I typically work with mid-sized credit unions – which I loosely define as having $50-$500 million in assets. My focus is there as I believe these institutions are at a critical juncture in their existence. Over the last several years the “great divide” between those credit unions that are growing and profitable and those who aren’t has become alarming. While asset size isn’t the sole indicator of a credit unions likelihood of continuing existence it seems to be the most consistent. To remain healthy in the world today requires an ability to foresee and then adapt to change. Creating a future vision that differentiates you from the crowd and improves your odds at survival seems to me to be the easier task. Actually implementing and executing upon the vision requires you to develop and sustain a high-performing organization. Regardless of your asset size the vast majority of credit unions are in desperate need to undertake major organizational initiatives. Transforming your processes to take advantage of technology – both from a member and a staff perspective, overhauling of physical locations, and upgrading your brand to attract the borrowers who will drive income over the next decade are all of critical importance. These significant undertakings can’t be accomplished successfully without a high performing culture where great expectations are achieved by overcoming inertia. If you’re ready to transform here are some suggestions to consider.
Focus Has to Begin & End with the Membership
Simply put, the reason for your existence needs to stay front & center. What we are all striving to produce is greater engagement and participation from your largest group of stakeholders – the membership. Uniting around this common cause can help eliminate departmental silos and create a very effective filter for prioritization and decision making. Executing upon a vision that creates tangible positive benefits in the communities you serve creates an emotional bond among team members that can propel you to greater levels of performance. Leadership and change authority John Kotter states “Leaders who know what they are doing will “aim for the heart.” They will connect to the deepest values of their people and inspire them to greatness. They will make the business case come alive with human experience, engage the senses, create messages that are simple and imaginative, and call people to aspire.”
Apple doesn’t have the highest market value because it’s a great technology company; it simply understands it exists to provide solutions that make people’s lives easier and creates memorable experiences. Translate the social mission of your credit union similarly – to provide financial services in a manner which provides ease, security and contentment to your members.
Setting the Pace for Genuine Transformation
In my definition a high performing organization is one that has established a rhythm or pace for successfully incorporating change that results in real, measured progress – not anxiety and burnout. Be honest about your resources and capabilities, but determined to create solutions now for the opportunities that currently exist. Identify measures for development and begin tracking improvement early in the process. Start slowly, over time as your abilities to manage projects and initiatives improves with repetition you can accelerate the pace of change without increasing levels of stress.
Incorporating Accountability at the Peer Level
The idea that the culture of a high performing organization should resemble a free-wheeling, innovation breeding incubator of anarchy has to be dismissed. In a recent post (The Best Teams Hold Themselves Accountable – Joseph Grenny – Harvard Business Review ) the author concludes “in high performance teams, peers manage the vast majority of performance problems with one another”. That means everyone adhering to the little things like guidelines on meeting attendance, timelines and appropriate meeting behavior (i.e. what’s the rule on interacting with mobile devices during meetings – it doesn’t matter what the rule is as long as you’re willing to conform for that brief period). Meetings exist to monitor the pace of change and ensure progress – the vast majority of work should take place outside of them. Be respectful to the meeting guidelines and you’ll have to spend less time in them. Do you have a culture of universal accountability? Effective accountability doesn’t result from fearing authority it comes from wanting to demonstrate competency to your peers.
Communicate, Communicate, Consistently Communicate
Leaders not only need to establish the vision and direction, but consistently reinforce it through various forms of communication. One of my biggest lessons learned as a credit union CEO in creating a high-performance culture was the need to continuously voice the same message – way beyond the point where I thought it was repetitive. I’ve come to understand that people learn from different methods, different communication channels and in differing time frames. Altering or “tweaking” the message too frequently in an effort to keep it fresh often creates more confusion than benefit. By paying attention the engagement levels of your team you will know if and when it’s time for a change.
It’s the end of the world as we know it?
The world, including that of credit unions is transforming at an alarming pace. Brian Solis’ captures this vividly in his new piece (Digital Transformation and the Race Against Digital Darwinism – Brian Solis). He defines success not as “implementing new technologies but from transforming the organization to take advantage of the new possibilities the technology provides”. How effectively are you transitioning your business model to a relationship based technology model? Without establishing a high performing organization how do you expect to compete – not over the long haul, but in the immediate days and months ahead? Ten years ago I was guilty of thinking that technology was the solution to the largest problems that plagued my former credit union. Today I understand that the solutions were found by engaging people to build better processes and consequent member experiences that were enabled by technology. I don’t think there is anything I’ve personally been involved with from a business perspective that was as rewarding as building a high performance culture that I knew would be sustainable upon my departure. Yes, the world is ending as we know it – but I’m pretty stoked about the future.