Credit unions: The art of listening powers partnership for growth

These are unarguably extraordinary times. Credit unions are operating under escalating pressure to deliver better, unique solutions to members. Under today’s market conditions, financial institutions simply can’t do everything alone. Forging the right partnerships has never been more important. For these critical partnerships to thrive, we must master the art of continuous, active listening.

In partnership, it doesn’t matter what you or I know. What counts is what we know collectively. Strong partnerships thrive by coalescing to tackle opportunities and challenges that align with a shared purpose. To do this successfully requires thoughtful dialogue powered by active listeinng.

Listening for the Partnership’s Point of Dynamic Tension

Embed your credit union’s “why”—your mission, values and goals—into every opportunity to listen and learn. Regularly ask yourself and your partners if you are fulfilling your shared purpose. Always remembering your why keeps conversations on track. It guides context and helps develop a collective curiosity while driving dynamic tension.

Like a rubber band, dynamic tension indicates how far a partnership can stretch without breaking. In partnership, we should seek to understand ourselves and listen for each other’s strengths and limits. When you gauge how far to safely push limits, you can challenge each other to do great things. This delicate balance allows you to capitalize on the partnership’s possibilities without damaging it.

Listen and reflect. This sets the foundation for a solid catalog of data—collective intelligence— to act upon. This data is instrumental especially for financial institutions and fintech partners to create purpose-driven strategies for long-term growth. You can harness insightful quantitative and qualitative data by continuously engaging in artful, active listening. Active listening is a commitment to process what you hear, reflecting on the information and taking action. Then, listen again and recalibrate. The cycle should continue throughout the life of your partnership.

By uncovering the right data, you can pursue and develop partners fit for shared success. Follow these steps to leverage the artful technique of active listening to power growth and solve the thorniest issues.

  1. Create Valuable Listening Opportunities

Set aside ample time to listen—and actively absorb—what you hear. Eliminate distractions so you can focus on the entire interaction. Reserve dedicated time well in advance and find conditions that encourage thoughtful communication.

This can happen one-on-one or in small groups. Depending on your audience, the most effective agenda may be tightly outlined in advance or loosely guided for open, free-flowing dialogue. What’s most important is that everyone understands goals in advance.

  1. Listen, Reflect and Act on What Your Hear

The Two-by-two matrix

After your listening session, divide what you heard into two types of data: qualitative and quantitative. Next, split that data into two more types: those affecting people inside the organization and collaborators outside the organization. This framework allows you and your partners to determine topics and ideas that most align with your why and fit within the existing limits of your partnership’s dynamic tension. It allows for concrete action and outcomes.

Majoring in the Majors

You can’t tackle all your problems or opportunities at once. Identify the “majors”—the opportunities, challenges and ideas that warrant the most time and energy from all parties and cultivate the most impactful results. Then determine immediate or future needs and actions.

Surround-sound listening

This is important when you are ready to dig in and uncover the full story. Even objective, quantitative data on balance sheets and income statements can be interpreted differently. Take time to understand how your partners view the data and identify the conclusions they draw from it. Clearly understand the perspectives of each party, and what they value, to drive decisions and positive outcomes together.

Speed in execution is important. But remember, when you are still in the listening and strategy phase, not everything can move at hyper-speed and still be effective long-term. Slow down to differentiate what you are listening for, then stop and listen again. Getting into a consistent pattern of listening and clearly interpreting allows important data to emerge. Then, create a strategic roadmap with your partner and collaboratively move forward with agility and intent.

  1. Act and Adapt to the Growth Opportunities

Meet with your partners and your internal team to verify everyone is aligned on high-level goals. Define desired outcomes with detailed clarity. Then, calibrate and work together to determine how to get there strategically. Do this by establishing SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound. When setting SMART goals, agree on the tactics to reach those goals. But remember tactics must adjust to meet shifting needs and conditions. Be prepared to pivot as necessary.


Active listening will never be a one-and-done tactic or a quick fix. It’s an ongoing approach to better partnership. Financial institutions are feeling pressure to elevate performance from all directions. Credit unions must step back into the movement’s fundamentals. To thrive, we must reframe and leverage our foundational principles of collaboration as we embark on new roads to growth. Mastering the art of listening is a valuable addition to your collaborative toolkit. If performed adroitly, it’s a tactic you’ll want to play on repeat.

The cooperative framework of CUSOs is one way credit unions are effectively leaning into and redefining cooperation. Nymbus has just released first-ever research with Filene on the next-generation CUSO and the ways we are listening and learning to evolve and grow together. Read the research here to understand the value of new thinking around partnership and collaboration.

John Janclaes

John Janclaes

For more than 30 years, John Janclaes has successfully led strategic growth initiatives for financial services organizations. As president and chief executive officer of $2B Partners Federal Credit Union, John ... Web: Details