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Called to Coach
Culture Fuels Change, Drives Success at Verve
Called to Coach

Culture Fuels Change, Drives Success at Verve

Webcast Details

  • How has a credit union built a unique culture that embraces every employee as an individual?
  • What part has strengths played in building that culture?
  • What successes have resulted from this focus on employee engagement and strengths?

Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series -- Season 10, Episode 14.

Below are audio and video plus a transcript of the conversation, including time stamps.

A credit union that's had over a billion dollars in growth during the past decade must be doing something right. At Verve Credit Union, they believe the answer is in their culture -- a culture that embraces employees as individuals. Verve has powerfully combined its Patch Value Declaration -- a simple statement about what individual employees value and what they pride themselves in -- with CliftonStrengths and employee engagement to win a Gallup Exceptional Workplace Award in 2021. Join Kevin Ralofsky, Verve President and CEO, and Mary Gietman Schellinger, Internal Director of Communications and Engagement, as they share Verve's story, lessons learned and successes.

11 years ago, when I talked to the board, I just said, "We are going to spend an inordinate amount of money on culture." And this is before they even hired me.

Kevin Ralofsky, 8:27

That 40:1 measurement [ratio of engaged to disengaged employees] really means that when you walk in the building, it feels different than walking in other buildings. ... The pride in working here is really evident.

Mary Gietman Schellinger, 12:13

A Patch Value Declaration, in a nutshell, is something that says to people, "This is what I do best. ... And this is what people can count on me every single day, day in and day out."

Kevin Ralofsky, 15:17

Jim Collison 0:00
I am Jim Collison, and this is Gallup's Called to Coach, recorded on March 21, 2022.

Jim Collison 0:19
Called to Coach is a resource for those who want to help others discover and use their strengths. We have Gallup experts and independent strengths coaches share tactics, insights and strategies to help coaches maximize the talent of individuals, teams and organizations around the world. If you're listening live, love to you have to join us in our chat room. There's a link on our live page right up there in the corner. Jump in the chat room, and your, you can ask us your questions live. Or if you're listening after the fact and you have questions, you can always send us an email: Don't forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast app or right there on YouTube so you never miss an episode. Erika Hunzeker is our host today. She works as a Business Solutions Consultant at Gallup with me in Omaha. We actually get to see each other now, which is pretty great. Erika, welcome to Called to Coach!

Erika Hunzeker 1:04
Thank you. Yes, happy to be here. And I love running into you in the office, now that the world's returning a bit to normal.

Jim Collison 1:11
We're getting that way, and it's always nice. I'm home today. Maybe I'll get a chance to see you tomorrow. We have some fabulous guests with us today. Why don't you take a second introduce them?

Meet Our Guests on This Episode

Erika Hunzeker 1:21
Definitely. Well, yes. I'm very excited about the partners we have with us today from Verve Credit Union, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. So we have with us Kevin Ralofsky, the President and CEO of Verve, and then we also have Mary Gietman Schellinger, who is the Internal Director of Communications and Engagement. Kevin, I'll pass it over to you if you want to do an introduction of yourself and share your Top 5.

Kevin Ralofsky 1:48
Yeah. Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for having us here. We're really humbled to do this. So I've been married 25 years to my wife Nancy, have three kids -- Kyle, Noah and Celia -- they're 20, 17 and 13. Been with Verve for about 10 years. And I was a transplant from Ohio over to Oshkosh. And love to ski. Self-proclaimed servant leader -- always learning and skinning my knees. And, and just really happy to be here. Top 5, right -- Activator, Achiever, Competition, Strategic and -- I'm sorry, Ideation, then Strategic.

Erika Hunzeker 2:33
I love it! Thank you. That was awesome. Thanks, Mary -- or Mary, do you want to go ahead?

Mary Gietman Schellinger 2:39
Of course, thanks. It's a joy to be with all of you today. I'm Mary Gietman Schellinger. I've been with Verve for almost 7 years in various communication capacities. And I live in Oshkosh with my husband, Nick. We've been married for 3 years. We have a blended family of three kids -- very passionate about blended families. Also an avid gardener. So it's, we're just getting ready to start the season. So that's what's going on outside of work. But I'm here to talk about engagement and strengths and all things Gallup, and we're excited. My Top 5 -- already we've gotten into Communication; I use too many words -- but Futuristic, Woo, Strategic, Restorative and Communication.

Erika Hunzeker 3:20
Awesome. Thank you both. Well, I realized I didn't actually share my Top 5 as well. So I lead with Discipline, and then Individualization, Analytical, Responsibility and Communication. And like Jim mentioned, I'm in our Omaha office. I get to partner with our clients throughout the Midwest region. So primarily Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas. So Verve is a wonderful partner of mine that has really seen a lot of growth over the last few years, and just continued to challenge what it means to be exceptional within a workplace as well. Well, I would love just to start, Kevin, with a background of how Verve came to be. So when you think of a credit union, Verve isn't necessarily the cookie cutter what you think of. So I would love for you just to tell the story of how it started, and just how it's continued to grow over the years as well.

A Culture That Puts Team Members First: Verve's Story

Kevin Ralofsky 4:12
Yeah, wow. OK, well, I'm a banker by trade. And really, I love the idea of credit unions, because it really aligns with my faith really strongly, and we get to do a lot of great things, have a lot of fun. We still have to make money, but what we do here, and what we embrace really well is culture and putting our team members first. And that's really what, what our, what our organization stands for. Culture is woven through every single piece of the fabric in our organization. We're really proud to say that, you know, we lead with culture, but we actually do that. And that's, and that's, I think, really what the difference is and why we have been so successful in our own right and why we, we feel really strongly that Gallup is a really amazing partner for us because it drives, you know, our cultural strategy very, very well.

