CEFCU: Investing in People

Secrets of the Great Workplace

by Jonathan Wright
Photos by Kelli Drake

CEFCU’s investment in its people has returned handsome dividends. Pictured, front: Lisa Brocksieck-Smith, Nichole Miller, Alycia Hightower, Giann Walker. Back: Mark Spenny, Cliff Quine, Matt Mamer.

For eight decades, Citizens Equity First Credit Union (CEFCU) has worked to improve its members’ financial well-being. Besides providing exemplary customer service, CEFCU is widely known as a community leader in supporting a range of nonprofit organizations—just one reason it’s considered a great place to work. In addition, employees cite a world-class corporate culture, family-friendly work environment, and employee-focused activities and events. CEFCU has also distinguished itself with its focus on employee training and development—an ongoing investment in its people.

Growth and Development
As an organization, one of our primary responsibilities is to provide opportunities for staff to continue to learn, grow and develop,” explains Vice President of Member Operations and Employee Development Giann Walker, adding that CEFCU’s training programs extend far beyond technical, job-specific skills. “We’re providing a foundation for developing and refining core skills in relating with coworkers and members, thinking critically and problem solving.”

CEFCU’s formalized employee training programs originated in the early 1980s with the establishment of a teller training program. The Employee Quality Improvements Program (EQIP) started in 1984, providing opportunities for additional training and for staff to provide ideas and feedback to senior management. A formal management training program followed two years later.

The University of CEFCU has been the cornerstone of these training and development initiatives since 2000—encompassing new employee training, training for current employees based on regulatory changes or new technologies, and programs to expand the tools available to them. All employees are required to complete at least two learning activities each year. Courses are delivered both online and in the classroom, and continuously refined for improvement. “I appreciate how CEFCU continues to evaluate the training offered… providing it in formats that work across a variety of areas and learning styles,” says Card Operations Manager Kim Dunham. “There is a clear commitment to staying current and keeping staff up-to-date.”

Nichole Miller, an 11-year CEFCU employee, notes that the trainers often become mentors and resources to employees. “They have a passion for training and helping employees succeed… and that enthusiasm is infectious. I attribute much of my success during my career to the support I’ve had from the people who trained me way back when.”

CEFCU’s Management Development Program (MDP) imparts a deeper understanding of the responsibilities of managers—an effort to prepare the next generation of leaders. The MDP program was a pivotal step in his career, says Home Equity Manager Paul Donahoe. “It provides opportunities for us to learn on the job… and get a ‘bigger picture’ view of many situations,” he explains. “Having that perspective on how your decisions can, and often will, impact other areas or individuals… helps us make better, more informed decisions.”

Leadership From Within
This focus on employee training and development, along with opportunities for cross-training, has allowed the organization to promote from within. Matt Mamer, Chief Operations Officer, has been with CEFCU for 23 years. From starting on the teller line to managing several member centers, he took advantage of every opportunity that came his way, working up the ranks to become a loan officer and then enter senior management. “All of those opportunities gave me a broad range of experience in many areas,” he explains. “That experience continues to benefit me.”

“I’ve seen a number of coworkers become managers at CEFCU over the years,” adds Lisa Smith, a CEFCU employee for 26 years. “There is tremendous potential for moving up within the organization, and for networking and making connections with your coworkers.”

In addition to internal training programs, CEFCU invests in outside training and seminars so employees can obtain industry certifications or specific regulatory training. Its Tuition Reimbursement Program has helped hundreds of its employees complete their college degrees.

“I used CEFCU’s educational assistance program to obtain my MBA,” notes Vice President of Human Resources/Employee Benefits Alycia Hightower, a 25-year CEFCU employee. “I also have my Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and Society for Human Resource Management Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) designations.” “My managers and coworkers encouraged me to pursue a bachelor’s degree while working full-time,” Smith adds. “The Tuition Reimbursement Program allowed me to reach that milestone. Then a few years later, I decided to pursue a master’s degree. I’ll always be grateful for that opportunity.”

Return on Investment
By investing in its people, CEFCU has created a workplace where its employees feel valued. “I feel like I’m an important piece of a giant puzzle—that I contribute to the bigger picture,” says Nichole Miller. It also sets an example to follow, emphasizing that their personal and professional success are built on relationships. “There’s no substitute for showing others you care,” explains Kim Dunham, “and that you’re committed to their success and well-being.”

CEFCU’s investment in its people has returned handsome dividends to the company. “One of our corporate values is ‘People are the most important asset,’” says President and CEO Mark Spenny. “We are committed to investing in people by providing the opportunities and training to help them perform their best. I believe it’s why we have so many employees who start here and then stay with us for a long time. They find a great deal of reward in knowing they’re working for a company that truly cares about its employees—and also cares about doing what’s best for our members.” “I regularly go to 10-, 20-, 30- and in some cases even 40-year service anniversaries across the organization… where we say thanks for a job well done,” Mamer adds. “I think that’s a great tribute to what CEFCU has done for decades, providing ongoing training and opportunities for staff.” iBi

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