One of the best books out there on business is “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. It had been several years since I read it last, but I recently picked it up again for a leadership group in which I participate. As a 12-year veteran in credit unions, so many theories in this book leapt off the pages at me as the answers to fundamental issues credit unions are facing: differentiation and exponential growth in market share over banks.
The secret: find your inner hedgehog!
And the philosophy is this: “a Hedgehog Concept is not a goal to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at. The distinction is absolutely critical.”
In a world where there is a credit union or bank branch on practically every corner and consumers have hundreds of choices in their financial services providers, it is easy to want to take anyone and everyone you can get. And by taking anyone and everyone you can get, your institution is then led by the fact that all of these people want and need every available service out there to make banking easy for them. By definition, this tactic is trying to be good at everything.
But what about our core competencies? And I’m not talking about credit unions’ core competencies as an industry. I’m talking about your credit union’s core competency. And we each have a different story to tell because we each have our own histories. Yours isn’t the same as the credit union across town, or the bank across the street. This is something that you alone own.
When detailing the Hedgehog Concept in his book, Collins says, “the good-to-great companies understood that doing what you are good at will only make you good; focusing solely on what you can potentially do better than any other organization is the only path to greatness…they pinned their futures on allocating resources to those few arenas where they could potentially be the best.”
On an organizational level, this really goes against our programming as credit unions. We want to be able to serve everyone, therefore we are afraid this will “turn people away.” But it doesn’t. It only makes your credit union’s purpose that much more powerful.
On a personal level, it makes total sense, though. You can’t be a doctor and a lawyer and a CPA. For one, there aren’t enough hours in a day and that is a lot of years in college! But since they all have vastly different specialties, they are able to serve their clients really well because they are so well practiced in their areas of expertise.
Answering the question “what can we do better than another organization” is the way to find your inner hedgehog as a credit union. And when you are able to answer that question, you’ll find growth as a result of that work.