I recently read the book Make Big Happen: How to Live, Work, and Give Big, written by CEO coach and author Mark Moses. He suggested that leaders need to focus on four questions to achieve extraordinary business and life success. They are:
- What do you want?
- What do you have to do?
- What could get in the way?, and
- How do you hold yourself accountable?
As I did a self-assessment of my own strengths and weaknesses while reading this book, I decided that my most relevant question was how to manage the things that can get in the way of personal and business success.
I liked his simple list of 25 tips for leading in turbulent times. Here they are with a few of my own perspectives.
1. Communicate regularly with your team.
I have found that creating a simple communication schedule and sticking to it makes the most sense. This includes annual and quarterly video reports to my boards and staff, monthly priority updates to all stakeholders, weekly written touch-base emails with my direct reports and at least monthly coaching sessions with them. I also try to do short 10-minute one-on-one meetings with all of my employees at least twice per year.
Good two-way communications and a commitment to consistency are important.
2. Step away to take quiet time to think.
I have a friend who describes the ideal vacation as “sit on the porch with friends and drink beer.” While that might sound humorous, the fact is, too many of us fail to find simple moments for thought and reflection.
As leaders, we are prone to following schedules and staying busy. But finding some time, at least once a month, if not more frequently, to simply ponder questions like the four laid out by Mr. Moses will prove indispensable. As the old adage goes, “failure to plan may mean that you’re planning to fail.”
3. If you have to cut, cut early and cut deep.
As much as any leader hates to make staffing reductions, the key is to be purpose-driven and to openly communicative with the team, explaining the “why” behind the changes. Trust is always built through honest and transparent communications, especially when staff reductions are necessary.
4. Stay close to your key relationships.
For leaders, it pays to make a list of key relationships and then program time for working on them. For me, these include my board officers and full board members, my direct reports, my staff, key credit union leaders, political leaders, strategic partners and of course my family and close friends.
Too often, we fail to organize the list to see where relationships have been neglected. It is wise counsel to become more structured in this area.
5. Understand that cash is not cash until it is cash.
As credit unions experience liquidity challenges, and for businesses that invest in credit union services, how we invest and manage cashflow is critical. Every organization is different, but understanding smart cash and investment management is critical.
6. Trim the fat, examine all of your expenses one by one.
My career started as an internal auditor with a degree in finance and an MBA. While at times, I’ve had the luxury of not worrying about operating expense detail, I have taken pride in working with my team to scrutinize spending in good times and in bad. In times of profitability, it’s much easier to make smart spending decisions, even if they aren’t critically needed at the time.
7. Incentivize your team to do more with less.
Productivity is a constant theme for all smart companies. Although elusive, it is smart for leaders to install processes for incentivizing team members to do more with less and to make that theme a part of your culture. Everyone shares this reality, not just the CEO. Having a budget for cash incentives to reward and incentivize this theme can help a lot.
8. Use technology to drive costs down.
At leadership forums, I hear more and more credit union CEOs talking about cost-saving ideas for automating back-office operations. With technology driving efficiencies in all industries, it should be a high priority for leaders to make their organizations as efficient as possible with technology.
9. Negotiate better pricing; be Wal-Mart.
Related to technology-driven efficiencies is the need for negotiating fees on investment advisory services, outside audits, insurance coverages, software subscriptions, utilities and other recurring costs. Having a good CFO and finance team, driven by a mandate by the CEO, can pay good dividends. Again, having some cash incentives to reward best practices helps too.
10. Measure everything.
Credit unions are, by design, more analytical than most companies. Finding smart ways to measure what’s happening in operation should be a high priority for credit unions. It seems that there is a software product for managing analytics for just about everything. The key is finding how they can work together with actionable data that makes the organization more effective. CUSG offers a number of tools for this such as Performance Pro, Compease, ComplySight, AffirmX, MemberXP and Planning Pro to name a few.
11. Watch your key indicators.
Good data analytics are the holy grail for any credit union, but starting with those that matter most is an exercise that really matters. Obviously, CAMEL ratings and sub-ratings are a starting point, but from there, key indicators should align with stakeholder expectations, including employees, members, board members and partners. Getting good KPM tracking in place should begin with the ones that matter most. It’s the leader’s role to help identify those.
12. Eliminate or help improve unproductive people.
Productivity is not a popular term in most companies because either employees are working as hard and smart as they can, or in some cases, they may not want to. But few things are as important for a leader as assuring that the organization is truly productive.
Best practices here should include a good performance management system like CUSG’s Performance Pro product. But culturally, this extends to processes that include regular coaching meetings and accountability at all levels for getting staff focused on the right things and in the right ways.
13. Invest in training to improve skills.
State and national trade associations make training a high priority. Leaders and their key team members should attend conferences for learning and networking. Emerging leaders should be given these opportunities as well. And learning management systems that tie to performance management are also important. CUSG offers a product called TLC 360 that does just that with Performance Pro.
