If you work with Lori Drummond, you’ll quickly discover that she wants to know what you think. While she’s interested in what you believe Olympia Federal Savings is doing well, even more so, Lori would love to hear what the organization could be doing better. “We have to continue to strive for excellent communication,” says Drummond, the bank’s president. “It’s the most important thing, not just among management but for everyone.”
Her approach is clearly working. Recently, Drummond was named as a Distinguished Leader by the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce and will be recognized at an awards ceremony on January 25, 2017. The event honors leaders who demonstrate outstanding initiative, inspire others, and make a significant impact in our community and beyond.
It’s not Drummond’s – or the bank’s – first award. In 2015, the South Sound Business Examiner recognized her as a Woman of Influence; OlyFed is regularly cited as one of the top 10 places to work regionally and was named one of the top 100 best places to work in Washington State in 2015.
So what’s the secret to their success? An empowering and supportive company culture driven by systems that aim for constant improvement, along with a commitment to investing substantial resources in the communities they serve.
Drummond credits her mentors with providing tools she still uses today. After starting in the company as a receptionist more than 33 years ago, she rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the bank’s first female president in 110 years. “I had great mentors that expected a lot,” she says. “In a leadership position, when you expect something of someone and you follow through, maintain accountability, and reward achievement, you will have success. That’s what worked with me.”
In her current role, she challenges her team to take on demanding tasks, but also asks them what they need to be successful. “It’s not always what someone else might think,” she says. “Make sure you ask and don’t assume.”
Acknowledgement is ingrained in OlyFed’s culture. Sometimes, it’s as simple as saying thank you. “I don’t think it’s a hard thing to do, but you have to remember how important it is,” says Drummond. “You have to make sure to let people know how much you appreciate them.” To that end, the company encourages staff to nominate their peers for recognition, and holds quarterly celebrations that honor both those employees and others who have achieved corporate goals. “We try to have fun with it,” she explains. “We have high expectations and we say ‘thank you’ quite a bit.”
She’s created other systems designed to facilitate feedback and healthy communication. Several years ago, Drummond began holding a monthly round table breakfast to which every employee in their ‘anniversary month’ of their hire date was invited. “Our Human Resources Officer would cook breakfast and then we’d just talk for about an hour and a half,” says Drummond. “There were between 5 and 15 people every month the first year.”
Initially she noticed that everyone wanted to talk to her about what was working. That was great, she told them, but tell me about things that stop you from being the best at your job or that may affect your ability to be successful in volunteering or spending time with your family. “It’s great to hear the things we could do better,” she says. “We make a list and we say it back to them. ‘This is what we heard. Did we get it right?’ Then we work to improve those things.”
Through those breakfasts she’s been able to identify communication breakdowns and other issues that would have otherwise remained unnoticed. “I have to look at why something isn’t resonating or why I’m hearing one thing from management and a different thing from employees,” she says. “It’s interesting to hear from the people who are on the front lines, what their challenges are.”
The company also offers a chance to provide feedback through ‘Improve OlyFed,’ a system where employees have the option of anonymously submitting suggestions. “We have an electronic file so everyone can see the suggestions and what we’re doing with them,” says Drummond.
When it comes to community projects, OlyFed’s position as a mutual company allows it to make longer term investments than most stock held companies. “We’re accountable to our customers, our employees, and our community,” she says. “When you’re a mutual, you can invest today and have a lesser bottom line for a few years so you can have a successful future.”
That’s made decisions like opening a new branch in Yelm simpler. “We looked at Yelm and said, ‘We want to be a presence there and show a commitment to that community,’” says Drummond. “We built a branch that has room for seminars and community events, where we can let community groups use space. We thought that was a better use than building a small branch and keeping those costs down. But if that return had to be this year, we probably wouldn’t have done that.”
While she was still working in the marketing and administrative branch of OlyFed, Drummond recommended to the board that the company designate a certain percentage of its funds toward community philanthropy every year. Today, such practices are more common among financial institutions but at the time the concept was relatively new. The board agreed to no less than 5%, a number the bank has far exceeded in recent years even during the recession. “Some non-profit organizations needed a little more help in those years,” she says. “We were probably closer to 15% in total dollars given to the community.”
In 2017 OlyFed will continue to expand its microbusiness program and aims to invest more in commercial real estate. “We want to be a bigger player in that arena because that’s really reinvesting in our community,” says Drummond. “We’re looking at projects that are bringing businesses to the different communities that we serve.”
Meanwhile, she has an awards ceremony to attend. “The award from the chamber is really a team award,” she maintains. “It’s about having great people around you that makes it all work. We have a great management team and it’s easy to come to work every day because of their support and dedication.”
For more information on Olympia Federal Savings, visit www.olyfed.com.