Ellen Davis
Ellen Davis, Gerber Federal Credit Union

‘Not all turnover is bad’

Gerber Federal Credit Union prioritizes quality over speed and quantity when hiring new staff.

January 10, 2023

Last year was successful for Gerber Federal Credit Union in meeting its hiring and retention goals, and 2023 stands to be even better as it implements more talent development initiatives, says Ellen Davis, vice president of human resources at the $227 million asset credit union in Fremont, Mich., and a member of the CUNA HR/Organizational Development Council.

Davis recently shared her priorities and challenges for the year ahead.

Credit Union Magazine: What were some HR highlights for Gerber Federal in 2022?

Ellen Davis: Like many other credit unions, we did a lot of new-hire onboarding and had many internal promotions. Yet, through all of that we kept our turnover rate at about 12% for the year.

We know that not all turnover is bad turnover, and that’s important to recognize. We had a couple of people retire, which opened up opportunities for others to move up in the organization. 

We promote from within if appropriate, and that helps with turnover rates. My North Star is focusing on our staff and doing what’s right along those lines, and that’s reflected in those numbers.

Q: What are your top priorities for the year ahead?

A: I have a project: building a more Gerber Federal-specific program to support and drive effective coaching of managers, who are our leaders. We partnered with FI Strategies to accomplish this 2023 goal.

In addition, I want to add some support positions, and a compensation and benefits review is on the list. I also want to continue to enhance our talent development programs.

We’re rolling out a four-tiered branch manager competency program to help with succession planning. What does an entry-level manager’s position look like? What competencies are needed? What are their growth opportunities and educational needs, including soft skills training, to develop them?

Q: What are the biggest challenges you’ll face in 2023?

A: The same as in 2022: finding time for all the projects plus daily responsibilities for what is basically a one-person HR department. I have an amazing education coordinator, but she’s been really busy training.

Other ongoing challenges include ensuring timeliness of onboarding and guaranteeing successful transfers to branches, and making sure our cultural values continue to be reinforced there.

But other challenges could pop up. I liken this to a meme I recently saw of a car going down the highway, with all of your daily tasks and projects. But then you have to take an unscheduled stop and put out fires, sometimes skidding off the highway altogether. That pretty much describes HR.

Q: How do you attract and retain talented staff?

A: The Great Resignation hasn’t been an issue. We've been growing in some different directions, adding some lending staff and promoting some staff.

Retaining our talented colleagues comes back to ensuring we’re doing what’s right.

Our hiring philosophy has always been quality over speed and quantity. Attracting the right candidates takes longer, but it’s critical to hire for attitude, personality, motivation, and work ethic versus skills. 

We have an amazing educational program for new hires, so we can train for the skills we need.

We’re communicating to the branches that the recruiting process may take longer than in the past, but I let them know where we are in the process and how many applications we have. 

I’m trying to keep everyone in the loop and get their feedback quickly so I can respond more quickly to candidates. If we take too much time hiring people, we’ll lose them to somebody else.

We have a great referral program, and our best recruiting tool has been Facebook. We also rely on our electronic road signs at our branches. 

In addition, we use Manpower to hire tellers for temporary positions. If they’re a great fit, after a period of time we hire them permanently.

We offer an amazing compensation and benefits program. Having less than 50 employees allows us to do some things on the benefits side that larger credit unions may not be able to do.

We also try to show employees that we care. We strive to ensure that they know we’ll work with them when a crisis arises and help them know we are supporting them. One way this is reflected is the change to our bereavement policy in 2020. 

We now have three tiers of bereavement leave, allowing someone up to five days off when an immediate family member passes away. We also have full pay for the day if someone gets a call saying an immediate family member has passed away. It’s our way of saying, “Go home, be with your family, we’ve got your back.”

Those are the kinds of things that really express who we are as an organization and how we feel about our staff. That’s what separates us from other financial institutions in the area.