The names Schulze-Delitizsch, Raiffeisen, and Desjardin might not ring a bell for you, but they should.
No, they aren’t name partners in a high-powered law firm. These three individuals disrupted the status quo and created the catalyst for you to be reading this article today.
Here is a quick history for those who don’t recognize the names.
- Herman Schulze-Delitizsch, a young German lawyer, formed the first practical cooperative credit societies in 1846. By 1859, he had helped organize183 “people’s banks” with approximately 18,000 members.
- Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, in his role as mayor of Fammersfeld, Germany, organized his first cooperative credit society in 1849 after becoming alarmed by the actions of unscrupulous lenders. By 1888, 425 credit unions were created in Germany, and the ideas shared in his book The Credit Union had spread across the Atlantic to North America.
- Alphonse Desjardin, a Canadian journalist, was an enthusiastic evangelist for credit unions in the late 1800s. He worked with a group of Catholic priests in Manchester, New Hampshire to create what is often considered to be the first U.S. credit union in 1909.
Many others, of course, contributed to the growth and success of the credit union movement. Without these disruptors, however, you might not be part of an industry that serves over 112 million members with assets of over $1.4 trillion.
The Power of Purpose to Drive Change
Your world is more complex and uncertain than ever. Many traditional and community banks have improved their customer focus. Fintech operations are changing the entire definition of a financial institution. The subscription economy that brought us Netflix and Hulu is coming for autos and other items that currently require loans. Your very existence continues to be attacked by questioning your relevance in today’s world.
Your ability to quickly change and adapt in pursuit of fulfilling your purpose is the difference between member insistence by your supporters and irrelevance.
People and organizations change for basically two reasons: crisis pushes or opportunity pulls them to change.
If your credit union is losing members and assets, the immediacy of the crisis is a powerful motivator to try different things. Unfortunately, that might be difficult since you are already running from behind. Catching up will require radical change and a considerable investment. The change you might be required to pursue is to stop going it alone through partnerships or merger.
While that change would be painful, it isn’t necessarily bad if you are purpose driven. The credit union movement has always been about self-help self-governance, and self-responsibility. It is safe to assume that those early credit union leaders would focus more on fulfilling that vision than on how credit unions are operated.
For those that are growing or at least sustaining themselves, it is all about refocusing on your purpose and changing to capture opportunities. Here are four areas on which to focus right now.
1. Become obsessed by purpose as well as member satisfaction.
Your current – and most active – members love you, and you want to keep it that way. That’s why continuous improvement of existing products, processes, and performance is a must. Unfortunately, focusing too much emphasis on keeping your current members satisfied might be preventing you from taking the bold steps necessary to appeal to a new generation that will resonate with your purpose if you meet them where they are.
That’s where becoming obsessed with your purpose comes in. Focusing on new ways to demonstrate the true uniqueness of your credit union catches the attention of the next generation.
This is a difficult balance with limited resources. You want to show your members and leadership that you are being responsible with their funds. Likewise, you must innovate to attract new members.
Google operated for years with the 70 – 20 – 10 Rule. Seventy percent of their innovation and continuous improvement funds were focused on improving existing processes to keep their current customers happy. Twenty percent was devoted to adjacent improvement and innovation that had a high probability for acceptance and success. The final 10 percent was allocated for transformative innovation to open completely new opportunities.
If you are fighting from behind, you might want to consider an allocation that is closer to 65-20-20. Regardless of your final formula, the opportunity to reinforce the credit union’s role as a disruptor lies in innovation that fulfills your purpose.
2. Scout the future.
A few of you will remember the television show Wagon Train. For those who missed it, the show was about a … wait for it … wagon train crossing the country headed west. It is doubtful that show could be made today.
Ward Bond starred as the wagon master whose job it was to keep the train moving forward. This was mostly mundane work of operations mixed with the human relations challenges that come from a group of people traveling together for long periods.
There was, however, a special group that worked for the wagon train—the scouts.
Every day the scouts rode out over the horizon to answer two questions: Where is the water that can sustain us? Where are the hostiles that could harm us?
Your credit union needs scouts. It could be as simple devoting a set amount of time each week to scouting potential threats and opportunities. You could also create a group or groups responsible for this function as part of their jobs. A few of our past clients have developed cross-functional Scout Teams reporting to senior leadership for that purpose.
The change that catches you off guard isn’t the one you can see. It is the one lurking out of sight over the horizon
3. Hire, retain, and promote for Altitude.
Hiring for aptitude – the candidate’s skill and experience – was conventional thinking for decades. Then companies such as Nucor Steel and Southwest Airlines pioneered the idea that you should hire for attitude and culture fit.
The reality is that the companies hiring for attitude and fit still looked for people who are qualified to do the job. You don’t get to fly the airplane at Southwest Airlines simply because you can tell a funny joke.
The combination of aptitude and attitude created a higher standard for hiring, retention, and promotion. It is now commonplace in world-class organizations, and it is no longer enough.
The talent you need to flourish in the future also has altitude – the ability to grow to meet the needs of members and the workplace of the future.
Talent with altitude has everything you are looking for today and more. They supplement their aptitude and attitude with competencies such as curiosity, critical thinking, and creativity that give them room to grow.
Pursuing high-altitude employees can be frustrating. Supervisors and managers will have to work exceptionally hard to keep them engaged and funnel their energy toward keeping your operation relevant. The upside of channeling their discretionary energy and effort toward new ways to deliver your purpose is worth the effort. They are the profile of the member you want in the future.
4. Enable collaboration.
Much of what we call collaboration is really cooperation. The difference is important for your future success.
Cooperation is working with someone toward a mutually recognized and beneficial result. The existing work of your credit union would be nearly impossible without people cooperating toward your common goal.
Collaboration, on the other hand, is actively working with someone to create something new. It requires the active solicitation of diverse viewpoints, skill sets, and experience.
Enabling collaboration requires leaders to create the space for discovery that feels messy. It fosters co-creation, and it forces the collision of ideas to solve problems that are not easily defined.
Cooperation makes the work easier and more pleasant. Collaboration pushes us out of our comfort zone to create big ideas that could be revolutionary … or a failure. It is comfortable with the notion that you can’t wait for change to find you in today’s world. You must pursue it.
Schulze-Delitizsch, Raiffeisen, and Desjardin would have loved the environment in which you credit unions find themselves today. They would, I suspect, be envious of all the tools at your disposal to connect people of similar interest to join forces and obtain better access to financial markets for personal and common benefit. It is time to reclaim that legacy as a disruptor as your credit union moves into the future.