People and technology

Employees can make or break a technology implementation or conversion.

August 26, 2022

Technology upgrades are a fact of life. While they're often disruptive, they ultimately make employees' jobs easier and allow the credit union to stay competitive.

Out-of-date technology hinders the advancement of business goals, credit union leaders say: The longer credit unions delay upgrades, the slower and less efficient they become and the harder it is for staff to give up their old systems.

In August 2021, Mercer County Community Federal Credit Union in Hermitage, Pa., undertook a core conversion that included a mobile banking app conversion. “Our employees had been using the same core processing system for over 25 years, so this was a major change for everyone,” says Sandi Carangi, CEO at the $99 million asset credit union.

Leading staff through an upgrade or new deployment can be daunting and time-consuming, especially during a pandemic when many employees worked remotely. Often, the tendency during the pandemic was to install the technology first and then train employees, or select employee advocates who understand the technology and can help others.

In any case, change is tough.

“It’s human nature to resist change,” says Brad Barnes, chief financial officer at $783 million asset Air Academy Federal Credit Union in Colorado Springs, Colo., which converted its core processing system in March 2021. “Many times, employees try to make the new technology replicate how they used to do their jobs, which adds to the stress of conversion. It is pointless to launch new technology that functions like the old technology. The new technology must perform the way we want it to perform going forward, not like we used to do it.”

How to get employees to embrace new technology? Start with communication.

Brad Barnes

‘The new technology must perform the way we want it to perform going forward,not like we used to do it.’

Brad Barnes

Communication counts

Communication with employees before and during the conversion, as well as ongoing member communication, is vital to the success of any technology implementation.

“Communication is the key,” says Carangi. “For our core conversion, employees received ongoing updates well in advance and on a regular basis right up to the day of implementation.”

Employees also need to know why the credit union is making changes: The more they buy in, the easier it will be to get them on board, trained, and advocating positive outcomes to others, Barnes says.

“We emphasized how some of our operational issues were the result of outdated technology and how the new system will help improve these issues and make it easier for employees to do their jobs and improve member service,” he says.

Balanced training also is critical to success. “We tried to make the training fun so the atmosphere in the training room was much more relaxed,” says Carangi. “After a few weeks, employees began looking forward to training days.”

Employees need to have enough time to be comfortable with the new technology before serving members with it. “It is important to have this security, not only because the tools and software are changing, but the workflow is changing as well,” says Barnes.

Not all employees have the same level of technological knowledge. One of the biggest challenges in any upgrade is training employees who aren’t well-versed in technical terminology.

Don’t assume all employees are familiar with the various browsers, online navigation tools, software programs, and digital/mobile systems, or have the same learning curve. “Start training early so even your most IT-challenged employees have the time and resources to become proficient,” Barnes says.

Communication is essential when dealing with pushback or disgruntled employees who are reluctant to adapt. Create feedback mechanisms where employees can share concerns, frustrations, or suggestions regarding implementation and training, says Lisa Jasper, director of performance improvement at Insperity, a human resources (HR) consulting firm.

“Employee feedback is as critical, if not more so, once the new platform or system is underway,” she says. “Be open to how the technology is or isn’t supporting business objectives.”

Encourage employees to ask as many questions as possible during the implementation period. With every technology change, notes Carangi, there will be employees who aren’t prepared and will resist to the point where they struggle to do their jobs and quit out of frustration.

“The goal,” she says, “is to ensure every employee has the proper training so it becomes a positive experience.”

Plus, there will always be unhappy members who don’t like the new mobile app, new statements, or the extra time they had to wait. Check out your Google reviews every day, advises Carangi. 

“We had several members not happy with the change,” she says. “We responded to all Google reviews and mailed every reviewer, good or bad, a gift box with a thank-you card and filled with credit union items such as a T-shirt, pen, calendar, or cooler bag.”

NEXT: Implementation

Implementation steps

Implementing new technology starts by creating a deployment plan and a timeline that outlines major steps and benchmarks, credit union leaders say. Next, assemble a dedicated, cross-functional conversion team that has the expertise and time needed to succeed.

