May 19 2010

Employee Voice and (Missed) Opportunities for Learning in Credit Unions

Report  
Number  
209

Credit unions, like all businesses, rely on good ideas to solve problems, serve members, and stay relevant. Employee voice is the mechanism for capturing great ideas from across the organization. This report reveals how to encourage, learn from, and use employee voice.

Ethan R. Burris, PhD
Assistant Professor of Management
University of Texas at Austin
James R. Detert, PhD
Assistant Professor of Management
Cornell University
David Harrison, PhD
Professor of Organizational Behavior
The Pennsylvania State University
Report Number 209

Executive Summary

Ideas are the competitive currency of modern business. The extent to which employees speak up and managers capture ideas is, for simplicity’s sake, called voice. This report is a collaboration effort and examines how credit union leaders can encourage voice and find their next big idea. Just as important, it dispels the myth that good ideas come from a certain set of employees. With compelling statistical data, the researchers show that useful ideas bubble up from all parts of the organization.

Erecting a suggestion box is not enough. As credit unions confront more competitive pressures and wade through an uncertain economic swamp, innovative ideas are among the few things that differentiate them. But this research shows that leaders may not be getting good ideas unless they dig for them in multiple ways.

What is the research about?

In one of the most comprehensive surveys of its kind, the researchers worked with 11 credit unions and nearly 4,000 employees. Participants received two separate surveys with questions that sought to gather their ideas for improvement and illuminate both their organization’s receptiveness to voice and how ideas travel in their credit union. The results provide strong empirical direction for how to build a culture full of independent voices within the credit union.

Formal reporting mechanisms aren’t very good at getting ideas to senior leaders. Instead, the researchers show that active solicitation and good follow- up are the best ways to encourage voice. They also show that managers’ actions and behaviors play a much stronger role than employee attitudes or demographics in stimulating voice. Leadership really does matter.

What are the credit union implications?

Whether your credit union’s focus is expense control, membership growth, new business lines, or greater market share, good ideas that are voiced, heard, and implemented are the key to competitive advantage. Without those advantages, credit unions can only offer commodity products and rely on members’ goodwill—not a winning strategy.