I see it so often with credit unions. Growth is there, but it’s just not enough. It’s barely above peer average at the very best, and frustration sets in among the board and leadership team. “We’ve tried everything.” That might almost be true.
Before I share three ways I’ve seen credit unions break through the obstacles that keep them from experiencing true growth, let’s talk about what those obstacles to growth are, despite great efforts. In short, it’s you. It’s the leader(s) of the credit union. Not you personally, but your mindset in certain things.
- In the mind of the credit union leader, the success of the credit union and their sense of personal achievement are inseparable. You have been at the helm of the credit union for so long, it is your identity and any ounce of failure is a personal blemish on your record and your legacy. There’s also a sense of personal responsibility to jump in and save your team members, like taking out a teller drawer, jumping into lending or other myriad tasks within your credit union. While noble, this is a very common barrier to growth I see when working with credit unions that want to reach the next level. Don’t stop taking pride and working hard, but you must release some of your sense of worth that is tied up with the credit union.
- Systems and processes are scarce (to non-existent) or are never followed. Whatever asset size your credit union is today, you’re still behaving like the asset size you were 20 years ago. Despite the growth, your systems and processes have not caught up. It’s going to be impossible to reach next level and continue growing. How you onboard new employees equals the level of member service your members can expect. What Mary has done for 20 years won’t be what Sam, who’s been there 20 days, does. Members will notice and frustration will set in for both staff and members.
- You are the mercy of the arsonist. Perhaps it’s a legacy board member who is the loud, lone voice holding you back from making decisions, or a legacy employee who, despite your best efforts, sabotages every move you make toward change. You must identify these arsonists and confront them head on. Easier said than done, I know, but not making the decision to do so is really a decision made.
So, you feel a little gut punch in one of these (or two, or three) and want to move beyond these obstacles that are holding your credit union back from growth? Here are 3 ways I’ve seen credit union leaders successfully address these obstacles:
- Enjoy where you are. If you are serving your members well and your numbers are good, maybe forcing growth is a poor idea. Growth for the sake of growth is never a good idea. This scenario isn’t ideal, but it’s an option.
- Lead yourself well. I always tell future leaders that before you can lead others, you must lead yourself well. Before you can confront arsonists, have tough conversations and make bold decisions, you must transform into a leader who can confidently address these issues in a healthy way. Find good mentors who will speak truth to you, and dynamic business coaches that can ask the questions that need to be asked while seeing things from the outside. Being a good leader also means allowing your team to do their job without constantly ‘rescuing’ them. If your team constantly needs help, you have a task saturation problem or a culture problem.
- Move on. It’s heartbreaking to see good credit unions go down on the watch of leaders who have lost their passion for what they do. Shame on them for killing a perfectly good credit union and sending their members back to big banks and predatory lenders, because they couldn’t be a good leader.
This article is some tough love that should lead to tough questions you need to ask if you’re credit union isn’t growing. If you feel called out and guilty in any of these areas, you are not a bad person. You’re an accidental leader who needs guidance to learn and grow. Every leader is capable of leading their credit union to the next level. Those that do are the ones that admit they need some help and find it.