Habits define our destiny

It’s a brand, new year. We’ve closed out 2018 and developed our 2019 Strategic Plan, defining the “what” we plan to accomplish.  But what if we nailed our strategic plan, but fail to implement the “how” (i.e. the systems and habits) necessary to achieve our strategies and objectives – and, ultimately, our mission and purpose?

A resounding theme recently is the importance of the systems we develop. In the context of credit unions, the “systems” are our processes and practices; those written and unwritten rules as to how we do things. For us personally, those “systems” are our habits.  

One recent article on this topic discussed how the author didn’t develop goals for the past year, but instead developed and instituted habits.  As a result of those habits (i.e. systems), she achieved some astounding successes, including running a marathon, saving 20% of her income, and receiving a promotion at work.  She didn’t start out 2018 focusing on her resolutions, but instead accomplished these by committing to the habits that would lead to success in her resolutions.

I would assume your 2019 Strategic Plan has a strong list of strategies, goals and initiatives we plan to accomplish in the coming year.  That’s great! However, have we also focused on the systems we’ll use to achieve those objectives? Too often the breakdown between goal-setting and achieving those goals results from poor systems.

Some of the habits we can develop to improve opportunities for success in 2019 are:

  • Communicate our strategic plan to key stakeholders – Communicating our strategic plan to our key stakeholders (such as our employees) is critical to enable them to understand their role in the broader picture. And this shouldn’t be a one-time thing, but instead a regular occurrence throughout the year at every possible opportunity
  • Reiterate our mission/purpose constantly – Habitually reiterating our purpose – to our employees, to our members, and even to ourselves – will tie our routines and our efforts to our highest purpose
  • Encourage “bad” communications – Make sure we have the system in place to encourage the communication of problems and issues as quickly as possible.  The quicker we know about problems and issues, the quicker we can work to resolve them. Many organizations have created a counterproductive system of “Whac-A-Mole” – lift your head to point out a problem, and the mallet is coming your way!  
  • Reward positive behaviors – Catch a team member doing something “right” (instead of our habit of scolding for something done wrong).   Research shows it’s best to reward the behavior as near the event as possible. A more informal, ad hoc approach is a great habit to implement.  It need not be a monetary reward – often verbal commendations are appreciated more than money; team members love a written note they can pin in the workstation and “show off” to their teammates and remind themselves of a job well done
  • Shift problem resolution toward the frontline – Establish systems that enable problem resolution or member satisfaction at the level nearest as possible to the member.  While an extreme example, Ritz Carlton empowers each employee to spend as much as $2,000 to help each guest to address an issue, and they need not get approval to do so.  Imagine your member satisfaction if more responses were direct resolution from the frontline as compared to the all-too-common response of “Let me get with my manager and get back to you…”
  • Make AARs standard practice – After-action reviews (sometimes call post-mortems) are critical to learning from our mistakes, and even our successes.  While post-mortems are most often associated with major projects, we can learn much by conducting AARs on more routine issues
  • Focus on the strategic issues – In today’s connected and fast-paced world, it’s too easy to get distracted or focused on the crisis de jour.  Allowing that to occur draws us away from our strategic efforts. Do that day-in and day-out, and 2019 will pass without any significant progress on strategic issues. Set aside time each day or each week to work on strategic issues, and keep that time sacrosanct!

The time invested in creating your 2019 strategic plan was valuable and time well-spent.  Let’s make sure we accomplish our goals by implementing those systems and habits that will align our processes and our efforts with our objectives!

Joe Karlin

Joe Karlin

Joe Karlin has worked with or at credit unions his entire career.  Starting as a CPA with Deloitte and Touche, he audited credit unions, corporates, and leagues.  Joe spent nearly ... Details