‘We’re always looking at clever ways of doing business’

Great Southern Bank’s CPO on successful employee engagement initiatives

‘We’re always looking at clever ways of doing business’

Employee engagement is a key area of focus at Great Southern Bank, one of the largest customer-owned banks in Australia.

Speaking with HRDTV, Great Southern Bank’s chief people officer Tracey Lake highlighted some of the company’s employee engagement programs. The strategy begins by clearly defining the company’s culture and how they want people to show up.   

“We’ve run a behavioural initiative that helps team members understand our values and what our show up behaviours look like,” she said. “That’s embedded in our performance processes and our everyday conversations. We also talk about what we are like when we’re at our best.”

Clever ways of working for engagement

Another facet of engagement that the organisation looks at is clever ways of working.

“As a bank, we’re always looking at clever ways of doing business for our customers,” Lake said. “We thought, ‘Well we need clever ways of working as team members.’ So we set about some really clearly defined initiatives there and that actually incorporated hybrid ways of working as well.”

This also involved looking at ways to meet more efficiently and effectively, such as having 25-minute meetings instead of 30-minute ones to allow employees to have micro breaks.

“We also have focus time each Wednesday as well,” Lake added. “So three hours for our professional staff and at least one hour for our branches and our contact centres. And that allows our team members to have some really quality time focused, and not just in meetings, so that they can work on very dedicated projects and programs where you need some deep concentrated thinking time.”

One final element that comes with comes with engagement is having fun.

“We actually made an effort to say, ‘How do we want to keep some fun activities in the work that we do’?” Lake said in the video.

These have included virtual trivia, celebrating Pride month and other diversity initiatives, and celebrating other teams as well.

“We celebrate each other and share one another’s team ideas for how we are bringing about fun within the workplace,” Lake said. 

Engagement during the pandemic

Great Southern Bank’s focus on engagement continued even during the pandemic. Lake said the bank fared really well during that time.

“Our team members have been incredibly resilient through that period,” she said. “We’ve all had to adapt, whether it’s in the way in which we work and serve our customers. So we’ve certainly done that and continue to adapt post pandemic as well.

“[It’s about] thinking about the various service offerings that we have, not only for customers but for team members. What’s important to them in terms of benefits, the way we offer flexible work practices and even how we organise ourselves both in terms of the buildings in which we are located and catering for hybrid working, as well as the initiatives to make day-to-day work easier for team members.”  

In 2021 Great Southern Bank rebranded from Credit Union Australia, a significant decision that also happened during the pandemic.

“That decision was taken during COVID and so we were not only helping our team members manage through a pandemic and change the ways in which they work, but also come onboard this journey of being part of this new brand, but still respecting our heritage of over 70 years,” Lake said.

Impressive engagement benchmarks

Over the past four years, the bank has been able to reach a global standard of engagement.

“We’re at the 74th percentile globally for engagement now,” she said. “We’re up in the 84th percentile of Australian workplaces for Gallup.”

And during that period, the company worked to refine their leaders and team members’ understanding of engagement.

“They have engagement scores down to team level and action plans down to team level as well,” Lake said.

The company also has engagement champions who are involved in the engagement journey.

“People at all grassroots levels of our organisation are engagement champions and they support the people and culture [team], and the leaders to really deliver world-class engagement,” she said.

When asked what advice she would bring to emerging HR practitioners hoping to forge a successful career in the industry, Lake began with the idea of disruption.

“If I reflect on my career, it has been about not sitting in the comfort zone but taking those opportunities to disrupt or do more,” she said. “So whether it’s new projects on top of the ordinary role, whether it’s secondments, perhaps taking an interstate move or a global move, doing those things and disrupting yourself I think really enables you to become a better HR professional.”


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