Kevin Ralofsky 5:11
Ten years ago, I joined the organization, moved from Ohio. And since then, we've grown over $1.3 billion -- we've, we've grown 5 times in 9 years. So you can imagine just rapid growth happening and all the changes. Yet at the same time, we have these amazing people and leaders in our organization, that somehow we still not only manage to keep the wheels on, you know, as we're, as we're going, but you know, that people are just more highly engaged as we go. We primarily have grown through acquisition and merger, as far as, you know, driving the big sort of shot in the arm when we grow. But we've, we've had over a billion dollars of organic growth as well since we started, which is just, you know, adding on, you know, additional business as we acquire or we partner with other organizations who just, you know, look, provide tremendous amount of value, whether it's resources from people or products or location, geography. So I really feel that that's, that's, that's really the area where we're really excelling is the growth, but it's, it's really driven by culture.

Erika Hunzeker 6:26
For sure, which, that's been a very unique piece for a credit union to continue to grow through mergers and acquisitions. How many, do you feel like have happened over the last 10 years?

Kevin Ralofsky 6:40
We've had, I want to say, one, two, three -- I think there's five. So there's five acquisitions, whether they're mergers or purchase acquisitions. And then, you know, there's just a myriad of, of, you know, conversions from, you know, core systems. And, you know, Mary knows better than I do, but there was probably over 30 conversions over that time as well.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 7:06
A lot of system updates. But then, when I think about our most recent acquisition, shout-out to the Chicago team, you know, that was really unique in the credit union space. If I'm not mistaken, Kevin, we were the second credit union to purchase a bank across state lines. So not only a growth opportunity for Verve and for the team, but also a significant hurdle, a significant challenge to make that investment. And so I think it really speaks to the moxie that we have on the team that we're willing to approach projects like that. And that was really, you know, one of the three legs of the stool of our Exceptional Workplace application was that acquisition and how it was done very differently.

Initial Steps in the Gallup Partnership

Erika Hunzeker 7:51
I love that. Well, thank you for the background, just on Verve and the unique story there. I think it speaks a lot to some of our other credit union clients, as well as other workplaces throughout the country just seeking change and something different as well. But now that, moving a little bit further in your path within Verve, what led you to your partnership with Gallup? And how did that all start -- I believe back in 2016? So what were some of those initial steps now over this prolonged journey?

Kevin Ralofsky 8:21
Sure, sure. So I'm thinking back, you know, 10 years, or 11 years ago, when I talked to the board, and, you know, I just said, you know, "We are going to spend an inordinate amount of money on culture." And this is before they even hired me. And I said, "If you don't want to do that, I'm probably not your guy." And going to, you know, moving our way through to 2016, so we've created this sort of three-pillar strategy: culture, brand and business, OK. And we were really wanting to quantify how well our culture is doing, because, you know, as leaders, we want to say, "Oh, it's doing great! We're, we're working really hard. We're serving our teams, and they're just, everybody's happy." We wanted something that was, was qualitative to be able to tell us that what we're doing and the money that we're spending, the resources that we're using, are actually, are paying dividends in that perspective. So that's where we sought out Gallup and tried to put some sort of, you know, I'll say, you know, subjective, you know, measurement to that. So --

Erika Hunzeker 9:30
I love that. Yes, the culture, brand and business is a huge piece. And when you think about that interview stage, even of the focus on culture, that's something that is often lagging in organizations today, and in the last 2 years, kind of takes a back seat sometimes. So I love the prominent focus that you've continued to put there. So how, what has that partnership grown to be and how has it continued to evolve over the last couple of years?

Kevin Ralofsky 9:58
Yeah, I can certainly speak to it from that high level, and Mary, I'm gonna invite Mary to speak about it as well from the, you know, the nuts and bolts part of it as well, because she's so, you know, she's our Gallup guru here' she knows, she knows the data. You know, I really, like I said, when we first started with Gallup, we were really looking at it to help us affirm what we were doing. And really, what it's turned out to be is that we're really looking at Gallup and the data that we're given and the coaching that we're receiving and all that as part of our strategy. We're weaving the information into the conversations we're having with our organization as a whole from a strategic standpoint, but also at an individual level with our team members.

Erika Hunzeker 10:43
I love that. That's when it really becomes ingrained throughout the culture too, when it's not just a leadership or HR initiative, but everyone is on board in those conversations.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 10:55
When I think about, you know, going back to 2016, I have been with the Gallup program since its inception at Verve. And so that first survey, right, we were just learning so much about what Gallup had to offer and the different insights for our Q12 engagement platform, right? I remember working with our first consultant back then and just learning, learning, learning. And as we continued to grow as a team, our leadership strength also grew at the same time. Jim, if you'd be so kind, I think there's that, that first graphic of kind of our, that next slide with the engagement trends, yes. OK. So, when we look at these numbers, you know, as we've been growing and changing systems, and, you know, going to market, our team has really responded to some of those resources that we've put out there.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 11:43
We've revolutionized our coaching platform; we have a one-on-one monthly coaching platform and the bench strength in our leadership to make those conversations meaningful. We've drastically improved our recognition program. The engagement action planning has also gotten a lot of attention, with our leaders driving progress in their teams. And as you can see, you know, the trends are all very meaningful to us, particularly when I look at that engagement ratio history. That 40:1 measurement really means that when you walk in the building, it feels different than walking in other, in other buildings, right. The team members are smiling; they are collaborating; there's orange stuff on their desk. You know, the pride in working here is really evident. The growth in our programming -- thank you, Jim; I appreciate that -- the growth in our programming has really gone in depth with Gallup as Gallup continues to grow and provide more research-based approaches for us to utilize.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 12:50
So I think about how all of our new hires go through their CliftonStrengths assessments now and receive indepth coaching from our Certified CliftonStrengths Coach, Sarah Nachman. Shout-out to Sarah, my beloved colleague; she's our director of team member wellbeing. Right. And again, that was a recent expansion, based on the Gallup 5 essential elements of wellbeing -- we went from a more physical health-based wellness program to really expand, along with Gallup, in our understanding of, of the needs of our team and treating people as unique, holistic individuals.

Embracing Employees as Individuals: Patch Value Declarations

Erika Hunzeker 13:29
Definitely, well, that's amazing segue into CliftonStrengths as well. Verve has really taken strengths into their own culture and made it their own. So I know you have your pillar statements. What are those action items that you do have your new employees take with their strengths when they start?

