Is Your Diet Strategic?

In my recent discussions with credit union executives I hear a consistent refrain. “We’re overwhelmed with all that is required of us and don’t have the (human) resources to accomplish what is necessary.”  This theme seems to reverberate louder in inverse proportion to the size of the credit union.  In many cases these are very legitimate concerns, yet there needs to be some deeper investigation into the root cause.

Many seem to suffer from the phenomenon I simply classify as “plate’s too full” while others may be afflicted with an even graver diagnosis of “fast food junkie”.  Let’s take a shallow dive into the differences between the two and briefly discuss the remedy.

The “plate’s too full” group generally has a business plan that effectively states what the credit union would like to accomplish in the form of projects, initiatives and their resulting outcomes.  They’ve been up and down the buffet line of possibilities several times without regard for the impact their caloric intake of projects will do for the vital statistics of the credit union. If it looks good and seems to make sense, they’re going to try and consume it – often with ineffective or even harmful results.

The problem is twofold. First, they have an overly ambitious (read unrealistic) list of everything they would like to accomplish if resources were limitless. Compound this with a seemingly never ending slew of what are perceived to be required tasks.  These could be things such as complying with newly minted regulations or upgrading to the latest software release. Consequently the executives at these institutions get stressed out when considering where to even begin.

The reality is that the operational requirement tasks get elevated to the forefront, and are accomplished with all the fervor of a drowning man fetching water. The truly important strategic differentiators then get either pushed aside or dumped into the hurry up and get it done before the next budget cycle comes around bucket. Therefore the quality of these implementations is marginal at best and when honestly confronted there can be little questioning as to why adoption never occurred. The primary issue is the lack of discipline to stick with the strategic vision. The discipline needed to quantify the opportunities and prioritize according to desired business outcomes, followed by the discipline to resist trying to do too much and sacrifice quality for quantity.

The “fast food junkie” group has a vastly different set of issues. These folks are too busy blaming the regulators, their boards and the technology providers (whom they chose to utilize) for not having the time or resources to accomplish what they believe is needed, so they choose the path of least resistance. The primary challenge with this group is they are hard pressed to identify and articulate what those strategic priorities actually would be. They have been lulled into such a state of comfort by thinking the never ending busy work was sufficient to sustain them that they have simply failed to create a strategic vision.

In both cases the reality is that neither group wants to make the difficult decisions and commit to some potentially game changing ideal, business model or vision. The discomfort of slowly descending towards irrelevance, or at best, maintaining mediocrity, hasn’t become painful enough yet for them to take significant action.  Where is the sense of urgency to create value for the membership and an experience that they deserve? Have the recent economic challenges of today made us so risk averse we no longer are committed to the mission, but simply showing up for a paycheck?

What’s the remedy? Change your diet – go lean and make healthy strategic choices. Make the difficult and sometimes unappetizing decisions to do what’s right for the long-term. Don’t be fooled by thinking consuming processed initiatives (those pre-packaged have to do’s of regulatory compliance and software upgrades) is going to create a strong, vibrant organization and be of benefit to your membership. And don’t deceive yourself by thinking that everyone else is eating fast food and clogging their arteries with inactivity.  Create a well thought out, yet limited menu of strategic choices you can stick with and then once in a while when you see actual progress, indulge a little based on your improved results.

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