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What does it take to become the Best Credit Union To Work For?

A commitment to culture and creating a space where everyone is accepted.

That’s the goal of Bay Federal Credit Union, which has not only been named the best credit union to work for in the U.S., but has also been recognized as a top workplace in numerous other categories.

At the helm is CEO Carrie Birkhofer, who leads a team of 220 employees who serve more than 77,000 members in California. She views her main responsibility as a leader to bring others together towards a common vision. That comes by creating a meaningful culture that celebrates and engages employees as they work towards that common goal. Culture will be a driving force for future organizations and a crucial factor for leaders over the next decade and beyond. I interviewed Carrie for my book The Future Leader, and she shared five ways she builds meaningful culture that all future leaders can follow.

1. Serve Your Team 

Leaders must serve their teams and set the tone for a culture of service within the organization. For Carrie, that starts from day one. She meets with new employees the first hour of their first day at Bay Federal to welcome them and answer questions.

“All new employees, regardless of their position, are seen, heard, respected, and listened to by the CEO. They know that I’m there to serve them, not the other way around,” she said. That humble mindset builds a culture where every employee has a role to play as they serve each other and their customers.

Serving your team looks different for each organization. At some companies, it’s personally taking groups of employees to lunch, for others it’s hosting town halls, and for other organizations it’s celebrating birthdays and milestones. Whatever fits your style, find a way to serve your team and let them know that leaders are there to serve them; they aren’t there to serve leaders.

2. Develop Emotional Intelligence 

Leaders can’t create a strong, accepting culture if they aren’t in the right mindset themselves. Leaders need to always be improving themselves by looking inward at their fears and struggles and working to overcome them.

“I think skills with people are crucial for leaders. You need to have strong emotional intelligence, be empathetic, and have humanistic qualities so people can relate to and want to follow you and share your vision,” Carrie said.

Leaders should create a list of qualities they want in their culture and then work to embody those traits. Before they ask their employees to develop in a certain way, they must be willing to adopt those same traits.

Leadership is changing. What are the skills and mindsets you need to master in order to lead in the new world of work? According to over 140 of the world’s top CEOs there are 4 mindsets and 5 skills that leaders need to master. Learn what they are and hear directly from these leaders by downloading the PDF here.

3. Keep Employees Engaged

Engaged employees are excited to come to work. They are eager to participate in the company’s culture and go out of their way to make a difference for their teams and customers. Focusing on engagement brings together diverse teams and encourages each person to contribute in their unique way.

Employees need to feel that they are part of something bigger and that there is a purpose to their work. Successful leaders make sure each employee, no matter their position or seniority, knows how their work impacts the goals and progress of the company. Engaged employees care about their work and the people around them, which drives a culture of caring and connection.

4. Get Regular Feedback

What worked once won’t work forever, especially in the ever-changing future of work. A strong culture is continually being fine-tuned and updated to meet changing needs for employees and industry trends. Carrie believes a strong culture is developed when people feel welcomed, seen, and heard.

“Things are changing, and we’ve got to listen to what people want. People’s desires and needs change, so we must be flexible towards them,” Carrie said.

Carrie regularly asks employees for honest feedback about her leadership. Her goal is to proactively improve instead of being reactive and only making changes after it’s too late. She strives to build a culture where employees feel valued and know that their opinion makes a difference.

Feedback comes in many forms, whether it’s directly to the leader or in a collaborative state that encourages employees to work together to improve the company. When people collaborate, they can solve bigger problems and make a more positive difference than if they work alone. Feedback at all levels of the organization, such as between employees and from employees to managers, keeps communication lines open and allows the company to continually evolve.

5. Recognize Employees

The desire to be recognized for doing something great is part of human nature. When employees are recognized for making a meaningful impact on the company, it adds to the culture and showcases the talent and abilities of each person. Companies with strong cultures find unique ways to celebrate the success of teams and the individual contributions of employees.

Recognizing employees also means recognizing who they are as people and celebrating their personalities. Bay Federal is known for its annual Halloween costume and decoration contests that allow employees to show their creativity and share with members for a vote on social media. Recognizing creativity and individuality creates a culture where everyone is welcomed.

A company can’t succeed without a strong culture that involves and engages employees. Carrie’s example shows that companies of any size can be incredible places to work when leaders put in effort to continually develop a strong culture.

If you enjoyed the article and want more content like this here’s what you can do:

  1. Subscribe to The Future of Work Podcast where I interview business leaders around the world each week.
  2. Grab a copy of The Future Leader which has been endorsed by the CEOs of MasterCard, Best Buy, Oracle, Audi, Unilever, Domino’s Pizza, Ritz Carlton, Kaiser, and Marshall Goldsmith. It explores the most essential skills and mindsets for future leaders.
  3. If you are or want to be an entrepreneur then my wife and I just launched a brand new podcast on how to Be Your Own Boss, called the BYOB Podcast where we share what we did and how we did it. You can subscribe to that here.