The Steps CUs Must Take To Change Mindsets And Become Top Performers

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Why is it that the same credit unions seem to appear at the top of the lists of top performers that are featured in The Credit Union Journal every quarter?

And what is it that's keeping your credit union from appearing there? The answers, suggested one expert in all seriousness, lie in something akin to a "mission from God."

Roxanne Emmerich, president of The Emmerich Group and the North American Banking Group, and the author of "Profit Growth Banking: How To Master 7 Breakthrough Strategies of Top-Performing Banks," told WOCCU's International Leadership Institute here that she has learned much from her own experiences as a 20-year CU member and from consulting with banks.

Emmerich noted that nearly all credit unions take the reactionary "Can I help you?" approach of retail stores, even though both they and their members would benefit enormously from instead thinking, "Here's what we can do for you."

"For the longest time you've been in the business of transactions," said Emmerich. "Rarely do you ever think about my financial destiny. I want you to change that mindset. And to do so you must get people engaged."

At no meeting is "credit unionism" discussed more than at a WOCCU conference, but Emmerich challenged attendees to consider what credit unionism and philosophy and the all the rest of it really mean. "Many of our belief systems are not truly ours," she said, pointing to religion as one example. "They are the belief systems of those who came before us. You cannot really understand something until you come to question it. You cannot believe in credit unions until you question it."

In conducting interviews with the CEOs and management at credit unions that are consistent top-performers, Emmerich said, "I found they were on a mission from God, it was their passion to be extraordinary. The journey from head to heart is the longest in the world."

From her research and consulting work, along with lessons learned in her own businesses, Emmerich offered the following advice:

* A mission statement never inspires, but a vision does. "The 'extraordinaries' always have a vision," she said. She said that managers who simply manage by making a list and checking it off as it is accomplished "rob the soul" or employees. She said companies and credit unions that are simply focused on today's goals and financial performance create situations where employee depression sets in.

"Every day people do the same thing. They punch the clock, they do their work, they go home, they watch television, they go to bed, they get up, they go to work, they punch the clock... You never engaged their hearts. That's what a credit union should be about," she suggested. "One CEO told me it's not about work, it's about a mission from God. It's about doing such a good job that people drag their friends in. "

* Emmerich said there should be three elements in every vision (or mission) statement: 1) it's got to be short. If it's more than 10 words, don't bother. 2) It's got to be visual. 3) It answers the question, "Are you of service to others?"

* Emmerich said she has read all kinds of strategic plans that have no strategy at all. "Do you want different results? Have a different strategy. Every top-performing company has a different strategy."

* A successful credit union must have positioning. "Saying you're a credit union is not enough. You must have positioning that says 'We're worth coming to,' " she stated. "You need a clear, definitive reason for people to talk to you. Marketing is about getting people to talk. In credit unions we market to the lake-the fish are in the fishing hole. There are some members who love us and will tell the world about us, and that's who we need to get to. Some of the top banks don't spend any money on advertising, they spend it on marketing to their best clientele. As a credit union member for 20 years all I've ever received is glossy brochures. I never received a personalized letter that asked, 'How are you going to pay for the college education for those kids of yours?'"

Emmerich said that in one effort her firm called all the banks in Wisconsin, asking, "I have $5,000 to invest, what are your rates?" Ninety-five percent of the time, according to Emmerich, the response was to give the rates and hang up the phone. With credit unions, she noted, "Mortgage companies have better rates most of the time than you do, so why don't you train your employees to ask one question: 'Are you looking for the best rate, or the best value, because there's a difference.' "

Who are the most effective leaders? "It is the ones who are constantly just a little paranoid, who are saying we've got to get better and we've got to get better fast. They make things happen."

Demonstrating that people are people and work is work all over the world, Emmerich elicited a round of laughter by asking, "How many of you here are wishing that someone back at the credit union would just quit while you are here? This person is an energy vampire; they pull it away. We get calls from financial institutions saying 'Our people are just order-takers.' It's not the people; it's the management team."

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