Innovation goes to our roots, beginning with the handful of original employees who had the bright idea to establish Grow Financial as the first credit union dedicated to serving the civilian and military personnel of MacDill Air Force Base. Why? Because until 1955, no one else in Tampa Bay thought of doing so. Today, the bright ideas just keep coming from our employees. Grow conducts an annual Innovation Challenge, where teams compete for cash prizes in a format similar to “Shark Tank,” presenting actionable proposals for improving our services to a panel of judges representing business units within the credit union.
A progressive corporate culture plants the seeds of success for Grow Financial Federal Credit Union.
It’s just one way to answer a question we constantly ask ourselves: How can we do better? As a local financial cooperative up against bigger players in the highly competitive consumer banking marketplace, innovation has been our growth strategy from the start.
And it’s always been about the experience of our members, making connections with the lives we touch.
That connection can take the form of an app that enables our members to conduct their banking business conveniently and securely. Or by designing store interiors to create a welcoming, comfortable environment. Or by being a participating sponsor at events important to the community, such as Tampa Pride and the St. Jude Walk/Run.
“We’re probably bigger than we would be if we had not taken some risks,” said Bob Fisher, who has been Grow’s CEO since 1993. He cited two recent examples: the expansion into South Carolina, where the credit union has five stores serving the Columbia/Charleston areas; and allocating more marketing dollars to non-traditional channels, reaching out to younger members where they are via social media.
At Grow Financial, innovation is driven by the need to stay relevant, and that’s simply doing what matters most for the membership.
The Innovation Challenge is just one example of employees embracing the Grow mantra: Be Bold. Be Great. Have Fun. “That didn’t come from a book,” said Thomas Feindt, President of Grow Financial. “It didn’t come from a consultant. It came from conversations with employees about what makes us a great place to work.”
Employees also express their opinions about Grow during another annual event, the Top Workplaces survey of companies conducted by the Tampa Bay Times. More than 70% of Grow employees regularly participate, and this year, the credit union finished first among large employers (500 or more employees).
What’s the secret?
“We put our employees at the top of the list,” said Mr. Fisher. “We have members to take care of, but if I don’t have happy employees, that’s not going to happen.”
Yes, Grow does offer a competitive salary and comprehensive benefits. However, money alone doesn’t guarantee happy employees. Special emphasis is placed on professional development, and on fostering a culture where diversity is welcomed.
Most important of all is communication. “Keeping the Lines Open” is one of our key Guiding Principles. Management maintains transparency through such venues as live, bi-weekly “Text the Exec” sessions, in addition to regular updates via email and an internal video magazine.
“Nothing beats strong communication,” said Mr. Fisher, “to keep employees engaged.”
The digital revolution is driving the pace of change in consumer banking, so in 2013, we decided to get ahead of change by improving communication between teams and more effectively connecting the strategic goals of the organization with the daily, tactical execution of the business units.
Grow went Agile, embracing this project management system originating from Silicon Valley.
In the Agile methodology, departments work in two-week “sprints.” Projects are prioritized according to organizational goals, then broken down by tasks. Teams give daily progress updates and at the end of the sprint, completed work is submitted for review by the stakeholders.
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Agile is proving to be especially advantageous for identifying and resolving issues early on, and for ensuring constant communication and continuous integration between departments. Here again, the emphasis is on transparency, with Agile enabling the rapid exchange of ideas and inspiring innovative problem-solving.
“By adopting Agile,” said Mr. Feindt, “we now have a better sense of connection between our VP level group and our senior executives around what are the key initiatives that are important to the organization. Projects are getting done faster, and employees are a lot happier.”