Get Out of Your Office

By John Spence

John Spence

An article from the Harvard Business Review I recently read focuses on a subject near and dear to my heart—the need for leaders to treat their frontline people as their most important customers. You have probably heard me say these two things a thousand times, but here is 1,001.

The success of your business is directly determined by the quality of the people you can get, grow and keep on your team.

The member’s experience will never exceed the employee’s experience.

When I give speeches in Florida, I will often ask, “How many of you know the CEO of Publix Supermarkets?” (That’s the major grocery store chain in Florida). No hands go up. “How many of you know the regional manager in your area?” No hands. “How many of you know the store manager of the location you go to?” Maybe one or two people out of 100. “How many of you know the cashiers and the folks who bag your groceries?” Nearly every hand in the room goes up.

The executive team at Publix might be incredible. The regional manager could be a superstar. The store manager could be among the best in the country. But it does not matter to most shoppers. What matters is the people they encounter whenever they are in the store. The frontline employees. And it is the same for your credit union.

The article from the Harvard Business Review was written by Bill George who is widely regarded as one of the most admired CEOs in America. Here is what he had to say:

“When I was the CEO of Medtronic, I established a 30/30/30/10 target for my time—30% with customers, 30% with frontline employees, 30% with executives and 10% with external constituencies. That made me an outlier.”

According to an in-depth time study by Harvard Business School professors Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria, CEOs spend, on average, just 6% of their time with frontline teams, only 3% with customers and a whopping 72% in meetings. “CEOs face a real risk of operating in a bubble and never seeing the actual world their workers face,” the researchers note.

According to George, “Spending time with the rank and file, and with savvy external frontline constituencies, is…an indispensable way to gain reliable information on what is going on in the company and the industry.”

The article may focus on CEOs and their interaction with frontline employees, but I believe every senior leader needs to be out in the field talking to the people doing the work and meeting directly with members. Those are the people who make or break your credit union. You need them energized, dedicated and focused on excellence. That doesn’t happen by sending an email. It happens when you look them in the eye and show them how important they are to you. All this to say: get out of your office and see your people. If they work from home, set up a video call simply to check-in—no business discussion, no agenda, just an opportunity to tell them that they are genuinely appreciated.

If you follow this advice, I guarantee you will see a strong positive impact on your credit union. 

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