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Culture University


By: Jim Struble

Culture University

Culture University Zoom Class

The picture is of one of a series of classes that recently happened at Electro, the seeds of which were planted years ago in another state while at another company. It is something I am very proud of, but also hesitant to share, as it is a very vulnerable thing to do!

About six years ago, inspiration struck me like a bolt of lightning. I wanted to foster a credit union culture that revolved around one simple word, "Challenge." It sounds made up, a way to get someone to read a blog, but it's true when I say I remember the exact moment it hit me. I was on the corner of 5th Avenue and Harrison Street in Seattle, having just walked out of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and I stopped in my tracks with the thought. I wanted to be part of a company that gears itself to challenge its employees and its community to improve.

A few moments in life like this define you for years and decades to come, and you remember them forever. Others in my life include; stepping out of my father's car and onto the campus of St. Olaf for the first time and knowing instantly it was the right choice for me, asking my wife to marry me, learning about each of our impending babies being on the way, and getting the call letting me know that I was the front-runner for a job here in St. Louis.

The moment in Seattle was a life-changing moment for me, not because it was such a great idea, but because I acted upon it in an "all in" fashion. My home office at the time was a 12x8 office/laundry room/dog kennel, and the previous home's owner left behind what became my chair and desk. In the years that followed, I spent countless hours, hundreds of sticky notes, dozens of books, and multiple journals sketching out what I believed should be how a company culture could help everyone in it guide actions and reactions.

Those countless hours led to my role as Electro’s CEO and have been followed up by additional hundreds of hours writing a book titled Powerful Culture - The Electro Culture Playbook. I've never written a book before, and I have no idea how Amazon users would rate it if it were available to the public. Still, each Electro leader of people or departments has read it and been part of the “Culture University” freshman class at the credit union.

Culture University walks our staff through each aspect of our culture, including the research and data behind the decisions. It follows the fictional story of Lisa, a new employee at a fictional company, who encounters the negative repercussions of an undefined work culture. The class spent roughly 90 minutes discussing each chapter and are now working on their graduation projects. To graduate from Culture U, an employee must work alone or in a group to conceptualize, develop, and finally run a project that enhances Electro’s culture. Essentially, they are challenged to find something at Electro that doesn't match the culture and address how to realign it to the culture or create something new that reinforces it. When complete, each will own part of Electro’s culture, as will all employees as they complete and graduate from Culture University.

"What would you do if you weren't afraid?" is one of my favorite inspirational quotes and one I try to live by. It's a scary proposition to give others the power to change and morph what you have spent years crafting, but this isn't my company. It is OUR company. In the end, Electro's culture has nothing to do with me but everything to do with our team of employees. Their dreams, experiences, and ideas will drive the Electro culture forward, not mine. For that, I thank them!