Oregon Community Bank is built on feedback

Each week, department heads meet at Oregon Community Bank to discuss ideas and get updates from members of their teams.

Senior management at Oregon Community Bank lead with the aid of ideas and comments they’ve collected from staff. These efforts have led the community bank to explore new initiatives and to grow significantly.

By William Atkinson

Name: Oregon Community Bank
Assets: $520 million
Location: Oregon, Wis.

While many community banks form strategy through discussions in executive meetings, $520 million-asset Oregon Community Bank in Oregon, Wis., develops and implements a large number of initiatives from listening to employees. “The first thing I did when I joined the bank was to have individual meetings with all of our colleagues,” says president and CEO Steve Peotter.

Besides asking staff the standard questions like, “Tell me about yourself,” and “Why do you like working here?” Peotter asked more penetrating and meaningful questions, such as, “What are we not doing now that we should consider doing as an organization?”

“As a result, I began to get feedback from day one,” he says.

While he received a lot of good ideas during these early interactions, there were two in particular that continued to be mentioned over and over again. “One was that we should enhance our community giving efforts by donating to worthy causes and that we should also celebrate and publicize these efforts,” Peotter says. “The other was that we should work more proactively to tell our story and invite more people to bank with us.”

Quick stat


of workers think their manager lacks team-building skills

Source: 2019 Predictive Index survey

If you look at Oregon Community Bank now, both of these ideas have become cornerstones of its strategies. “One of our major areas of focus is on community giving and then celebrating these efforts,” Peotter says. “And, in terms of telling our story more proactively, this suggestion was what led us to launch our business development initiative.”

He and other members of senior management continually solicit new ideas from employees at all levels of the community bank. “I am a big believer in scheduled one-on-one discussions between leadership and colleagues,” he says. On a weekly basis, department heads meet with their teams in a formal setting to discuss updates and ongoing projects. “These meetings always lead to feedback,” Peotter adds.

In fact, every meeting agenda ends with the bullet point “other.” During this time, leaders pose the question: “Is there anything else that is on anyone’s mind that they want to talk about?”

Putting words into action

This approach was formalized as a result of a new cross-departmental committee created this year. The Innovation and Implementation Committee includes representatives from all areas of the community bank.

The committee meetings involve open-format brainstorming, which is the “innovation” component of it, Peotter says. “We ask questions, such as, ‘What should we do differently as an organization?’” Ideas relate to technology, products and even the community bank’s operating hours.

“We ask questions, such as, ‘What should we do differently as an organization?’”
—Steve Peotter, Oregon Community Bank

If this is all the committee did, though, it would be relatively meaningless, according to Peotter.

“If all you do is ask for ideas and then respond with, ‘Yeah, we should get to that someday,’ the whole concept has very little value,” he says. “Good ideas that are never implemented have no value.”

As a result, the committee focuses on actionable items to realize employee feedback.

“A key part of this is that we involve the people who suggest the ideas in actually moving their ideas forward and implementing them,” Peotter says. “They find this to be very rewarding and empowering.”

Here’s one example. The retail banking team felt strongly about creating a credit card program with rewards. “People want to have a sense of pride banking with us and want to carry our local community bank card,” he says. “However, a lot of people weren’t interested in it because we didn’t offer rewards.” The bank now offers a robust rewards program with its business and consumer credit cards.

Another is when the mortgage team heard from customers who wanted to purchase homes that cost more than the standard Fannie Mae or Freddy Mac loan amounts. To address this, the team went out and began looking for a good partner with which to engage in jumbo financing and then introduced a very competitive, low-rate jumbo financing option. “We have introduced this to great success,” Peotter says.

Recognizing success

At the end of the year, colleagues come together to celebrate their successes both large and small, a celebration that is itself planned with feedback from an employee survey. “As a result, in the last two years, we have had the highest attendance that we have ever had at these events,” Peotter says. “Then, after each event, we send out another survey asking what they liked and then ask for some new ideas on what we should do next year.”

Peotter credits Oregon Community Bank’s growth in large part to the success of his colleagues’ ideas. “And, as we continue to grow, one of the benefits of the growth is having more and more colleagues who can provide new and innovative ideas,” he adds.

When Oregon Community Bank began soliciting staff for ideas, many were skeptical that the bank would ever do anything with them. But asking for feedback didn’t mean the bank had to implement everything, Peotter says. It just meant the bank was committed to exploring ideas and operating transparently.

He has a recommendation for banks considering a similar approach. “If you ask for ideas and feedback, first acknowledge that you have received these ideas,” he says. “Then, do something with them.”

William Atkinson is a writer in Illinois.