Cultivating a Culture of Engagement

By John Spence

John Spence

The single most significant factor in having highly engaged, satisfied, and loyal members is having highly engaged, satisfied, and loyal employees.

A recent Gallup poll showed that the percentage of “engaged” workers in the US—those highly involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace—reached 35%. This represents a new high since Gallup began tracking the metric in 2000!

At the other end of the spectrum, the percentage of workers who are “actively disengaged”—those who have miserable work experiences and spread their unhappiness to their colleagues was at 13%, which tied its lowest recorded level!

However, that leaves the remaining 52% of workers in the “not engaged” category—those who are psychologically unattached to their work and company and put time, but not energy or passion, into their work. “Not engaged” employees will usually show up to work and contribute the minimum required. They’re also looking for better employment opportunities and will quickly leave their company for a slightly better offer.

Although the numbers have been improving slightly, this still means that nearly 70% of employees don’t care about the organization they work for or its customers. You’re likely shaking your head and saying, “not at my credit union.” In my more than two decades of working with credit unions across the country, I’m sorry to say that these numbers are accurate more often than not.

The good thing is, it’s possible to turn this around. Here are four things you can do to cultivate a culture of engagement:

  1. Far and away, the most critical element that impacts team member engagement is their direct supervisor. More than 80% of people who quit their jobs do not quit because of the hours, pay, or workload. They quit because of their boss. Leadership, or lack thereof, is the determining factor in your credit union’s long-term success.
  2. A recent Harvard Business Review article pointed out that having a great manager and being part of an excellent management culture is vital to all employees. However, Millennials (born between 1980 and 1997) place a heavy emphasis on opportunities to learn and grow and opportunities for advancement. Providing challenging and exciting work alongside a clear career path is essential for keeping top talent.
  3. One of the most potent cultural drivers of engagement is the desire to work in a company with a compelling purpose. Working with a sense of purpose boosts employee motivation, productivity, morale, and overall job satisfaction. Unfortunately, in many companies, a sense of purpose is overlooked in today’s profit-focused world. Many employees feel that they are just working for a paycheck and aren’t contributing to the greater good of society. Fortunately, credit unions serve a noble purpose in their communities by helping members achieve financial well-being.
  4. Many might say that salary is a major motivation for engagement in a culture. It doesn’t quite work that way. What most employees focus on is “perceived fairness” around pay. If they are making roughly what they would to do the same job anyplace else, money comes off the table as a significant motivator.

It used to be thought that the best way to create engagement was a carrot and stick approach. Offer more money and lots of praise or withhold money and threaten punishment. This might work in the short run, but it does not build a culture that attracts and retains extraordinarily talented people.

According to Daniel Pink, one of the world’s leading experts on motivation and engagement, superior employees want to work in an organization that focuses on these three areas:

Autonomy—people are trusted and encouraged to take ownership of their own work and skill development.

Mastery—people see no limits to their potential and are given the tools that they need to continue to improve their skills.

Purpose—people are encouraged to use their skills to achieve a “greater” purpose—for instance, getting involved in a “good cause” that they’re passionate about.

To cultivate an incredible culture in your credit union, invest in your leaders, your employees, your members, and the community. The ROI will be phenomenal.

John Spence is widely recognized as one of the top business and leadership experts in the world. He has been working in the credit union industry for more than 20 years and serves as one of the lead instructors for NAFCU’s Management and Leadership Institute. To find out more about John, go to