Create a flexible training schedule so all employees, including remote workers, receive proper training on the new system, Jasper says. Managers should start training six months prior to a core conversion and employees should begin training four months in advance, she says. This includes plenty of practice doing transactions before the go-live date.

Training remote employees takes extra effort. “We scheduled alternating days for employees to train in the office, being as socially distanced as possible,” says Barnes. “Other approaches included recording live trainings so employees can review them later and scheduling Webex meetings with screen sharing. Trainers can watch remote employees’ screens as they practice, and coach and teach in real time.”

For the best training results, Jasper says training should accommodate all learning styles.

“Everyone learns differently,” she says. “Visual learners need to see step-by-step instructions with in-depth examples. Auditory learners need to hear you describe the process and walk them through it. 

Sandi Carangi

Communication is the key.

Sandi Carangi

“Kinesthetic learners need to physically move through each step until the process becomes ingrained,” Jasper continues. “And tactile learners commit the process to memory by doing it with you from start to finish, over and over again.”

At Mercer County Community Federal, the HR/training and operations manager supervised the training. 

“She came up with a theme, decorated the training room, and had giveaways, refreshments, and snacks that coincided with a beach theme,” says Carangi. “Employees had specific days they were scheduled to be in the training room. When the employees entered the beach-themed training room, they were taken away from their normal job duties and spent the day at the beach. We even had ‘Sandy’ days at the beach for all employees named Sandy.”

Collaboration and teamwork include accepting input—both positive and negative—from employees.

“Employees are the end users of the new technology, so it is important to consider their needs in the product selection and implementation,” says Barnes. “They know their jobs better than we do, and their insights can lead to the development of a better solution.”

For smaller credit unions, a major challenge regarding tech implementation is limited IT personnel. Many small credit unions can’t afford to have a fully staffed IT department.

Like many other credit unions, Mercer County Community Federal relies on outside vendors to help manage IT services. 

“Not having IT staff in-house limits the time our employees have access to IT experts who can immediately answer questions and help with any problems that arise,” Carangi says.

NEXT: Leadership

Leadership facilitates change

Commitment and communication, as well as consistency in messaging, from the executive staff are vital to the success of any new IT implementation. 

“This was an important part of preparing everyone for our core processing conversion,” says Carangi. “If you don’t have buy-in from the leadership team, that impression can trickle down to the rest of the staff.”

Months before training started, Mercer County Community Federal held a leadership team meeting during which managers received a copy of the book “I Love it Here” by Clint Pulver.

“We had numerous discussions on what makes happy employees and how to focus on the positive changes that would result from the core conversion,” says Carangi. “Making sure everyone saw the positive side to what was about to happen really made a difference in employees’ willingness to accept this major change.”

Effective leaders recognize employees must be part of the process and that their opinions matter.

“Not only does this create buy-in, the extra perspectives lead to better ideas that make the change more successful,” says Barnes. “Also, be honest that everything will not go perfectly and there will need to be changes. You cannot prepare for every outcome, and course corrections will be necessary. This isn’t a sign of failure. Use what you learn during the process to make improvements that lead to greater efficiency and ease of use.”

Patience is a virtue 

There will always be employees who don’t understand the need for a new IT solution and willfully resist acceptance. 

If you or your team are frustrated with the time it takes some employees to embrace a new solution, remember that adapting to change takes time and varies from employee to employee.

“Employees deserve adequate time to absorb details and think through how this upgraded system or platform will impact their department and individual jobs,” says Jasper. “Building new technology into the routines and rhythms of the workday isn’t a quick process.”

She cites a rule of thumb: It takes 21 days to change a behavior when people receive positive reinforcement.

“If there is limited coaching, two-way feedback mechanisms, and technology issues that aren’t being addressed during and after implementation,” Jasper says, “it will take longer than 21 days to change employee behavior.”

This article appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Credit Union Magazine. Subscribe here.