Mary Gietman Schellinger 13:51
I say, Kevin, that's your, that's your brainchild. You take that -- the Patch Value Declarations. Kevin, you're muted.

Kevin Ralofsky 14:02
So there's a couple of things that we do, I think really well here. And that is really embracing the individuality of our team members. And, you know, first and foremost, it's, it's really, you know, the, our why and what we do and say here and how we, and how we go about, we call it, slugging it out every day when we wake up. And, you know, our "Why" is that we challenge the status quo to better serve the needs of others, so that we can all live fuller, richer and more impactful lives. And we really feel that if we can live out that "Why," we're going to win, right? We're going to win the day. However, right, How do you do that for each individual? It takes a while or an understanding of how they can actually add value and do that. And we do that at the most -- I'll call it -- molecular level. And that's with what we call a Patch Value Declaration.

Kevin Ralofsky 14:53
And in a Patch Value Declaration, it's really interesting. It's, it's, it's a declaration. We call it a declaration because it's kind of like you put that flag in the sand and say, "This is exactly what I'm standing for. And this is -- and I'm not changing," right. This is, this is, this is where the line in the sand is drawn for me. It's not like a casual comment about what you do well; it's what you truly, truly believe that you do well. So a Patch Value Declaration, in a nutshell, is something that says to people, "This is what I do best," right, and maybe even better than other people. But "This is what I do best. And this is what people can count on me every single day, day in and day out." Right. And it doesn't mean that it has to be their actual job description, right? Doesn't have to mean their actual job description.

Kevin Ralofsky 15:40
When we talk about Verve, right, and Mary knows, I'm just getting on my soapbox. So you never really talk, talk me down here and cut me off. But when we talk about Verve and we talk about people and individuals at Verve and, and, you know, we talk about people being the same at home than they are at work. We don't want somebody to put on their work hat and then put on their home, you know, hat when they go home. We want the same person, right? Every single thing that a person stands for at home, we want the good, the bad, the ugly. We want every single micromoment that shapes them in their world today, up until today, to be at work. Because we hire them as an individual to be a, to be a solution contributor to the organization. And they can't just turn one piece off and turn one piece on; it doesn't work that way. So we embrace it all -- good, bad, the ugly.

Kevin Ralofsky 16:31
So in the Patch Value Declaration, we talk about that. Here's what I stand for. Right? And then here's what you can count on me every day. So I'll tell you mine. And Mary, if you want to share with, with them yours as well. But Mary knows that I'm this way at home than I am this than I am, you know, at work as well. And it always starts off with a value word. OK? So it has a little bit of a structure to it. But it starts off with a value word -- what do you value most? OK. And then it goes about telling people why you value it. And then how they can see that coming to life, what they can count on you for. So the structure is "I value" whatever, right? And then "I pride myself in." And that's the only consistency in the whole thing. OK, so mine is "I value agility. I pride myself in thinking strategically, while making tough decisions in a swift, fair and impactful way."

Kevin Ralofsky 17:30
And if you talk to my wife Nancy, she's going to tell you the same thing. Sometimes it's also, you know, a weakness, right. But I really feel that, you know, I do think strategically and I value being agile in my organization; I value being agile in my home life, right -- being a father, being a son, a husband -- and I want to make sure that I'm fair with everybody. And I feel that there's a value in being definitive, right, being definitive. So --

Mary Gietman Schellinger 18:00
And so when we were, when we were developing this program, when we were developing this differentiator in our culture and how we were going to train up our team to be incredible assets to the organization, we needed a evidence-based universal system to build a foundation on, right. How do we help our team members self-discover? And that's where the CliftonStrengths program came in. And it was so easy for us to utilize that and make it accessible to everybody and then have the coaching platform to back it up and help our team members discover their super powers, right, "the color of their cape," as I like to call it, right.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 18:38
And so with that in mind, you won't be surprised that that's where I took the conversation, because I value clarity. I pride myself in bringing more order to the universe and translating complexity into a shared understanding by using collected intelligence and great communication to solve problems. So we had a problem: We need a repeatable foundation to use to build this, this wonderful idea of this Patch Value Declaration. And that's where the strengths program really shined for us. It was this research-based program that we could bring in house and, and turn orange.

Erika Hunzeker 19:15
I love that. I love that so much. And I think just in the last 2 years, work-life integration, more than ever, is exactly what you're saying, Kevin, that you do need to be able to be the same at home versus at work, especially because they're so blended right now, as we've seen change throughout the last few years. Mary, did you want to share yours as well?

Mary Gietman Schellinger 19:36
Oh, I just did here; that was the clarity statement.

Erika Hunzeker 19:39
Perfect. Thank you so much. Yes. I know another key piece -- so how early on in their onboarding do they complete their strengths and create that Patch Value Declaration?

Kevin Ralofsky 19:51
So when, when our, when our team members first start, right, they, we really immerse them in the culture first, right. So very few, I mean, you know, there's a tactical piece of our job. And then there's that that leadership piece of our job. And that tactical piece, whether it's pushing buttons or, you know, whatever the case is, right, we all have a tactical piece. They, they, they learn that a week later; they start learning that like about a week later. And we really focus on the cultural piece. So we first started, we first started really kind of throwing out the Patch Values and the Patch Value Declaration early on, and then said, you know, "You're going to do this right away."

Kevin Ralofsky 20:30
What we found is it's such a, there's such breadth and depth in it. And the way we're asking people to think differently about how they go about their job was a little overwhelming for everybody. So now, they, they're, we want them to have a Patch Value Declaration inside of 6 months, sometimes 3 months, but they're going through actual workshops to walk them through them deciding what that might be. So it takes a little more time now, which we think is good. But ironically, it's interesting, because when you talk to people about what their PVD is, sometimes they'll be like, "Well, I don't have one yet." And they feel bad about it, or they feel kind of like they're almost ostracizing themselves from it. And there's, there's a really a point of pride for this now. You know, it's not an elevator speech; it's not that 30-second elevator speech. It's really truly who you are and how you want to communicate your, you know, like Mary said, your superpower, your strength, you know, to adding value to the organization.

