Samantha Easter, Mountain America Credit Union

HR leads the way in organizational efforts to scale

Consider how tools, people, and leadership allow HR to meet demands and provide strategic support.

April 29, 2021

Credit unions of all sizes face growing pressure to improve efficiency by increasing the scale of their operations.

Scaling allows credit unions to provide essential technology to ensure a competitive member experience. It involves using technology to automate transactional work done by employees and scaling capabilities so employees can comfortably increase workload or do work more efficiently.

Human resources (HR) must be a significant partner in the scaling process as many of the greatest challenges of scale include employee functions. HR can be a strategic partner to meet an at-scale organization's demands.

At Mountain America Credit Union in Sandy, Utah, the HR team has been at the forefront of leading strategy and change.

“For us to scale, we are focusing on getting the right tools in the hands of the right people, led by the right leaders,” says Trent Savage, chief human resources officer at the $12 billion asset credit union. “The right technology frees up employees’ time to do the most critical work. This is how we will be able to serve our members for the long haul.”

This work involves investments in time, money, leader buy-in and support, and a great deal of patience. By building capacity and infrastructure today, you ready your organization to meet future demands and provide the strategic support the business desires from HR.

The right design

At Mountain America, we had to redesign our HR function to offer a different result. We centralized employee relations to a smaller group that could quickly scale solutions more systemically and consistently.

Doing so enabled us to free up our HR business partners' capacity to provide more strategic work to our business leaders.

This design change also offered a better employee experience as it was clear whom to call with these types of issues. Instead of remembering one person, we directed them to a central group.

‘We are focusing on getting the right tools in the hands of the right people, led by the right leaders.’
Trent Savage

The right tools

To scale our HR team to meet our credit union's growing needs, HR first needed to put its own house in order.

Mountain America began by putting in place systems and processes that enable the business to scale in all areas without losing focus on the human element. For example, we leveraged existing tools like our information technology’s (IT) ticketing system to start tracking issues.

Doing so allowed us to identify where employees were having problems, find root causes for the issues, and provide solutions that brought down the volume. This work was a win-win as it provided a more straightforward experience for our employees and reduced some of HR’s caseload.

“We increased the human touch by providing dedicated resources—not by removing the point of contact but by standardizing it to advance strategy and deepen these relationships," Savage says.

All systems aim to increase productivity and alignment without sacrificing the element that makes us unique: our people.

Mountain America also used its knowledge center to provide employees with more information at their fingertips for self-service. While HR wants to keep the human touch, in today's world some things are better done with technology.

NEXT: The right people and skills

The right people with the right skills

Take a hard look at people's capabilities.

This is often the most challenging change. Leaders can often make design changes and get the right tools but then struggle to make the hard call on whether existing team members will have the ability to deliver the work.

Playing at a more strategic level for the credit union requires different capabilities than doing the transactional work. Leaders need to assess their talent and be willing to make the hard calls. Yes, it is a difficult decision, but it’s critical to design work.

Mountain America made some significant redesign choices over two years ago. Today, with our new design and the right people on board, we're having a tremendous impact for good and exploring new areas of work that will significantly impact the credit union that we wouldn't have even explored two years ago.

Our HR business partners are more integrated and have significant influence across the business.

Mountain America seeks to hire those who will best fit into the organization for the long haul.

Another focus has been on understanding our employee skill base today and where the organization needs them to grow to ensure today's workforce will be prepared to be tomorrow's workforce.

"By building a culture of continuous learning and agility, we will meet the needs of the future," Savage says.

Mountain America launched an innovative professional development program in 2020 to understand the areas of skill growth needed from all employees and provide resources, peer and leader mentoring workshops, and experiential opportunities to allow employees to tackle these skills.

"I had branch employees and vice presidents alike reaching out after a ‘tech-savvy’ webinar asking to shadow and provide training for teams," says Julia Wilkins, vice president, data and analytics. "The program resonated with our people who were asking for clarity about where they should grow."

Having a leadership team invested in developing their people is necessary to create a culture that will scale alongside the organization's footprint.

The right leaders

For leaders to have an impact, new competencies will be required while not losing sight of the skills and behaviors that led to success in the past.

“Leadership is an organizational focus for us,” Savage says. "Developing our leaders and our leadership bench will help us as we grow and pivot. Leadership development is the type of work that can take years to get right. Starting now means that we are prepared to scale.

“When we are better prepared, we will be positioned to support our members."

The long haul

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today. The same is true for developing your scaling strategy.

"It can take an organization many years to build the capacity needed to scale properly," Savage says. "By focusing on this work today, we can decide where to play. This allows us to hone our competitive advantage while doing the rest of our work as efficiently as possible, and enables us to have the highest level of strategic impact across the credit union."

The work done at Mountain America is unusual for an organization of its size.

"Typically, we wouldn't be focusing on the tools and processes until we were nearing 10,000 employees," says Troy Fuller, human resource information systems analyst. "However, the vendors we talked to said they were starting to see more mid-size organizations focusing on building their capacity now to allow for hyper-growth."

When the organization is smaller, starting scaling efforts supports a mindset shift and comfort with the tools, systems, and processes that will increase an organizational competitive advantage today and for the future.

The era of humans being an afterthought to strategy is over. People are the lifeblood of our business, and it's long past time for strategy to follow.

Mountain America shows that when HR is a strategic partner at the table, the business moves.

SAMANTHA S. EASTER is a program manager at Mountain America Credit Union in Sandy, Utah.