How to evolve from a “That’s the way we’ve always done it” culture

“Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Have you ever heard these words spoken at your credit union?

Dare I ask – have you ever spoken these words at your credit union?

Over the years, we’ve worked with many credit unions that have answered a question this way. To me, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. This statement screams, “We’re content in our comfort zone, and things are fine just the way they are.”  

Credit unions need to be more innovative. We need to take the bull by the horns, look at situations through a different lens, and think of new ways to accomplish tasks. It’s easy to become complacent in our behavior, because our business is based on routine transactions. And to be candid, it takes more energy, effort and brain power to be a creative problem solver and independent thinker than it does to just follow the status quo.

Until someone shakes things up!

Credit unions need to allow more people to shake things up. A while back, I worked with a credit union, and discovered a few people had nicknamed me “Betty Crocker” because all I did at the credit union was stir things up. Yep. That’s exactly what I did. Their new member growth was flat. Loans were declining. Delinquencies were rising. Membership was aging and not replenishing. A few managers had been there for years and were very “old school.”  Not that that’s a bad thing. And here was Betty Crocker stirring the pot with a fresh perspective. That nickname was a badge of honor to me. That credit union was stuck in the dark ages in their processes, procedures, member interaction, internal systems, and the list goes on. Someone had to stir things up at that place.

Take a good look at your organization. Are you in a funk? Does it feel stale? Do your employees get excited about coming to work? Is there excitement in the air, or is it a hum drum environment? If you find yourself in the predicament of trying to break the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” culture, here are a few simple ideas to try.

1. Evaluate your processes and procedures from a different perspective.

If you’re in lending and you are always taking loan applications, have you ever role-played and been the applicant? If you’re the Teller trying to explain your mobile app to a new user, have you used the app yourself? Over the years I’ve told the story of my first job after college at the Kinko’s Corporate Office in Ohio. The office served about 35 stores in 4 states. And every year, each home office staffer had to work an entire day in one of the stores. Reciprocally, each store manager had to work a day at the corporate office. Imagine the lessons that were learned with this practice. Complaints the corporate office had with the store managers faded away once we spent a day in the store dealing with customers, fixing broken copiers, clearing a paper jam, finishing a job that was due an hour before and all kinds of other tasks that clearly demonstrated why the store managers didn’t always follow the rules and meet the deadlines we corporate people put in place. And the same was true when the store managers visited the corporate office. They saw and understood first-hand why it was important to follow the correct procedures and deadlines of submitting their paperwork.   

2.Talk to your vendors.

This idea is close to my heart as I, myself, am a credit union vendor. And I have a lot of friends who are credit union vendors, too. Although many of us are considered more like partners or staff members of the credit unions with whom we work. Oftentimes a manager or CEO will not take a meeting or a call from a vendor. They’re too busy. They don’t need anything. If it’s an existing vendor, everything is fine. If it’s not a current vendor, it’s often seen as a waste of time or a big sales pitch. But what if a vendor has the solution to a problem you haven’t even realized was a problem? They might have a product or service that could generate revenue or save time or money for your organization. I encourage credit unions to talk to your vendors more often and make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck. From core processors to the guy who sells you coffee mugs, take an analytical look at your vendors and non-vendors. Someone might have a different way of doing things that could provide value to your organization.

3. Self analyze.

This is a biggie. But it’s tricky. Take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself this critical question: Do I foster a “think outside the box” mentality, or have I created an environment where people just do their job the way they were taught and not bother with new ideas or suggestions for improvement? I’ve worked with credit unions at both ends of the spectrum. One credit union we worked with had a management team that discouraged any new ideas or employee suggestions. It was very “hierarchal” and if you weren’t at the top of the food chain, your opinion didn’t really matter. Whenever an employee made a suggestion, for one reason or another, it was rejected. Never really discussed. No real explanation as to why it wouldn’t be implemented. Just rejected. So the employees stopped suggesting. But another credit union rewarded their staff members that offered ideas to improve the member experience or the credit union efficiency. This was a culture of growth and professional development, and employees loved working at this credit union. They had a sense of ownership because they knew they were making a difference.  

Try these suggestions and see if some things don’t change. Evaluate your procedures, talk to your vendors, but most importantly, look at yourself as a leader and figure out what type of culture you inspire. It starts at the top.

If you’re the person that doesn’t foster change and encourage independent thinking, creative problem-solving and thinking outside the box, perhaps it’s time to update your management style.

But maybe you’re okay with your management style as it is.

Because that’s the way you’ve always done it.

Jayni Sech

Jayni Sech

Jayni founded Marketing Solutions Unlimited, a credit union marketing company, in 2001 to offer creative solutions to marketing challenges in the credit union industry. Her vision was to build a ... Web: Details