CliftonStrengths and the Patch Value Declaration

Jim Collison 21:33
Mary, you, you said yours so smoothly, it blew right past Erika. Like you said it like you've said it 1,000 times. So you must teach this, right? At what point or how do you reinforce that in the organization, and does strengths help in the development of that? Are they able to kind of use their Top 5 to pull that together?

Mary Gietman Schellinger 21:54
Yes. So in those workshops that Kevin was just referencing, they have taken their CliftonStrengths assessment, they have, part of the process is actually reading through their Strengths Insight Guide and highlighting key words and phrases that are really vibing with them. I remember going through that exercise. And actually, most of the key words in my Patch Value Declaration are straight out of my Insight Guide. It was just stringing them into a coherent sentence and really honing in on OK, when you put those natural talents together, what's the output? And what's that value? What's that, when I look at this combination that God gave me, what does that, what does this mean? And it really, for me, it settled in on clarity. When I'm going through the world, I am looking for clarity. I am bringing clarity. The lack of clarity frustrates me. So I have an intolerance for it.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 22:49
So the, the CliftonStrengths really is that smooth foundation that it just lifts off the page and turns into a single sentence that we can put on our intranet profiles. It's actually the first thing that you'll see underneath our picture on our intranet profiles. And actually, Jim, you can pull that up. It's on, on slide 3 will show you that snapshot, right. Oh, there's the Top 5 strengths. And then Patch Value Declarations must be just out of that clip; I was mistaken. But we also use it in our one-on-one coaching program. So if you see that graphic on kind of the bottom right of the screen, it says "1 on 1." This is actually mine, right? So when I meet with my leader, shout-out Karrie Drobnick, when I meet with my leader on a monthly basis, we have this format that we follow. And right there at the top of the form is my, my name and my Patch Value Declaration and hers, and also our Top 5 strengths.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 23:44
So before we even approach a one-on-one coaching conversation, we have to understand the strengths and natural talents and the preferences of the individual that we're serving in that moment. And so this is really ingrained in our team to honor that individuality and celebrate it and leverage it, because it's diversity at its, at its finest. We're stronger together with lots of ways of thinking. So before we approach my opportunities to grow, or my leader's opportunities to grow, we do that in a way that respects the individual.

An Exceptional Workplace Award Winner

Erika Hunzeker 24:16
Definitely. Well, I know we're seeing in the comments too, that we love those formats that you have. And so this is a huge part of your culture within Verve as well is your intranet, which we'll get to in a minute here. But one thing I did want to highlight -- strengths, your intranet, a lot of these pieces are a key driver of your engagement and what made you eligible for the 2021 Gallup Exceptional Workplace Award winner, which is a crazy thing to accomplish in the midst of a pandemic. And not to say you didn't accomplish this through other things as well. You were also buying a bank, while doing a total technology transformation during a pandemic. And you were still a winner of the 2021 Gallup Exceptional Workplace Award. So I wanted you just to speak to that a little bit more on how that all went down in 2020 through a lot of these key initiatives that you have in place.

Kevin Ralofsky 25:12
I'm tired just hearing you say that now. I will, I will say, looking back at it, it was, it truly really is amazing how it all went down. Right? I mean, there were, we just had a meeting today, you know, with our Learning and Development Team. And they were just talking about how they had some time back in their day, because things were crazy a year ago, right? Not just with the, like you said, with a pandemic; purchasing a bank, and then, you know, going through the whole core conversion technology upgrade. So I will say that team members really doubled down on our core, our core practices, right, with our "Why," our Patch Value Declarations and, and our Patch Values. I think that's really the key. And what we did was we got really smart about leaning on Gallup and leaning on our leaders, leaning on Mary and team to really help understand where I'll say the leaks were or the chinks in the armor were because, right, a lot of times it's a lagging indicator.

Kevin Ralofsky 26:14
So sometimes when you get that data and information, it's really bigger than it is. Right. But having a, having a focus on how we address the issue, right, coach up, or at least, at first, identify to the leader or leaders where they're, where they're excelling and where they're not. Right. And then having a wraparound effect of our coaches working with them. We have a strengths, you know, we have a, we have a Certified Strengths-Based Coach on staff here too, right? So, right, yeah. Shout-out to Nachman, right. So utilizing all those resources really has helped us not only just, you know, tread water would have been really amazing, quite honestly. And we really did excel. And it's really truly because, from a CEO standpoint, it's, we have this culture. We have all these great partners like Gallup working with us. And we have this amazing team. And we really just churned it and, and talked about how important it was to stay on track.

Kevin Ralofsky 27:17
And going back to the basics, you know, when you're talking about football, it's, right, going back to blocking and tackling. And we just kept doing that, right, because sometimes we just had to wake up and do our job, because it was so many things going on. And we did it. And it worked out really, really well. And now we're focusing back on, we've got some free time. We can ideate a little more. We can use our strengths to, you know, strategize a little more. But you know, it was a good lesson for me as a CEO who really loves to, right, No. 1, my No. 1 is Activator, right? It was a really great lesson for me to step back and go, Hold on a second! You have way too much on your plate, and you need to let people breathe, right. And the way they were able to breathe was through the, through the internal resources and the, and the partnership that we have with you guys.

A "Beautiful" Intranet: Key to Communicating, Navigating Change

Erika Hunzeker 28:03
Definitely. My No. 34 Adaptability just does not love all of that. But the way you so beautifully and gracefully managed it is amazing and just speaks volumes the leadership and culture that you have built there. And then Mary, I know a huge piece of that too amidst all that change was the value of that intranet, and how you resourced and continued to grow that platform as well. Do you want to speak to that a little more?

Mary Gietman Schellinger 28:28
I'd love to. The intranet lives within my span of care. And I'm deeply proud of the resource that it provides to our team. It's a, it's our corporate communication channel, right? If it's something going on at Verve, you're going to find out about it on the intranet or you're going to find out about it from your leader. And those strategic updates really keep us focused. Those core strategies that are going on are always front and center. But beyond that, it's a wonderful collaboration tool. It's a great opportunity for team members to share ideas back and forth and give shout-outs. We have a wonderful peer-to-peer recognition app on that, on that intranet that we named after How Full Is Your Bucket, right? It's the verb "Bucket Filler."

