Credit unions operate under the philosophy of people helping people.
To do that, credit unions need to listen to their members and understand members’ feelings.
“Empathy builds trust, generates business, and can be credit unions’ competitive advantage in the marketplace,” says Chad Helminak, director of development education and cooperative culture at the National Credit Union Foundation. “It’s ingrained in our business model. Empathy is a game changer, not just for us but to effectively help our members now and in the future.”
They offer five steps leaders can use to foster empathy in the workplace:
1. Education. Employees need to understand empathy, how they can put it into practice, and why it matters. It must exist throughout the organization, not just in member-facing or frontline roles.
Empathy should be a driver for all discussions with staff and members, Schrinner says. Employees should listen to what others are saying and use that information to create meaningful questions and drive a response.
2. Time. Employees need time and space to practice empathy, as well as the understanding that they’ll make mistakes. Leadership must provide consistent messaging, frequent reinforcement, opportunities to practice empathy, and coaching so employees gain confidence with these skills and are more willing to use them with members, Schrinner says.
“Empathy is a journey,” Schrinner says. “It takes time to learn and practice.”
‘Empathy is a journey. It takes time to learn and practice.’
3. Environment. Create an environment where people feel safe to share their voices and know that they’re being heard. This requires staff to be aware of their emotional intelligence.
“Getting members and staff to open up and give feedback or advice means we know ourselves, our tendencies, and how to react,” Schrinner says.
4. Link to strategy. Empathy can support the credit union’s strategy, goals, and culture.
Define the concepts and behaviors that define empathy and make it measurable. Provide training and coaching, and reward staff who practice empathy within the workplace, Schrinner says.
“To keep empathy and compassion top of mind it needs to be part of the member and employee experience strategy,” she says.
5. Results. Listening is key, but employees must follow up and take action to improve the credit union based on what they hear from members. Track behaviors using various metrics, including Net Promoter Score, social media, number of complaints, or delinquency rates.