.
This is our conversation.
Q: Thank you for speaking with us today, Tyler. Could you give us a quick recap about what the grant allowed your credit union to do?
Tyler: We used the grant to supplement an executive coaching program for the leadership team and some of the up-and-coming officers at Laramie Plains. Essentially, we hired an executive coach to work with those individuals on a monthly basis. Objectives included elevating internal conversations, setting up a sustainable system for goal tracking and achievement, and just working more cohesively as a team and as an entire organization.
Q: Is this an ongoing project or was it something that included a start and end date?
Tyler: It was a calendar year project, covering the whole of 2015.
Q: Now that it’s been a few years since that program’s completion, have you noticed any lasting benefits from the program?
Tyler: Absolutely. I’ve seen a lot of lasting benefits on both an individual level and for our organization as a whole.
One of the things the executive coach helped us to do at the start was limit the number of goals we each wanted to achieve. For many of us, our natural tendency was to set a large number of goals. Our coach helped us narrow that down to no more than five.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve narrowed that even further so that no staff member is working on more than 3 goals at a time. This laser-like approach has really helped us focus our energy so that we can achieve goals with greater efficiency. This allows us to operate on a more strategic level because we can zero in on the things that will have the greatest impact.
To this day, before adding a new goal, we first evaluate whether or not we need to wait or drop another goal in order to ensure that we remain focused and effective.
Another lasting effect of the executive coaching program is that it really helped us create a safe space in which we could have difficult, critical conversations. We’ve taken that framework and made it part of the fabric of how we operate and help each other grow.
Knowing how to do this means that we have the stability to address the hard things that create deep growth. We were having difficult conversations before the executive coaching program, but those conversations were mostly restricted to situations where the problem had reached critical mass. Now, we don’t wait for a crisis situation to address problems head on.
Even the toughest conversations are more conversational, motivated by compassion, and a genuine desire towards everyone’s greater good. Everyone knows what to expect and what the desired outcome is. It’s exciting to see how frank conversations have become a positive ongoing part of how we relate to one another.
Q: Do you feel that these internal changes have had an impact on your members and community?
Tyler: From a staff engagement perspective, the program enhanced our open-door culture so that there are never any surprises. If there is a problem, we have a direct conversation about it right away. This has created a cultural shift with a direct impact on our ability to be extremely nimble as an organization. When something happens within our organization, community, or market, we are able to identify it and adapt very, very quickly.
Also, everyone in our organization knows exactly what it takes to be successful. Everyone sets three goals every month knowing that if they achieve those goals, they will be doing what they need to do to succeed within this organization. Every one of us knows exactly what’s expected and how our individual goals tie directly into the overall success of our organization. This has strengthened our connection to our members because we can see how our job directly impacts our ability to serve them.
For example, last year’s goal was to increase primary members by 8%. Once that goal was set, we could drill down to the strategies and tactics necessary to achieve that goal. From there, the goals of each individual staff member were tweaked so that they were in line with that strategic goal. Everyone knew their role and when we exceeded the goal, we all were able to share in the sense of accomplishment. It’s a holistic, transparent approach that’s transformed the way we do business.
We believe that we are the organization that can best serve the financial needs of those in our community. By being open, honest, and transparent with each other, we are able to serve our members to the highest level.
Q: Do you have any advice for another Credit Union that might be considering implementing a similar program? Is there anything you would have done differently?
Tyler: If we had it to do again, we would have engaged the executive coach for 18-24 months instead of only 12. We learned that it takes a solid six months to just get comfortable with having the kind of open and frank discussions that lead to real change. Building the level of rapport required to really challenge boundaries and systems of thinking takes a while, so it’s important to allow for that. There is a natural defensiveness that accompanies most of us into those initial conversations with a new executive coach and it takes a few months to dissolve those barriers. So, having that engagement for a longer period of time would have been even more beneficial for us.
If we had to do it all over again, I would also make sure that our executive leadership was able to more clearly communicate to the coach what they wanted to achieve and the operational limitations that they had to contend with. If the coach has never worked in a Credit Union, they may not understand the nuts and bolts of what it takes to serve the membership at an operational level. So helping them understand some of those things from the start is useful to a coach who wants to align their suggestions with the business objectives.
A Call for 2019 Scholarship applications will open in September of 2019.
Click here for more information about how your Credit Union might benefit from this grant.