By Stephanie Lutz, CRI Solutions
Over the past year or so, the term innovation has become such a popular buzz word that it often seems difficult to determine what innovation really means. It has grown to the point that people think being innovative requires some huge idea or lots of money or that technology has to be involved in some way or that it can only come from someone who has been trained in the ancient art of innovation. In fact, none of these things are true, but the last one is the biggest trap of all that companies – credit unions included – fall into when approaching innovation. The simple truth is that anyone, let me repeat that for emphasis, ANYONE can innovate.
I was reminded of this fact recently while watching Pixar’s “Ratatouille” with my son. The central premise in the movie, for those who aren’t familiar, is Chef Gusteau’s audacious claim that “Anyone can cook.” The premise is treated with disdain by one critic in particular until, at the end of the movie, he realizes the true meaning of the phrase. “Anyone can cook” doesn’t mean every single person is capable of being a master chef. Rather, it means that a master chef can come from anywhere, any walk of life or background. It’s a beautiful sentiment and one that can be applied directly to the concept of innovation. Not everyone is going to be able to come up with new, innovative ways of doing things or innovative products and services that a credit union could benefit from. However, the innovation your credit union is looking for could be in the mind of anyone, not just your management team.
Let’s take a look at 3 groups that you may not be tapping into for innovative ideas and why you should.
Front Line Staff
This means tellers, MSRs, Branch Managers, and anyone else who interacts with your members on a daily basis. They are your feet on the ground and know how your members like to conduct business, what questions they are asking, and are the most familiar with the technology they use to conduct the day to day business of the credit union. Whose to say some of them don’t have a great idea for how to do things better? Maybe it’s a new workflow that will save time or a product or service that would meet the needs of the members that they interact with or a way to boost employee morale. Try setting up an “Idea Box” in the break room or setting up an email address at the credit union where staff can send their thoughts. Stay away from using the term “innovation” because it can intimidate many people who assume an innovation has to be a huge idea.
To their credit, some credit unions do conduct member surveys to find out how they feel about the products and services being offered. However, there are very few who ask members for a wish list or encourage the contribution of new ideas. Members are the ones who use the services and products that credit unions provide and could have some great ideas for new ways the credit union could serve their membership. To focus the discussion and get innovative ideas based on your credit union’s goals, tailor survey or focus group questions around those goals. For example, if the credit union is striving to increase the financial literacy of students in their community, you might specifically ask members for their ideas on how that could be achieved. Another key is to keep surveys short and simple. (This is true of any survey, not just one mining innovative ideas.)
The Online Community
Social Media isn’t just for marketing your credit union to new and current members (although it’s great for that, too). It can also be a wonderful tool to help your credit union stay current and discover innovative trends in the marketplace. LinkedIn can be a wonderful resource to connect with other professionals in the credit union community who are facing similar challenges and eager to help with ideas on what’s worked for them, but more general financial service groups or technology discussions could also get the creative wheels turning for your credit union. Through these groups and discussions you may see a concept applied to another industry that would work well in the credit union world. Try setting aside some time a few days a week, either in the morning, afternoon, or at lunch, and get active in the online discussion. There are great ideas just waiting for you and people who are anxious to help you succeed, no strings attached.
The bottom line is that, if you are restricting ideas for new products and services to your management team, you are potentially missing out on an opportunity for great innovation. Are you utilizing all of the innovative potential at your disposal? It starts by realizing a simple truth: Anyone can innovate.