Leadership is the order of the day at the Credit Union Executives Society (CUES) CEO/Executive Team Network, taking place this week in Savannah, Ga., with speakers addressing everything from training strategies to HR challenges, the credit union political landscape and much more.
The Truth About Talent
Fortune Magazine Editor-at-Large and author Geoff Colvin told the audience that the difference between those who perform well and those who achieve world-class status is less about a natural, innate gift and more about practice makes perfect. But that's not to say that it's just hard work, he said. It also has to be the right kind of work – something the experts refer to as "deliberate practice." To qualify as deliberate practice it must be something that it tailored specifically to improve performance in a particular area, it pushes one's abilities just slightly beyond what one's current ability, it can be repeated a lot and it include continual feedback.

Two key messages: this is something anyone can do, and it is entirely applicable to credit unions, Colvin said, noting that Elevations CU, Boulder, Colo., has used this method, creating a mock branch that allows the CU to put its employees through simulations on a repeated basis as part of the training regimen.

Winning the War for Talent
Greg Longster, partner at Davies Park Executive Search, Vancouver, B.C., said one of the keys to attracting and retaining top talent is developing a reputation for being an excellent place to work. The first step, he said, is treating all employees really well, such that they will refer friends and family to work there, too. Treating applicants well is also important – communicating with them in a timely fashion throughout the process. "Sometimes you interview someone who just isn't right for that particular job, but then four months later, they're perfect for a new position that has come open – you want them to want to come back when that happens," he said. "You want them coming away from the whole process telling people, 'yeah, it didn't work out, but what a terrific organization.'"

That philosophy should also extend to people who are leaving the organization, Longster said, citing the Deloitte accounting and consulting firm's "alumni club" as an excellent example of a company that maintains strong ties to people who move on to other companies. "And what happens," he asked. "They wind up hiring them back later."

Look for the Under-qualified?
Tony Kirschner, another partner with Davies Park Executive Search, said the primary HR challenges for CUs right now are hiring, performance management and engagement--and the wisdom to recognize the difference. "You can hire Gallup to do an engagement survey of your employees, but that's not engagement," he offered. "Engagement is what happens when you actually do something with the results of that survey." One inexpensive option: strategic mentoring. One counterintuitive way to make the most of this type of mentoring is to hire someone who is actually somewhat under-qualified for the position and then pair that person with a veteran.

One mistake organizations frequently make when they are trying to lay the groundwork for a pipeline of candidates, especially from referrals from existing employees, is to think about who is actively seeking a position. "Don't ask 'who's looking?'" he noted. "Ask, 'who's good?'" The most valuable, viable candidates are often people who are not actively seeking a job, but when a position opens up, it is the active job seekers that others tend to think of when referring someone.

Left, Right and Center?
Veteran CU political pundits Geoff Bacino, partner, Bacino Associates (pictured at left) and John McKechnie, senior partner at Total Spectrum shared the stage to offer their insight into the upcoming election and what's in store for credit unions on the political front. Though from opposite sides of the aisle – Bacino is a Democrat while McKechnie is a Republican – they found a lot of common ground when discussing an election that McKechnie has quipped has become a choice between the evil of two lessers.
A Not Quite Forgone Conclusion?
"Even just a couple of weeks ago, I'd have said there was still a path for [Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump] to win. He had a real shot at winning or at least it'd be close," Bacino said. But in light of the "Access Hollywood" tapes featuring Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women and getting away with it, that's looking less and less likely, he said. "It's tough to come back from that." Still, Trump has managed to survive multiple missteps, Bacino noted, and there's still enough anger at the political establishment that he added, "so, never say never." Still, the bigger question now is what will happen in the Senate, where the Democrats need to win just four seats to wrest the majority away from the GOP.

If that happens, he said, "there will be immense pressure on the Democrats to get something done before the midterm elections in 2018."

Be Careful What You Wish For
Though a Republican who will be voting for Trump, McKechnie agreed that the billionaire’s chances for winning are dwindling, saying he really can't see a path to victory for the GOP's candidate. Looking at what a Clinton victory could mean for credit unions, McKechnie said to look no further than the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency that has quickly unseated the National Credit Union Administration as the most bemoaned of regulator on Capitol Hill.

"The real question is: Can Hillary stand up to the left side of her party – [Sen.] Elizabeth Warren, easily the most influential Democrat in Washington, [Sen. Bernie] Sanders. All the power is to Hillary's left," he said. "If Hillary said, 'Let's do a five-person board for CFPB,' she'd get serious push-back." Bacino agreed, saying he "can't see any realistic scenario where there are significant changes to CFPB."