CULTURE IS HOW WE DO THINGS AND TREAT PEOPLE
Synergy Credit Union
Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Canada
By Glenn Stang, CEO
Synergy Credit Union, headquartered in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Canada, is a financial services provider. Synergy employs approximately 250 people.
Before Synergy began working with The Heart of Coaching (THOC), leadership had done developmental work specifically on change acceptance, and had moved significantly in the direction of creating a service culture. The service culture work was based on a program called “Winning Plays for Managers,” and consisted of the following:
- sharing a common mission
- modeling cultural expectations
- mentoring team members
- molding the team
- measuring performance
- motivating for success through celebration and recognition.
The expectations for leaders became:
- Conduct daily “walkabouts” (being available, building rapport, sharing recognition)
- Hold weekly meetings with employees to update goals and progress and deliver training in product, sales and service, and operations.
- Conduct monthly coaching sessions that specifically focus on performance.
Synergy was clearly already moving the needle on goal alignment and performance. THOC represented an opportunity to do a deeper dive on delivering performance and developmental feedback and coaching.
Glenn began his professional career in 1981. Early on he relied heavily on mentoring and coaching from peers, less from managers. He became a C-Level executive at Synergy in 2005, and CEO in 2013.
His personal leadership philosophy is based upon his striving to be inclusive. He has deliberately moved away from a more directive stance (“do as I say, not as I do”). “That is not me. I am part of the team,” he said. “I believe this is critical, because it sets the tone for everybody else.”
Synergy began working with THOC in 2013. Its immediate goal was to make a huge investment in people by deepening leaders’ ability to hold effective performance coaching conversations.
Initially, some employees perceived coaching to be of low value. They were closed-minded, entrenched in a long-held belief that coaching and feedback were not necessary. They exhibited significant resistance to change, occasionally sabotaged ongoing coaching processes, and tended to hang out with other people sharing the same mindset. These people clearly were not interested in learning about how to coach, nor were they coachable.
Nonetheless, we were committed to the journey, and focused on the emerging benefits and the long-term advantages to our organization.
To make our implementation processes even more economical and effective, we had Crane Consulting certify internal leaders in our HR function as facilitators of the THOC workshop. This gave us the option to tailor the delivery approach to our various functions and their respective leaders.
We still have some leaders with a bit of a superiority attitude. I believe there is still hope for leaders and managers who have these unhelpful attitudes and behaviors to eventually transform themselves. Coaching between colleagues (as we’ve learned to do it with THOC) takes patience.
The power differential between leaders and employees is a primary challenge for leaders to become more coachable. It can be intimidating for a lower-level person to provide feedback or coaching to a higher-lever person. We have to continue breaking down that wall by coaching leaders to become more open and receptive to feedback. This is a process. We encourage the more senior leader to actively listen, and confirm their understanding of the concern.
Over time, if senior leaders are not receptive, we encourage people to set up a three-way conversation or some other form of a helpful intervention to resolve the issue and open up communications. We find this works well.
To facilitate truly emotionally honest coaching conversations, we encourage people to call timeouts as necessary, get the Kleenex, and be assured that everything stays within these walls. Confidentiality is paramount to making these conversations work.
Some people simply have big egos; they’re not open to feedback. Their ego tells them that they already have enough knowledge. We are also working on adjusting these egos as a team.
Besides using the tools of THOC in our daily interactions, one of our related leadership development practices is to encourage people to use a reflection journal, noting the things that stand out in their daily interactions. Record feelings, the personal reaction, and how that person would do it differently if they had a chance. Go back and look for trends. The entire idea of this approach is to recognize personal triggers and underlying beliefs and fears. This is leading people to develop more awareness of their personal behavior patterns, which leads directly to more healthy choices in the workplace. It is an easy way to develop stronger emotional quotient (EQ).
As the coaching skills development work has progressed, attitudes have shifted. Today, people are not afraid to approach leaders. Leaders have become much safer to approach, and they share honest feedback. People are happier, and this makes such a huge difference in terms of employee morale and commitment to serve our members.
We continue to build a highly collaborative and harmonious culture, always looking for the good, and always striving for better outcomes. Is it perfect? No. But THOC has provided coaching principles that absolutely support us being better people and more effective as an organization.
One of the best parts of Tom’s book is “asking for permission.” This is huge. It sets the tone for a far more relaxed and open conversation, one in which we focus on those better outcomes. In addition, the results cycle has really provided a simple framework to facilitate discussion with team members on what is impairing results. Many times it is something so simple as a misunderstanding or misaligned belief or value that is getting in the way of complete buy-in that impairs behavior and the relationship. Once the issue is identified it is easy to correct with training or modifications to the sales and service approach.
Early in my career, I received poor, less-than-helpful coaching. One incident put me on the defensive because it hit a nerve at a time when I did not have the emotional bandwidth to deal with the issue. I became argumentative and postured up, and said some things in the stress of the moment that I still regret.
I hit a real “bottom;” it was a turning point in my self-awareness. The primary lesson I learned: whether I believe the feedback or not, it was worth reflecting upon. I have since worked on using my emotional intelligence and self-control, especially in those moments when emotions run high.
Starting with senior leaders and all the way down, everyone is now far more open-minded. We have worked to diligently make THOC concepts routine and to consistently apply them in our day-to-day interactions. We are less reactive because things don’t surprise us quite so much. We’ve learned to take things less personally and engage in dialogue toward a result that everyone can agree to.
I have found it helpful to strive to be receptive to all feedback and will process it as constructive feedback although it may feel like criticism. The more the rest of our leadership team can do the same, the more they support our journey toward being role models of coachability and affective collegial coaching across our culture.
I imagine that when we reach the point of fully coachable leaders across the entire organization, life will be nicer, simpler, more relaxed, more fun, and less resistant to change. Everything and everyone would move faster. This is where we want to be!
Another process we have institutionalized is that every coaching engagement is closed by the higher-ranking person asking the lower-ranking person for feedback. “How is this conversation for you, and how can we make it better next time?”
It turns out that the more we ask, the more we get. The floodgates are now open to more and higher quality feedback flowing between people. It is our openness that led to constructive input where the employees, experiencing our openness, have become more constructive and willing to engage.
It’s a long, yet rewarding journey—and Synergy will stay on this journey!