Mary Gietman Schellinger 29:12
So team members are filling buckets, and they're actually choosing culture attributes to associate with that Bucket Filler. After a recent town hall meeting, Kevin, you know, sits down at his desk and sends out some Bucket Fillers to those people who got honorable mentions on that town hall. We're utilize, I mean, that thing flies -- you can't keep up with it in a day. The team has really done a tremendous job of adopting that tool. I'm so excited about that. But yeah, that, when I think about a year of tremendous change, right, things are moving so fast. I think about COVID communications -- changes were happening so fast. We were so fortunate and just so excited to see the strategy behind that communication vehicle come to life in a really stressful situation, right? We were able to serve the needs of the team because of the foundation of tools that we had in place. This strategy of culture served us well, right?

Mary Gietman Schellinger 30:10
Culture doesn't exist in some pocket, you know, certainly not ever, right? It's the strategy at the highest levels. And so utilizing all of these tools in alignment with that strategy makes a difference for the team. And when it makes a difference for the team, it makes a difference for the membership, and we like to think that they feel the difference. So when our team members are really well-informed, when they're getting a daily dose of culture and a daily dose of brand, our intranet is beautiful -- don't mind my bias, it's beautiful. Thank you, thank you; I like to think so. Right, it's gorgeous. But when they get a daily dose of culture, a daily dose of brand and, and all the, the great updates about running our business, they are that much more Verve-ready for their day.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 30:53
So the intranet, I like to think, is a, is a core foundation for how we rode the waves of some of these crazy years that we've had. But you know, it's all of those tools that work in tandem, right? It's strengths, it's wellness, it -- or wellbeing, forgive me. It's coaching, it's recognition, it's engagement principles. It's all of these things that work together in tandem that make a year like 2020 possible. And earning that recognition from Gallup was, was huge praise and huge validation for the work, the blood, sweat and tears that went into that, that year in caring for the team and helping them make the most of those really challenging experiences.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 31:34
When I talk to my colleagues now about the year that was, we talk about it with a little bit of swagger, right? We really do. It was like, I, we did that! We did that! We fall asleep at night feeling like warriors and really, really accomplished, and there's such a depth to that pride. And I really believe that it was made possible by that foundation that existed prior. I think if we would have been building some of these initiatives, if we would have been a year or two behind our own journey, things would have been very different. So we were really grateful to have that, that depth of leadership and that foundation in place.

Kevin Ralofsky 32:11
And Mary makes a really great point, when it comes to, you know, that journey. I will say, and it's sort of behind me over here -- no, over here, actually; I'm not sure which one. But anyway, right, at the end, right, there's this, there's this thing that talks about if we do all this stuff, and we have, we have this 3, you know, the 3 pillars -- culture, brand and business. And in the end, right, our members and our team members benefit, right? There's, there's, there's benefits that come out of this, right? We saw that happening, right? So we feel that if we continue to utilize that resource that we have with you guys and drive that relationship, in the end, what happens is, literally what happens is our customer base, our members benefit. And we see that happening time and time again, right? Our team members feel -- like, like Mary said -- they feel empowered, right, like they've just moved mountains. And what's really amazing to me is that they wake up in the morning and go," What's the mountain next we're going to move?" as opposed to, "Can we just have a break?"

Kevin Ralofsky 33:18
Now, don't get me wrong -- there are breaks, right? We call it, you know, we call, you know, longevity or there's duration in the funnel. You know, there's just a lot, there's a lot of, and it's not burnout yet, but sometimes it feels like it is. We're very, we have our thumb on the pulse of the duration of the sprint. Right. But at times, you know, when, when we're idle, our team members will say, "Well, what's next?" Because they do feel like warriors, like Mary said, right? They do feel like they want to just take on another challenge or whatever, because it is fulfilling, right? And going back to, they're living out their Patch Value Declaration, and they know that 330 other people think that that's what they're doing because they read it, they see it and they know that that's the value they're bringing to the workplace. Right. And that's really the beautiful thing about it.

Leveraging Team Strengths for Big Technology Changes

Mary Gietman Schellinger 34:10
I want to, I want to sprinkle in a piece of data here for my, for the listenership, right. I see some wonderful comments coming through; you've got some, some great Gallup folks out there. One thing that's really meaningful to us, when we think about going through a total technology transformation, right, there was not a system in our business that, that was untouched in this process. We're talking 60+, member facing, huge amounts of change. But we got the team involved, went through a 2-year methodical process to bring that to life. And we really leveraged the strengths and insights of our team.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 34:43
So on our last survey, November 2021, we asked the question or we rated the statement, "I receive meaningful feedback when I make a suggestion about improving performance," and that came back at a 91st mean percentile rank against Gallup overall. So 88% of our team agreed with that statement, either a 4 or a 5, saying that they received meaningful feedback about suggestions for improvement. So we really do count on the team to deliver those solutions and to use that empowerment that Kevin was saying, they get to make a difference here. They, our team shapes the future of what this organization looks like and how our members interact with us. So that really, I think that changes the tone and tenor of a project, when this is not something that's happening to you; this is something that you are crafting yourself. We've done conversions before, right? Sometimes they went well; sometimes they didn't. And this time, it was amazing. When it came to actually launching, the experience was unbelievable. It was unbelievable.

Erika Hunzeker 35:48
For sure. And I think it speaks credit to how much that Patch Value Declaration is woven throughout the organization. And it's not just a one time, we did our strengths. We made up this statement. But it really is continually talked to and about throughout the organization. And it's important conversations like that, and their opinions matter is one of the really important things that you're mentioning there too.

Kevin Ralofsky 36:13
It really, it personalizes the strengths, right? Because you get this report out, which is really telling, right, and you go, "Oh my gosh." Like you said, Mary said, they're highlighting this information. They're going, "That really is me," right? "I have that tendency." But then when you translate it to that PVD, right, it's, it's like your strengths are coming alive bespoke, right, personally, that what you, that is you, as opposed to everybody else that has maybe that one strength in their Top 5.

