Four steps to creating a world-class culture in 2024

Many credit unions are in the midst of strategic planning, dedicating significant time and resources to define their goals and priorities for 2024 and beyond. At the top of the list of strategic objectives should be identifying how to differentiate and standout. In the past, that meant strategizing to stand out in the minds of members and potential members. In 2024, however, that must also include standing out in the minds of employees and potential employees.

Few, if any, strategic objective will have a greater dual impact than strategizing to maximize the performance of your culture. Your culture dictates the experiences of members and employees – two of the most critical components to success and growth. Your culture strategies, priorities, and pillars are what set the standards for those experiences on regular and consistent basis. With a priority on culture, your performance can be magnified; without a focus on culture, your performance will likely be muted.

Every organization has a culture of some sort … our challenge to you today is to create a culture that stands out for undeniably positive reasons. Create a culture that makes your best employees stay and attracts the best potential candidates. A resounding culture that is palpable to members at every touchpoint. A culture that makes every member feel grateful they chose to do business with you. A culture that blows the socks off prospective members when they’re introduced to you in the community. A culture that is a true differentiator in a marketplace where everyone is selling the same products in, generally, the same manner.

A “world-class” culture where every employee, from the very top to the very bottom, shares immense pride. Where they brag about it to families and friends, as well as, strangers they meet in the store or at a ballgame. A world-class culture that becomes the envy of every other business in your marketplaces. A culture that is the first thing people think about when they envision your brand. And a culture that is your strategic separation and catapults your credit union into a thriving future.

There are many aspects that go into creating and sustaining a culture like this but here are four components that standout in today’s highly competitive and erratic business environment:

  1. Use action words to define it. Your core values may include a word like “integrity” but if you ask 10 people you may get 10 different definitions of the word.  For your culture statement, don’t leave words up to interpretation. Define them precisely how you want them defined. And then, go one step further – show each employee how to live that definition day-in and day-out. Every employee, from executives to frontline and support staff, must know how to live it. Bring it down to a behavior level, when possible. This is how you make it your culture and establish the consistency across the organization that’ll position you to achieve world-class status.
  2. Projects and culture are often kept in separate silos. I’ll bet your credit union has a big project (or six) planned for next year, right? It’s appropriate, of course, to ask how each project helps you grow and/or serve your members; but equally important should be to answer how it supports your culture. More precisely, determine how it solidifies or elevates your culture. What impact – positive and negative – will that conversion or new product or software have on the culture? If you expect it to be positive, then how can you maximize that positivity with training, communication, involvement, etc? If it’s negative, then how will you be able to minimize that negative impact?
  3. Talk openly and often about your culture. Be proud of what you’ve created and where you’re headed. This is not a time for modesty. If you don’t show your pride in your culture, employees will never be as proud of it as they could be. Sometimes, credit union leaders talk about their culture once a year at an all-staff event. Maybe it’s a paragraph in the employee handbook given out to new hires. For some, it may be posted in a break room. But, I don’t know of any employee who left a job because they got tired of hearing about their culture. Make it a regular topic in meetings – leadership meetings and team meetings. Talk about successes as well as areas for improvement. Talk about what you’ve done to build your culture and what you’re going to do make it world-class.
  4. Guard it with your life; don’t let anyone or anything into it if they’re not the right fit. I saved the most impactful aspect of a world-class culture till last. This one has been most corrosive for credit unions, especially in the past few years. Don’t hire someone from another organization if they’re going to bring their old culture with them to infect your culture. We’ve seen this at the top of the organization – Chief Lending Officer or HR Executive – as well as, further down – Sales Manager and Branch Manager. The individual is hired with great credentials and track record; however, the only way they know to be successful is by replicating the culture they excelled in at their previous employer (oftentimes, a bank like Wells Fargo). This is unacceptable! Sure, they can bring proven skills and behaviors but they must promptly conform to the skills and behaviors that fit perfectly into your culture.

Our consultants help credit unions succeed in each of these four areas and we’d love to help you, too. Our mission is to help credit unions put culture at the heart of their business.  Let’s talk about the best ways to make your culture “world class” in 2024!

Paul Robert

Paul Robert

Paul Robert has been helping financial institutions drive their retail growth strategies for over 25 years. Paul is the Chief Executive Officer for FI Strategies, LLC, a small but mighty ... Web: Details