As leaders, we need to continually assess how well we allocate resources for employee and leadership development. The impact of this done well can be huge.
14. Try to sell more to existing customers.
Whether for credit unions or for credit union organizations, we sometimes fail to realize the importance of taking care of existing members and clients through regular outreach. Good organizations find a thoughtful and respectful way to ask how needs are being met and look to solve problems with solutions rather than selling product too overtly.
But smart companies know that existing customers are much easier to sell to than new prospects. For credit unions, share of wallet or products per member should receive more focus but in a mission-driven way as opposed to just selling.
15. Offer incentives for new relationships.
Because it is so difficult to onboard new members or customers, those staff who achieve new sales should be recognized and rewarded. Again, having resources to incentivize and reward is a huge consideration.
16. Go to industry conferences and visit your competitors.
In addition to the obvious benefits of attending conferences for networking and learning, one overlooked opportunity is learning from competitors. For instance, if a credit union identifies its top products as mortgage loans, auto loans, credit cards and checking accounts/debit cards, then top competitors should be identified. Once this is done, through some kind of formal process, the credit union should learn from how Quicken Loans and Bank of America and neobanks like Chime are serving customers. Having a team go through the whole process with these competitors can be very helpful.
Best practices for pricing and customer experience can then become very valuable.
17. Don’t slash your marketing budget.
When trimming costs to find efficiencies, obviously the smartest marketing and sales practices should not be compromised. However, sometimes during good economic times, marketing expenditures and sales processes may not receive the scrutiny and adjustments that may be needed. Doing so, even during profitable times, is important. But the importance of good marketing and sales should always be recognized.
18. There’s opportunity in adversity.
In Michigan, our credit union community weathered economic challenges between 2000 and 2008 even before the Great Recession. In those times of adversity, credit unions can find great opportunity for helping people and for telling their story, even more so than during good economic times. As the next recession approaches, leaders should contemplate how the credit union can anticipate these adversity-driven opportunities.
19. Have your advisors, mentors, coaches and forum members challenge your assumptions.
One of the toughest things to do for confident successful leaders is to realize that they’re not supposed to know all the answers. Seeking advice and validation and even suggestions for a different course should be a part of a healthy management culture.
20. Don’t worry about what you can’t control.
Easier said than done, but for leaders, learning to not sweat the small stuff and to focus on what they can control is both a management mantra and a means of controlling unnecessary stress.
21. Keep a good attitude, look at the glass half full, not half empty.
In the play Hamilton, Aaron Burr advises Alexander Hamilton to “Talk less and smile more.” While this is sound advice for politicians, it also applies metaphorically to all leaders. If we can smile through the constant challenges and see the positives along the way, our teams will see this as a positive as well.
22. Take care of yourself, exercise regularly.
When I became a CEO at the age of 29, I started jogging daily. Later, I set goals for half marathon races and ran my first full marathon at the age of 59. Over the years, although I haven’t always been diligent, I have found the incredible value of good exercise and taking care of diet (although I really hate that one!).
I also subscribe to the mantra that something is better than nothing when it comes to exercise. All leaders should commit to finding the regimen that works for them and then pay special attention to all aspects of physical, mental and spiritual health. As Stephen Covey described it in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the seventh habit is “sharpening the saw.”
Finding hobbies like reading, sports, music, art or travel are also so important for work/life balance.
23. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
Hope springs eternal, as they say. But blind optimism is actually a weakness. So, in strategic planning, it pays to have a good assessment of prioritized risk factors and contingency plans for those potentially most harmful.
24. Don’t panic, stay steady at the wheel.
In our personal lives and in business, crises large and small will eventually occur, and sometimes more frequently than we would like. How we deal with them is a test of personal leadership. The first thing we should do when faced with bad news is take a deep breath and stay calm. This is easier said than done, but steady leadership in the face of a crisis is very good advice.
25. Make it fun! Culture is always important.
Well, we made it to the end of another list.
Lists are valuable, but when all is said and done, when good leaders enjoy what they do and try to have some fun at work, team members respond. For me, at a minimum, I have always recognized the importance of fostering a culture that encourages a relaxed and fun work environment.
Toward the end of his life, Steve Jobs delivered a memorable commencement address at Stanford University in which he said,
“Sometimes life can hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to find.
Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
As leaders, we should always remember that every single member of our team is experiencing life challenges both large and small. They just don’t usually let them show. We have a responsibility to foster a culture that balances employee wellness with necessary accountability and productivity. And in that vein, we should lead by example.
So, there you have it. A list of 25 tips for personal and business success. Thank you to Mark Moses and his book Make Big Happen for the inspiration.
Regardless of your position or how long you’ve been working at it, good luck reinventing yourself as a leader to get the most out of yourself and your team!