Kevin Ralofsky 36:40
There was, there was one other comment in there, I thought, that was -- one comment and one question, if I may, actually. Somebody had mentioned about span of care versus span of control. And I thought that was really great, a great pickup, so thank you for that. That was, that was really amazing. Thanks, Nate, for asking that. Span of, span of care was really just, you know, we do a really great job at Verve, through so many brilliant people, talking about how we communicate our, our, you know, our world, right? We choose our words very carefully. We create, you know, plans for community outreach very carefully. Our brand, right, shout-out to Karrie and team, right, are, are so surgical. Everything is, everything is by design, and nothing is by accident. And we joke about this: If it happens by accident, we make them look like it was by design. Right? Everything is. We are, like, for me as a CEO, I have a big jar on the culture, and I allow and not allow certain things into our culture. Right. But everybody creates, you know, creates that value in the culture. Right? It's a living, breathing thing.

Kevin Ralofsky 37:52
The other question was something I think, was it John, and he asks about what, you know, the, the, the most positive outcome from using strengths. And we talk about at Verve, "best and highest use," right? My best and highest use might not be somebody else's, right, and vice versa. So understanding an individual's strengths at the molecular level is really, really important. Because when you put them in, in a role that they excel at, and then you actually give them a runway, let them skin their knees, and let them learn from it and live out their Patch Value Declaration, the sky is absolutely the limit. Absolutely the limit.

Jim Collison 38:35
Mary, you want to add anything to that?

Mary Gietman Schellinger 38:38
Only my personal experience. You know, I came into Verve as a, as a young professional, right. I had a lot to learn. I was brought in kind of in an obscure project management role, which, which was the very beginnings of our project management office. We have a professional three full-time team-member professional project management office -- shout-out to Pam and team -- which is unusual in the credit union space to have something like that. So I like to think I was the beginning. But they, they ran with it and made it gorgeous. But through that experience, through learning my strengths, through crafting my Patch Value Declaration and having really great leadership, I grew into this communication role. And it was like, "Hey, you're good at that. You should do more of that." And that's how this came to be.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 39:27
I don't know that they, you know, again, it was maybe by accident, but now it's by design that we have a communications office. It was like, Hey, we've got a talented asset; we should turn her loose. And that's exact, exactly what happened. I'm profoundly grateful for that, to have come into a company that had that kind of culture where that kind of growth is possible.

Jim Collison 39:49
Well, like Kevin said, even if it wasn't on purpose, he's gonna go ahead and take credit for it. I'm sure it was his idea, right, to get --

Kevin Ralofsky 39:55
Never, never. I always, I always say, you know, there's a vision that somebody has, and a lot of it is my vision coming in. And people go, and we talk, we talk about calling the baby ugly and all that other stuff in our organization, right? There are so many things that, you know, people come with a great idea. And then you put 10 heads, 15 heads together, and it turns out maybe completely different, but in the same cardinal direction, you know. And it just, it's amazing. And that's the story of our organization. You put, you just, you set down these ideas, you know, at the doorstep, and, and you get people involved that are passionate about it, they create an amazing outcome. And everybody's got buy-in. It's, I'm continually humbled at how I get to serve in this organization. I just, I don't understand it. I don't understand what I did to deserve it. Right.

Challenges in Deploying a Strengths-Based Culture

Jim Collison 40:42
Well, enjoy it. And I think, I think well said, I just think really, really well said. Mary, I'll throw this question to you because, as we think of our, maybe for our embedded coaches, our coaches who are in organizations trying to get this rolling, and we've, we've talked a lot about sunshine and rainbows, but there's maybe been some rainy days in there as well. Biggest challenges faced, when you think about deploying a strengths-based culture. Mary, I'll start with you and then, Kevin, to you. What do you think?

Mary Gietman Schellinger 41:12
I wish Sarah were in the room, because she would answer this better than I would as our, as our Certified Strengths Coach. But from my memory, from my lived experience, coming in the strengths program, when we're talking with new hires, who may not have had the opportunity to go through an assessment like this, they're like, "What's -- Oh, I gotta take a survey." It's a thing to do. It's a thing on a list, right? We're checking, we're checking boxes. And so sometimes there's a little bit of a, What is the value of this? Or I'm going to engage halfheartedly. But by the time they're done with that one-hour coaching session, they're pretty excited about their new superpowers that they maybe knew they had, but they didn't fully appreciate.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 41:54
And I think the, the fruit of that -- when we work with new hires, right, we don't wait too terribly long to introduce them to their strengths. It really is a core part of that onboarding experience as you start with that assessment right away. And it guides you through that, that declaration process. By the time we get -- so everybody here has their strengths. They're wearing them on their sleeve as a badge of honor. By the time we got to fast forward a while, until we're planning for this project team to do this total technology transformation, it was right at that time that our, our strengths coach was going through the certification process. And her first project was to take the key leaders for that core implementation team and give them one-on-one strengths coaching, if I'm not mistaken, it was for a 6-month process at the beginning of that project team. And every single leader was like, "Where do I sign? I am hungry for this." This is, right, "Put me in, coach!" So they were so excited to have that opportunity.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 42:57
And we really feel it was a differentiator for the process, right? That whole project was green all year -- through a pandemic and through buying a bank, we were on time, in budget, all systems go. And really a lot of credit to that strengths program. So yeah, it's hard to say -- to answer the question directly, What what's the hardest part? The hardest part is just getting people to take that first step. But once you do, then the momentum comes really quick.

Jim Collison 43:28
Kevin, what would you add to that?

