Does your credit union have a vision problem?

Vision.  Most annual strategic planning meetings begin the session with a reminder of the organization’s mission and vision.  Employees across the organization are often relatively clear about what the vision is on paper. Almost every credit union has this down;  it is literally written on paper and on the credit union website somewhere. We revisit this vision statement annually because it is important to be reminded of what it says.  When circumstances change, sometimes we need to modify our vision statement to match our new environment. There is no right or wrong answer to what your credit union’s vision should encompass – for some, it may be reaching as many underserved consumers as possible. Other credit unions may want to lead in asset size and financial strength, and continue to grow into new markets. There are mid-sized credit unions that will be innovators, adopting new technology ahead of their competitors.  

The real question is whether your vision statement is something that guides day to day practice. It is easy to create aspirational goals around what your credit union would like to accomplish, but then in reality to set the vision on a shelf the next month. It has been said that, ‘without vision, people have no direction.’  The trouble at many organizations is that an executive team sets the vision and direction for the organization but it never gets communicated clearly to the employees in mid-level management and below. Staff members are left in the dark about what is driving the decision making at the organization. The larger your structure, the greater the possibility of your credit union’s vision being lost in translation. Ever play the telephone game? By the end of the activity, the message has been reinterpreted far beyond its original meaning. The smaller your organizational structure, the greater the risk that your credit union may feel like this is something that takes away from the long list of responsibilities that need to be managed in the day to day.  Verbally rehearsing a vision statement several times a year does not automatically create a culture where the vision is acted upon.

When an organization has a clear, concise commitment to their vision, it shows. It is felt in the member experience because the credit union is clear on who it is and is not marketing toward. The recruiting process can become easier because the organization can screen for values that match organizational goals. Operations can become more efficient because the credit union can identify more quickly which projects might be interesting but don’t truly fit with the mission and vision. A clear organizational vision creates something for your employees to buy into – a reason to work beyond a paycheck. When a group of people are moving toward the same objectives and are inspired by the same end goal, a tremendous amount of leverage and forward movement can be created.  

Here are a few questions to self-check the strength of your credit union’s vision.

What are you incentivizing? Think beyond the obvious answer.  The first thing that probably comes to mind is the bonus program, or organizational incentives for performance. The question is much deeper though – it touches on the organizational politics. People are promoted and rewarded in every organization in ways that go beyond monetary compensation – it can be access to upper level management, special projects, or more authority. Sometimes an employee needs development of critical skills before being given bigger opportunities. The real question is whether you are developing the employees who are going above and beyond to contribute to organizational vision, or the ones who can play office politics best.

Where are you going? If you are in executive management at your credit union, you might know the answer to this question quickly. What is critical is that every level of the organization understands where the organization is trying to grow. Depending on layers of complexity and size of the organization there are important reasons to keep certain projects confidential prior to implementation. However, all levels of the credit union should have a basic understanding of the credit union’s balance sheet and financial statement, and how their day to day work contributes to the bottom line.

What would you do if resources were not limited? Resources are always limited – no one has unlimited funds or unlimited hours in the day to accomplish everything desired. However, this question can help us understand our own organizational excuses. If money and resources were not an object, there may be many more things we would implement and accomplish in support of our vision. Sometimes, once we identify the vision we find there are creative or smaller scale ways to accomplish the objectives that seemed to be cost-prohibitive. When all levels of staff have the opportunity to address this question, answers to problems can be generated from unexpected places.

What motivates your team? People go to work because they need a way to pay bills and something constructive to do with time. At our core, we all want to contribute to something productive. However, it is easy to fall in the trap of assuming that increased compensation and authority motivate everyone.  Many people do respond to these particular rewards, and it does take more time and effort to get to the individual motivations of a team.  Not everyone is motivated by money and promotions, and the better we understand why our team works for our credit union the better we can find ways to connect our organizational vision to what matters to our individual employees.

At the end of day, the clearer your credit union’s vision, the more likely your organization is to achieve it on an operational level.

Sarah Marshall

Sarah Marshall

Sarah Marshall is the CEO of North Side Community Federal Credit Union, a small asset size CDFI credit union in Chicago, IL. At North Side, she has successfully launched new ... Web: www.northsidecu.org Details

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