If there is one thing that the credit union industry likes to talk about, it is asset size. We compare asset size at conferences and classify our challenges according to our balance sheet. It’s true that major differences exist in the operation of a $30 million credit union and a $3 billion dollar credit union. We worry about small credit unions going away, the growth potential of mid-size credit unions, and large credit unions being too similar to banks. Regardless of asset size, something all credit unions have in common is people. Our commonality is not only in the people we serve, but the individuals who are employed by the credit union. These are the ones on the front line every day who make up the culture of the organization and create the member experience.
Your people are your biggest asset. An engaged, motivated staff is irreplaceable. Clearly, any one individual employee can be replaced when necessary, but a whole organization of people who are learning, growing and trying to make the organization better can do what no other promotion or product can do. Sometimes organizations cut training and development first when financial challenges arise. It makes logical sense to do so, but providing educational opportunities is often a signal to employees that you are willing to invest in them. When you are struggling, that is when you most want engaged, capable, well-trained employees. There is no shortage of credit union industry training opportunities available, and CUNA and your state league are great places to start. Scholarships are often available when there is financial need. If you run a low-income designated credit union, the NCUA Office of Small Credit Union Initiatives has competitive grants available, and often for training and development. Think outside the box for local free trainings; sometimes educational seminars on topics like sales, marketing, and customer service are often very good even if they are not industry-specific. Create a culture where your employees are going for every relevant opportunity they can get.
Training leads to networking and growth opportunities for your own credit union as well. I had the privilege of participating in CUNA Management School from 2014-2016 and earning my CCUE designation. I run a $9 million credit union. The educational material was invaluable, and I would highly recommend the program to any credit union executive. However, one of the more valuable experiences that came from the program was a collaboration with a large credit union built from a relationship formed while there. Sarah Hancotte, Arizona District Manager at TruWest Credit Union, (a $950 million credit union in Tempe, Arizona) was a CUNA classmate of mine. As we shared and talked about the differences in our operations, she decided to pitch to her management the idea to come to Chicago for a shared learning and consulting experience. TruWest Credit Union, an organization with a very different structure, lent North Side their expertise. Sarah visited our credit union for a week, interviewed staff, observed operations, and created a list of recommendations for improvement. She took away perspective on small credit unions and some of our knowledge about building products with a community development focus. It was an opportunity that demonstrated the true spirit of credit unions, while providing learning opportunities for both parties.
A common story shared is frequently shared on LinkedIn. The CFO says to the CEO, “What if we invest in training people and they leave”? The CEO responds, “What if we don’t train them, and they stay”? Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, says “train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to”.
If your train your people well, they actually might leave to take a better position elsewhere. A leader should measure their success by the success of those they are leading over the long term. While high turnover is a flag that something is not going right in your organization, if your staff move on because they are more qualified to succeed and do bigger things somewhere else, you have trained them well. And that should be the goal. To quote Lao Tzu, “of the best leaders, when the job is done, when the task is accomplished, the people will say, we have done it ourselves.” Training and development is a significant tool that enables people to accomplish their work to the best of their potential.