Kevin Ralofsky 43:31
Well, I think if we can, you know, duplicate Sarah 10 times, we would still have not enough work, not enough resources, right? Because our organization, like many, the teams are just, they're, they're really pining for this, right. And it's human nature, right? You just, you just want to be better. And so the challenge, I think, from my, from my seat is that we just don't have the resources to be as good as we can be to serve our team. Right? I mean, she does an amazing job. But to do an amazing job, you need to really spend one-on-one time with an individual, right? And, you know, me, let's say me coaching somebody in my span of care who I serve, is going to be very different than the way Sarah is going to coach them as a Certified Strengths Coach, right? I think I can do a great job, but not nearly as effective, when you're talking about it from that perspective, that she can do. Right?

Kevin Ralofsky 44:41
So there really is, just like anything, there's a resource gap there. And that's, that's, every organization has that, has that complaint, right, that, that challenge. This is where one of them is for us. And, you know, we don't have, we don't have the resources we want or desire.

Jim Collison 45:05
Mary had asked a question out in chat, and I'll, and I'm not sure who to send it to. So I'll throw it out there. But she said, How did you first invite Gallup in? We may have some organizations listening to this who are like, "How do I get some of this goodness?" What was the early processes? What did those look like?

Mary Gietman Schellinger 45:21
I can jump in. You know, culture at Verve is a decision in our strategy at the highest possible level. So this was a, this was a board-level initiative to bring Gallup in. It was, we need an objective measurement for our culture pillar, all of these initiatives, all the money spend, right, Kevin, that needed a justification. And so we needed a, a thoroughbred partner to be able to guide, guide some of those initiatives and give them credibility. And that was an easier sell to our board when we brought in a name like Gallup. And, you know, the, getting started, we only started with the Q12 survey. We just, we just heckin' did it. It was like, OK, we're doing a survey. We gave some precommunications to the team. We put it out there into the universe. And then the wheels came off. I mean, it was just, it was full speed ahead from that point. The insights that we gained from that first survey were just monumental.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 46:24
And at that time, we were very pleased to find what we already knew to be true: that we had an amazing team that was highly engaged, and they were hungry for more and were, that's an honor, that's a privilege to be able to serve on that kind of team. But the, from there, the insights kept coming. And as we continued to survey and continued to, to grow with Gallup, that's where all the other program integration came. And as we continued to expand our culture and the way that we serve our team, you know, we were kind of growing neck and neck, right? We were just on that same pace, thinking in the same way. So when you find a like-minded partner, a partnership like Gallup and Verve, you just keep growing together. So that first foot in the door was that first Q12 survey to support that culture pillar at the board initiative, or at the board level. And from there, the, the rest is history.

Jim Collison 47:18
Kevin, would you add anything to that?

Kevin Ralofsky 47:21
I don't know if I can follow that one, actually.

Jim Collison 47:23
Good enough. It's a good answer. That's a --

Kevin Ralofsky 47:26
What I will tell you, what that is a testament to in our organization is we all understand what our core strategy is; we all know what it takes to win the day. We all know what it takes to succeed and live out our "Why." I mean, that's really what it is. Because when you ask other individuals in our organization, they may not say it nearly as eloquently as Mary has. However, you'll, you'll feel and hear threads of that throughout the organization from every level.

Communication's Role in Keeping Employees Engaged

Mary Gietman Schellinger 47:57
Kevin, you just reminded me, you know, that we would be remiss if we didn't mention it. One of our other just key strategies that we use in serving our leadership team from the Communications Office, we actually offer them a biweekly talk track that gets rolled out. Because some messages are just better delivered in person. As much, as much as I love and adore my intranet, it's not the right vehicle for everything. And so when we have the opportunity to serve messages -- because it's, it's not what you say; it's how you say it -- when we have the opportunity to make sure that our team gets change in the right way, with meaningful explanations, we leverage the strength of our leadership team to be able to deliver some of those things.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 48:40
And so, Kevin, you said something, and it just sparked, you know, like, open your hymnal to page 238. That's 2-3-8. Right? We do this. This is an exercise we do every other week. And our leaders, we've just got this wonderful cadence now of like, if you want to know what's going on at Verve, this is it. You know, we tell our leaders, if you think that you can be it, you're now a broken record. Go out into the world and repeat. And so it really does lend, you know, in addition to the intranet, but also with the strength of our leadership team, that unity. There's, there's not a lot of confusion around this, this company. People know what we're doing, and they know why we do it. And when new things come, if we haven't told them explicitly, it's pretty easy for them to infer why.

Kevin Ralofsky 49:25
And it goes beyond the food days, right -- food day on floor 4. Goes way beyond that. And, and Mary's very right about that. And it also, if there is confusion from, you know, somewhere, it's easier to figure out where the confusion is coming from and being able to plug that gap. Because most people, we feel, from at least the key initiatives, are on board -- or at least they hear it. They may not be on board because they maybe not agree with it. Right? We have 2% that are actively disengaged, right, Mary? Two, right just two. However, there is, there is opportunity for us to grow and to be better. And because we have flexed that muscle for so long, and we've gotten pretty good at it, it's easier to find those that are not jiving with what we're talking about. And we can, and we can manage that on an individual basis or a span-of-care basis.

Jim Collison 50:25
That's great. It sounds like a very clear, you know, playbook. In other words, everybody knows the plays, right. And so they can come in confidently, play their, fit their role, which has been kind of maybe designed for them in some ways, right? Fit --

Kevin Ralofsky 50:40
Very much so.

Jim Collison 50:40
Fashioned, however you want to say that, right, from a cultural standpoint, and then they're allowed to do what their, what they do best.

Kevin Ralofsky 50:48
Because of their strengths, Jim, because of their strengths, and we know them, as they settle into their role, we tell them, they're elite. They are hired. And they're not, they're not hired because they have a pulse, and they can breathe. They're specifically designed to work inside of and excel inside of our culture, right, which is a servant-led, strengths-based culture. And they get to understand that as they grow in their, in their career with Verve. Maybe not the first couple of weeks, and they're like, "Yeah, when are we going to be done drinking the Kool-Aid?" And "Is it always this good?" or something like that, right.

