What's Wrong With This Picture? It's Likely You Already Know

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Any regular reader of Ann Landers or Dear Abby is frequently struck by how often people write for advice on problems they could solve themselves.

Dr. Randy Harrington has had something of a similar experience in recent years as he's traveled about the country speaking to and consulting with credit unions. Harrington, principal with the Eugene, Ore.-based Extreme Arts & Sciences, is well known to many as among the most enlightening and entertaining (enlightaining, maybe) presenters to various CU meetings. He frequently uses the types of multisyllabic words one expects of a Ph.D in the same sentence as the word "cool," and can be both serious and funny while expressing a thought.

Among those recent thoughts has been observations related to the roadblocks so often in the way at credit unions attempting to implement new strategies. Harrington would find himself called in by a CEO or board that had brainstormed up a solid plan to get the credit union ship-shape, only to find the plan stuck in drydock. Seeking to get to the root of the issue, Harrington would seek to provoke figurative discussion over "What's wrong with this picture."

Now he and Extreme Arts are getting quite literal, having created a "What's wrong with this picture" picture, if you will. The 24x36" poster seeks to represent "Every Credit Union" and a host of pains related to attempting to improve service to members.

"It's been amazing," said Harrington. "We lay it down on the table and ask, what's wrong with this picture and how can we fix it. It's been a remarkable tool. People see so much more in the poster that even we didn't see when we were designing it. The most cool thing is this goes all the way down to the teller level. They see what needs to happen to solve the problem. Their answers are so intelligent, so strategic and so holistic. The neat thing is if you look at the poster everyone in the poster is doing what they think is right. The question is how to fix the credit union. People start to speak to the culture and strategy rather than individuals and politics. There's a far more integrated response."

Harrington suggested that what trips up most credit unionsj3 in implementing projects are twofold.

"The first is a lack of strategic messaging from the CEO and the board level," he said. "The CEO forms the strategy, but the question becomes how to pitch that internally. Often it's like oil floating on top of water. There is never a blend as there should be. The second is that most credit union projects now are very complex. They require a huge amount of interdepartmental cooperation. It's no longer just marketing or IT or ops. You see things from your department level, but you must see it across departments. That's what we see the high-performing credit unions do well. Those that are not high performing often fail here."

The other failing, he said, is in developing a strategy that impresses the Harvard Business Review, but fails the employee review. "There is a recognition that you must have a clear strategy for both the people in the credit union and the members," he said. "The strategy must be consumable; that means it must be retellable. You must know how to relate it to all worlds."

Harrington said using the poster allows people to see at a glance some big issues and to articulate what they "know in their bones." Part of that, he said, is the other piece of educational psychology in which images are used more like a mirror. "People realize that most of the time they already knew what they needed to do, but needed to be able to see it. This kind of image-based piece sparks imagination."

When asked if a consultant meeting with senior management only to talk about communication gaps between layers of the credit union isn't something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, Harrington readily agreed. That's why, he said, there's been something of an evolution in Extreme Arts' focus on "training the trainer."

"We like to get four or five people for 45 minutes to an hour," said Harrington, who has developed a workbook to go with the new poster. "But what we try to do is teach them to teach it so they take it to the department level. They learn how to manage the psychology of this and how to get the most out of people. Then it's no longer some outside consultant, but their own people doing it."

Of course, you don't have to fix your own problems. When it comes to "what's wrong with this picture," your management team can always seek an answer on Jerry Springer.

Frank J. Diekmann is editor of The Credit Union Journal. He can be reached at fdiekmann cujournal.com.

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