Ex-Members Aren't Result of 'Strategic Necessities'

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I've been thinking a lot about strategic differentiation lately. I'm not obsessing (yes I am, no I'm not, yes I am, no I'm not), but man, this one is hard to shake loose from the ol' gray matter. Not since my girls started getting calls from boys have I been so focused on one subject. (OOPS, I lied. The Rams losing in last year's Super Bowl caused me some sleepless, mind-numbing nights as well.)

In many business/boardroom discussions, so much of what we do is framed as "different," but I beg to differ. I'm of the opinion that most of what we do is not different from our competition at all. This gives even greater rise to the need for "strategic differentiation." Now, before I get 732 e-mails on my political incorrectness, let it be known that I'm not talking credit union governance, volunteerism, philosophy or mission. I'm talking about what the average member measures when deciding between us and the hundreds of other intermediaries from which to choose. Let's call it where the "rubber meets the road."

Let's go back in the boardroom for a second. I think "strategic necessity" would more aptly describe the critical mass of our focus as it relates to most of our planning. But while the iteration about the necessity is important, it is equally important that ongoing discussion center on our differences. So what is it that separates us from the pack of wolves more commonly known as our competition?

It's our people. It's got to be our people. Other components of our operation can be duplicated, emulated, and copied verbatim. Competition can get their hands around our locations, products, distribution systems, pricing, etc., etc. However, our corporate culture (culture is an "execu-psychobabble" synonym for people) is free and clear of duplication.

As a potential member, I may become interested in joining your esteemed institution because of one of the many "strategic necessities" alluded to earlier. However, once I've joined, I'll want something deeper, something more to keep me in tow. Let's call it a relationship. Let's call it an experience.

Credit unions would be well served to get out of the transaction processing business ASAP, and get into the relationship building business PRONTO! Relationships are not with locations, products, pricing, or delivery systems.they are with people.

As a member, one looks for service and advice. They look for positive experiences, they want compassion, empathy, consideration, respect, equitable treatment, and a concerted effort to be thought of in a higher regard all the time, every time, 100% of the time.

A ringing testament to this need for a strong relationship lies in a recent statistic that speaks to the fact that members quit the credit union not because of the "strategic necessities" we spoke of earlier, rather the feeling that no one cared about their situation, nor did anyone take the appropriate steps to understand the scope of their concerns.

Too many times we get all discombobulated in what's at the heart of importance. We get so focused on our work that we lose sight of our jobs. Work? We all know what work is. That's the stuff that keeps us from having weekends every day. It can get tough and we can become jaded just doing work all the time.

But our jobs.that's a different story. Our job is creating experiences, providing service and advice, and building deep relationships. That's much more exciting, challenging and fun.

Too many times we fall in love with policies and use people. (You might want to read that sentence again. It's what kills businesses. See Montgomery Ward). It's not good that we gravitate to our love for policies over people, but that's our comfort level. That's work. That's where we spend the majority of our time. Too many times we can't wait to quote policy at the risk of hurting a relationship. You're kidding, right? Now is the time for a little introspection.

Wouldn't we be much smarter businesspersons if we focused on our jobs, rather than our work? Wouldn't we take a big step in that direction if we started loving people and using policies (quite a difference there)? Never has the time been better than to focus on what makes your operation different.

My guess is you want to grow your credit union and be successful. That given, the new mantra should be "Viva Strategic Differentiation."

After all nobody shrinks into greatness. "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" was funny. "Honey I Shrunk the Credit Union" is not.

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