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Commitment to Continuous Improvement at United Federal Credit Union

Getting to Know U: Jennifer CastanedaJennifer Castaneda, Continuous Improvement Specialist

The financial landscape is always changing. As new technologies like mobile banking and AI chatbots emerge, credit unions must keep up to offer members the best experience possible.

At United Federal Credit Union, a frictionless member experience is the inspiration behind our focus on continuous improvement.

For Jennifer Castaneda, her more than 20 years working in the banking industry gives her a unique perspective when it comes to implementing continuous improvement. Jennifer started with United in 2019, and now plays in integral role in advancing progress at the credit union as the Continuous Improvement Specialist. In her current role, she’s led her team through a core conversion, change management initiatives, and more. Jennifer discusses what it means for United to be focused on continuous improvement.

Getting to Know U

Jennifer Castaneda, Continuous Improvement Specialist

How did you come into your role as Continuous Improvement Specialist?

I came into this role based on my prior experiences with leading Six Sigma projects and serving in many different Kaizen teams throughout my career. I am always looking for ways to improve upon things; I have a resilient nature and embrace change willingly. I try not to accept the status quo when I feel there is an easier and better way to approach something.

Part of what I enjoy most about my role is being able to quantify data-driven insights to see the full impact for the value of what our solutions provide. Our directors and business leaders use that data to help them determine strategic initiatives and make better business decisions.

As United focuses on continuous improvement, walk us through what you do in your Continuous Improvement Specialist role?

I am very fortunate to be a part of a team with talented and collaborative employees and empowering leadership. I report to our Director of Enterprise Solutions, Matt Eifler, and we have been working very hard over the last few months to develop the framework behind the Continuous Improvement (CI) program for 2022.

We recently formed a CI Steering Committee and a CI Project Team and actively solicit ideas and feedback from all of Team United. The committee drives the prioritization of which solutions we tackle, based on the needs of the credit union and our members, and the project team works on finding and determining the right solutions. I also calculate and quantify all CI savings (time saved, processed saved, costs saved, etc.) and value-added gains from each solution. I communicate and report out the total amounts saved through our Vice President of Solutions Delivery, Laura Mock, who then updates our Senior Leadership Team of our progress on a quarterly basis.

What does success as a company with continuous improvement mean? How are you helping United move toward CI?

Success as a company with continuous improvement means making continued and consistent, small incremental changes that all together add up to one large change. To rapidly move processes from Point A to Point Z without careful forethought would result in chaos. Continuous improvement looks to change many different processes in small incremental points so that each change is well-managed, well-communicated, and easily understood by employees.

Our IT Solutions Delivery stream also embraces a continuous innovation lifecycle that doesn’t accept an end-point as an end-result. The lifecycle looks to continuously innovate our solutions, deliver them in a timely manner, supports, and optimizes the value back to employees and to our members.

My goal is to help United embrace continuous improvement by using the philosophy of trust when building relationships. I want to ensure that there is a safe space in which Team United can openly talk about challenges and new ideas, and is excited about partnering with CI and other departments to get the results they desire. We always want continuous improvement to be a positive and impactful area within United. We also celebrate our wins and recognize our achievements as a crucial part of the CI culture.

How do you work with other teams to create a continuous improvement culture?

Culture doesn’t change overnight. It takes a village of progress-minded individuals to embrace change in order to properly eliminate waste in their workplace. Waste-in equals waste-out and our employees want to do work that has value. Our senior leaders and management team all share the vision of what continuous improvement aims to achieve. I feel very supported and encouraged by them to continue driving our mission forward for continuous improvement.

To be successful, our Continuous Improvement initiative has to go beyond a shared vision. That’s why we also strive to educate employees on how to look for processes or challenges that take away from their productivity or that are an inefficient use of time. Success for our teams means identifying those problems and then removing those time-wasters so that employees can re-direct their tasks and efforts towards tasks that actually bring value and productivity to improve the member experience.

The real change in culture will occur when employees think “CI first” when approaching problem-solving and can put an accurate measurement behind the savings, even if they don’t use my direct assistance to help them think through the problem.

How do you leverage your member service experience in the financial industry and apply that to your current role?

During my career, I have learned that developing reciprocal long-term relationships with others and gaining trust and respect is the best recipe for meaningful progress. Trust is often gained through a number of incremental promises that are kept over a period of time. This shows someone that you are dependable and that there is value in the expertise you have. My experiences in member service and the financial industry have given me a very unique way of empathizing with the pain points that employees share and guides me in asking the appropriate questions in order to get down to the root cause of an issue. I pull together the big picture of the problem and am empowered to question any gaps that still exist. It really goes back to providing a “Wow” level of service.

Favorite part about working at United:

For me, it’s all about how well our various teams and departments collaborate together in order to solve problems. I also enjoy that employees will seek out others to bounce ideas off of and ensure that they include other stakeholders in finding solutions. There is true teamwork happening within the company when employees realize that we work better together than in silos.

The culture of the company also strongly promotes respect and kindness towards each other. We all work to broaden our understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion, which means representation of people, thoughts, and ideas, while providing a safe-space in which all employees can be their true authentic self. That is extremely important to me, and I love that United has made it a top-priority and a core value.

Interested in joining Team United? Check out our Careers page