The Four Keys To Creating A Strong Future For CUs

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Credit unions remain at a critical juncture, at a critical time, and all too often, in a critical state. Nay-sayers abound: "We're at the end of the maturation cycle." "We're a dying industry." "There's no way out."

Enough already. It's time to change. It's time to make shift happen.

Effective change requires applying fundamental principles. My doctoral research on successful organizations internationally suggests four such keys: In order they are:

1) Focus

2) An engaging Employee Experience

3) An exceptional Member Experience

4) Relevant Distinction in the marketplace.

A fifth core principle (#5), of course, is financial viability, however the first four dramatically impact number five.

Key opportunity: Identify your core challenge(s) at your credit union. Aside from loan losses and a dearth of investment opportunities (Key #5), the balance likely stem from problems with one (or more) of the four components above. Identify the challenge; focus on change.

Stephen Covey makes the critical point: If you want to change the way people act, change the way they think. We can't keep acting the same and hoping for different results. We need to think

• We need to re-focus (and stop trying to be everything to everyone).

• We need to create an exceptional employee experience, to get engaged, motivated team members working toward a focus they understand.

• This in turn will help create the exceptional member experience (as the member experience is built on the employee experience).

• And finally, we need to use the renewed focus to create relevant differentiation in the marketplace.

We need to say "No" more often. We need our CU associates to all be working toward a core cause or calling that energizes us in the morning. We need to Make Shift Happen to a new way of thinking and acting based on core principles. Not just a new way of doing things; a new way of being. A paradigm shift.

For example, credit unions must move from focusing on extrinsic motivators (compensation, benefits, perks), and even beyond intrinsic motivators (that which internally drives individuals). Credit unions must develop a focused, passionate purpose-one that the entire team can understand, fully support, and implement. Credit unions must develop a cause or calling that pulls and pushes everyone to achieve. This is a higher form of motivation; this is transcendent motivation, an inspiration that leverages and supersedes the prior two.

Transcendent motivation is born of a real and focused mission. Transcendent motivation is fueled by a clear and focused culture. Transcendent motivation is actualized through a powerfully compelling brand.

We need to change our paradigms. For example, this means we need to stop thinking selling, and start thinking relationship building. We must stop doing transactions, and start creating experiences. We even need to move beyond the transactional model, and even beyond the retail model to one of hospitality, where we welcome members as guests. The retail model is where customers buy stuff and leave. The hospitality model is where guests get comfortable, build relationships, and stay.

And finally we need to change our understanding of the relationship of culture to brand. As its essence, branding can be defined as the perceptions held about your credit union in the minds of your members. Culture, at its essence, is the perceptions held about your credit union in the minds of your staff. Culture is to your employees as branding is to your membership. Culture, in fact, can be thought of as your internal brand. These two sides of the same coin must be consistent, must work together and must support each other for either to succeed. How consistent are your internal and external brands?

For example, sales culture programs (as part of the external brand) typically fail, because the internal brand (culture) does not support it.

So re-focus your institution. Expect more from associates, in part by saying, "No," to the endless array of unfocused projects, and allow your team to be un-scattered by less. Create an exceptional member experience in your areas of focus. And let your focus drive the creation of powerful differentiation in the marketplace.

Neil Goldman, CEO of Goldman Consulting & Strategy, is a leadership and organizational development consultant. He can be reached at or 310-643-5910.

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