Your biggest assets are in the heads of the people who work there

Turn your staff into an Idea Factory.

Your credit union’s biggest assets are not on the books, but in the heads of the people who work there. Their experience has given them very specific insights, that when combined with some creative thinking become invaluable to your credit union’s future. So how do you turn those assets into something tangible? Turn your staff into an Idea Factory.

Get everyone involved.

Have everyone (yes, accounting too) come to a brainstorm session with 2-3 ideas for improving the credit union. Yes, you’ll hear grumbling – as humans we are all pre-conditioned to not like trying anything new – but don’t let that stop you from having everyone attend.

Choose someone (that most people like) to be the leader of the group, even if they aren’t in management. Their job will be to get everyone to contribute their ideas, and to keep the atmosphere completely free from negativity. Have them explain that there are no bad ideas, and no one is to critique another’s ideas. Everyone needs to feel comfortable enough to toss out crazy ideas they might otherwise keep to themselves, and everyone needs to contribute.

Seed a couple of ideas to get the ideas flowing. As new ideas start being heard, have someone write the ideas down and note the staff member who came up with it (more on that later.)

Reward ideas based on their merits and creativity. Bring in a bunch of treats or tchotchke giveaways. Even better (if you can get away with it), bring in a stack of crisp bills for that first meeting. For every good idea, $5. Great idea? $10. No one will get rich, but everyone will look forward to the next idea factory, and the credit union will likely save money or make money based on the suggestions. So view it as an investment.

Create teams for each challenge.

Once you get a list of ideas, you should be able to see various clusters of problems/challenges. Group those ideas together, present those groups to everyone, and allow teams to self-form in order to solve those problems. Your staff likely know each other better than management ever could, so let them combine their strengths naturally.

Have them focus on what is most interesting and promising about the concept, and build on those insights to optimize the idea. Instead of simply listing any problems or drawbacks to the idea, have them work on solutions to the issues identified.

Give them a timeframe to report back, but give as little guidance as possible. This is a challenge, not extra work, so don’t tell them what to do. Don’t direct, enable.

Have a system in place to implement the ideas.

Ideas are wonderful, but if nothing happens, you have wasted everyone’s time and enthusiasm. Once a new idea generates a buzz, assign responsibilities to the appropriate staff and management to research and get it implemented. Be sure to set a timetable so that they can report results at the next Idea Factory.

Reward employees whose ideas are implemented.

While the treats and tchotchkes (and cash) are a nice immediate thank-you, you need to make a big deal of those ideas that are fully implemented and making a difference. Be sure to praise them publicly, reward them in their performance reviews, bump their salary, and move them up the ladder when you can.

Not only will you have made improvements at the credit union, you’ve made a stronger connection for the employees who are rewarded; they become more invested in their jobs. Plus their co-workers have more incentive to come up with their own ideas.

Then make an Idea Factory one of your regular, ongoing events…

…and your staff will start to understand that they actually do have a voice in how things are run.

Originally published in 2008, updated in 2024.

Kent Dicken

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