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The Official Baldrige Blog

How a Role-Model Nonprofit Nurtures Employee Performance

Photo of ECU presentation on Category 5 at Baldrige Program's Quest Conference

Elevations Credit Union Leaders Share Workforce Practices at the Baldrige Program’s 27th Quest for Excellence Conference.

If you want to foster talent and ultimately grow leaders in your organization, “culture is key.” That’s what you can learn from Baldrige Award-winning Elevations Credit Union.

And that was a core message of the organization’s chief operating officer Jay Champion and chief human resources officer Annette Matthies as they recently shared best practices to support, engage, and develop employees during the Baldrige Program’s annual Quest for Excellence® conference.


The Boulder, Colorado-based nonprofit started out in 1952 as a small credit union on the campus of Colorado University. Today it has 332 employees and serves more than 106,000 customers at 11 branches. Yet an employee interviewed on video said the organization “still feels small” due to its cohesive culture. Using skier skill levels as an analogy, Champion and Matthies defined the credit union’s performance levels for workforce-focused practices as follows:

  1. Beginner: Invigorating our culture
  2. Intermediate: Differentiating through training
  3. Advanced: Nurturing talent
  4. Expert: Growing leaders

Beginner Level: Invigorating the Culture

After Elevations embraced the Baldrige Excellence Framework to improve its performance several years ago, the organizational culture was an initial focus area. Elevations already had defined its mission, vision, and values when it began using the Baldrige framework, explained Matthies. But those foundational elements of culture were not well-known by employees, she said. “I couldn’t tell you what the values were back in 2009,” she admitted.

Integrity. Respect. Passionate. Creativity. Driven by Excellence. Today it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Elevations employees not to be familiar with those core values. They are printed on employees’ badges, visible on employees’ computer screen savers, incorporated into new-employee orientation, and used during the hiring process as a screen for job applicants’ “fit” with the organizational culture, said Champion.

What’s more, 25 percent of employees’ performance evaluation is based on their adherence to the organization’s core values. The core values matter so much that the organization has let some employees go for not adhering to them, said Champion. “When you do that,” he pointed out, “you show what’s important.”

At the same time, having fun and volunteering in the community are supported by the organization’s vision. That vision includes the statements “We are known for the good work we do in the community,” and “We are sought out as THE preferred employer.” “We take our fun seriously,” said Champion, adding that Elevations has found that this “drives results” in the areas of both employee and customer engagement. Having fun at work improves employees’ engagement, which leads to greater customer loyalty, he said.

Because “volunteering is a big part of who we are,” according to Matthies, every Elevations employee gets two paid days off from work to volunteer in the community. Last year alone, Elevations employees performed 4,000 hours of community service. Champion said this has been a draw for millennial-age employees.

Intermediate Level: Differentiating through Training

Results for annual employee surveys in 2011 and 2012 showed that Elevations needed a better staff training program. According to Champion, the training overhaul that followed was “the equivalent of a heart transplant.” The result is a month-long training program with a “Mock Branch 2.0” simulated work environment for new hires. At the end of each training week, a live assessment is conducted to measure participants’ learning.

“We invest four whole working weeks in every employee’s training,” stressed Champion. And “it wasn’t cheap,” said Matthies of the $400,000 Elevations invested to build the intensive onboarding program. But training improvements confirmed by “hard data” show the return on the organization’s investment, she affirmed.

Advanced and Expert Levels: Nurturing Talent and Growing Leaders

Elevations supports employees’ ongoing development by investing in their professional certifications and providing individual coaching for both performance improvement and career development. “Millennials love this,” said Matthies. “They want more frequent feedback than older employees [want].” The current improvement focus, she said, is to ensure that all employees feel that their supervisors take an interest in helping them advance their careers. “We’re going to hold supervisors accountable to having development conversations,” she said.

To advance performance in what Champion referred to as the “final skiing lesson,” the objective of Elevations’ practices to develop employees is “growing leaders.” Reflecting the organization’s value proposition for employees, he said, the focus is on “building careers, not just jobs.” 




About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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