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Workplace Perks Are Great, but Perks Do Not Make a Company Great
Wednesday, December 14, 2016 6:40 AM

Dean Borland, SCMS, CUDE, VP Product Development, Credit Union Resources

In a Nov. 9, 2016, article on, John Pettit outlined four job perks that are “better than a raise.” The article pointed to free food, making vacation a priority, student loan repayment, and “no work on your birthday” as perks that go a long way toward creating employee satisfaction. But it doesn’t begin or end there…

Pettit’s article made my mind wander in the direction of those “best companies to work for” lists that are compiled by sources ranging from Forbes to local chambers of commerce seeking to showcase their benefactors. Based on my research, John is right about workplace perks. An “A List” review of best companies to work for yields an impressive menu of employee amenities including, but not limited to, liberal benefits (healthcare, time off, 401K, etc.), casual dress, free snacks and beverages, free or subsidized lunches and take-home meals, massage therapy, discount tickets, fitness classes, weightwatchers meetings, and even oil changes, vehicle maintenance, and car washes. Wow!

So, all you need to do to have exceptionally happy and productive employees is to provide beverages and Bonbons followed by an occasional weightwatchers meeting or fitness class to offset the undesirable consequences. Well, not exactly…

It is true that companies recognized as being a “best company to work for” all offer workplace amenities. But in a May 5, 2016, article in Forbes, Ian Altman provides a quote from Joe Mechlinski, bestselling author of Grow Regardless and CEO of Entrequest: “Becoming an organization with an exceptional culture and environment is not just about the workplace tangibles like pay and benefits. What it’s all about is the strategic alignment of your employees around your vision. When your whole team is inspired and unified by the work they do, when they’re passionate about making a difference and changing the lives of the people they help, then you’ve set off on the right track to creating a powerful culture.”

Mechlinski’s observations may seem academic, but building a great team can be fairly straightforward—IF you understand and are faithful to your vision. While facilitating a credit union planning workshop a few weeks ago, I was privy to a conversation about how the organization could do a better job getting employees to participate in community activities on behalf of the credit union. This is not an isolated issue; you may even be experiencing the same thing at your credit union.

Ironically, the answer might be fairly simple, but you may not like the answer. You may have a hiring problem.

I love to paraphrase Jim Collins’ Good to Great: “Start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” A fundamental component of Mr. Collins’ philosophy is based on hiring the right people to do the things that support the organization’s objectives.

Let’s be honest, credit unions often seek and hire pleasant, caring, analytically inclined applicants because this type of person can put on a happy face to efficiently and accurately count money, book transactions, and balance a ledger. Unfortunately, these left-brainers are not naturally social beings. If you want/need employees who are willing or even eager to participate in community activities, you need to include social skills among the personality characteristics you interview and hire for.

It’s easier than you think. Using behavioral interviewing techniques, you might ask applicants what they like to do in their free time. If the answer is “read a book or play video games,” the applicant may not be a good candidate to become a community ambassador. On the other hand, if an applicant is involved in volunteer or “servant” pursuits AND they can count cash, they might actually enjoy advocating/volunteering on behalf of the credit union, and you may have found your ideal candidate.

Rich workplace perks are common among “best companies to work for.” Thank you, Cornerstone, for the soda fountain in the break room! But perks are the tip of the cultural iceberg. All of the perks hosted by the best companies to work for would likely not yield strategic success without having the right people on the bus (especially leaders), the wrong people off the bus (including supervisors and leaders), and the right people in the right seats.