Kevin Ralofsky 51:32
Now, at the same time, we have people that opt out, right, the first week, and we sometimes don't make the right decisions, right? I, you know, when I told our, our human resource, our talent development team years ago, "I want to hit a home run every single time when we hire somebody." Right? But I know that, you know, sometimes the ball's caught, right, just, just beyond it going out of the ballpark. And those people, sometimes they just walk away after the first couple days and go, "This is not for me." And we're OK with that. We're totally OK with that. Right? Good for them that they have that, that strength to be able to do that. Because our organization is very, it's very critical, when it comes to looking at that -- strengths-based and, and culture.

Weaving Inclusion Into the Culture

Jim Collison 52:17
Love it. Love it. Let me, let me do one question just before we wrap, and we're kind of coming up on the close of our time. It always goes way too fast. I'm going to put two comments into one. So Skooy, I think, is how I'd pronounce that. I want to take the second half of this and say, it sounds to me like onboarding is a very, very important key element in getting this started for you. Right. And we believe that too, that onboarding is key in getting it going right from Day 1, as well as getting everybody else that's currently there kind of on board. But how does that play in, then, to Ken's question about reaching across equity and diversity and cultural barriers to make everyone feel included and receive, you know, equal economic opportunities? How does that fit? How's the DEI piece fit in for you guys that way with strengths?

Kevin Ralofsky 53:05
Yeah, I will say that we have not like gone full bore into just the whole DEI thing the way that sort of the, the world has gone, because it's already ingrained in our organization right now. Right, we were, I'll say we were doing DEI long before it became a thing, right. And it's because it's really ingrained in that servant-led piece. And when you layer into it, Jim, the strengths side of it, it becomes completely personal, right, individualized. And we talk about it at that level, and we talk about it to our teams and say, We're not going to shift and go a different direction, because we're already going in that direction. We're just doing it under a different veil. Right? Our, our strategy of our organization is already built that way. Mary, if you want to add, please add, add to that.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 53:59
I was gonna say exactly the same thing. I really was. But like, it's already what we do here, right? The simplest definition of culture: what we do here -- those, those repeatable, expected things. DEI is baked into everything that we do, and it's so evident. It's without question. The, the ongoing piece -- How do we celebrate that beyond Day 1? How do we celebrate that beyond onboarding? Right? That really, that really is supported by our monthly one-on-one coaching program. So each team member sits with their servant leader once a month -- you saw a little snippet of that form and that strengths, and our Patch Value Declarations are right at the top of that -- both leader and team member. And those, that form is also tied to one of the 18 behaviors defined in our Anatomy of a Servant Leader.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 54:51
So these, these culture pieces are woven throughout even just that coaching experience. It's I as an individual, as your servant leader am here to support you as an individual in your uniqueness, and those conversations have become very powerful. We have team members that are learning things about themselves and connecting to culture in a way that we never thought possible. But gosh, we sure hoped for it. The, the one-on-one process is such a differentiator for us. And we're so proud of it. And that is what sustains that onboarding feeling through the rest of their tenure at Verve is that the, the joy of celebrating your own strengths and learning and growing in that feeling of, Look at what I get to do here! That coaching program sustains it through the rest of that team-member journey, through that team-member life cycle. And we like to think, even if team members choose to serve elsewhere, that they're a little bit better than when they first came in the door. That, you know, we have served them in a capacity that they can continue to grow, even if it's outside our walls.

Kevin Ralofsky 56:00
I don't know if you caught what she just said, guys, when she said, "I get to do here." That's a real common thing when we talk about our team, and teams, teams talk about their roles: "I get to do this." It's pretty cool. I get to be the CEO, and I truly mean it.

Erika Hunzeker 56:18
I love that. This was such an amazing time. And I wish the time wasn't up already as well. But Mary and Kevin, thank you so much for joining us today and just sharing how you really have taken strengths, engagement and culture to mean something else within Verve and share your stories with the rest of the Gallup community as well.

Kevin Ralofsky 56:39
Thank you.

Mary Gietman Schellinger 56:40
Thank you, and the pleasure is all ours.

Jim Collison 56:42
So great having you. You're gonna probably see a spike in applications to, you know, here in the next couple of weeks, as folks are like, "Oh, I want to work there!" It sounds a lot like the Gallup culture, which is pretty great, Erika. Don't you feel that same --

Erika Hunzeker 56:57

Jim Collison 56:57
Yeah, feel that sameness there and pretty great. Not that it just happens in the beginning, but it's built in and baked in throughout the culture. And so exciting to hear what you guys are going. There's, we should maybe start a rivalry between Vibrant and Verve, you guys, because they're a credit union as well here in the Midwest. I don't know, we can't fight in the parking lot during, you know, the summit or anything like that. But --

Mary Gietman Schellinger 57:19
Oh, no. Iron, iron sharpens iron. Hi, John!

Jim Collison 57:23
They are making a run at it too. John was out in the chat as well. And it's just great to see, it's just great to see this. And congratulations on your great work. And we'll look forward to interviewing you again at some point in time, have you come back on and share best practices. But thanks for your time today and appreciate it. You guys hang tight for me one second; let me close this up. We'll remind everyone to take full advantage of all the resources we do have available now in Gallup Access. Head out to Mary had mentioned the, the Insight Report that's available out there, the Strengths Insight. Many people get that top Sig -- that, the Signature Themes report, but they don't spend much time in the Insight Report. And that is just gold, as Mary talked about here a second ago. So if you haven't done that, go out and get that, get that downloaded and dig into that thing. For coaching, master coaching or if you want to become a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, you can always contact us. Send us an email: coaching -- or if you want us to transform your culture, send us an email: And we get right back to that. Join us on any social platform by searching "CliftonStrengths." And with that, we'll thank you for coming out. Many -- listen, you guys showed up today. I saw many of your employees in the chat room. So thank you, Sarah. And thank Sarah. She was kind of filling in for me as a chat moderator. And so, Sarah, thanks for asking or answering many of the questions that we had out there. If you found this helpful, we'd ask that you'd share it. With that, we'll say, Goodbye, everybody.

Kevin Ralofsky's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Activator, Achiever, Competition, Ideation and Strategic.

Mary Gietman Schellinger's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Futuristic, Woo, Strategic, Restorative and Communication.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:

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