Technology changes rapidly. Communities change. Relationships change. Product demand changes. People move. Employees leave and quit. Regulations change. This is another reminder that change is inevitable. Response to change can be variable. Some people are more excited by change than others. No matter a person’s tolerance for change, it is a stressful event. Even good change is stressful because it requires stretching your mental capacities, learning new routines, and just generally getting uncomfortable.
Change is also a time to get distracted. In the middle of changing situations, it is easy to get lost and start focusing on less important things. Less important things can mean a lot of things depending on the context. Believe it or not, even your strategic plan can include “less important things.” That is nowhere near saying your strategic goals and member service objectives are not important. They are very important. Your strategic plan might even be the cause of the change event. Change sometimes comes because of goals – whether that is a leadership transition or a major system conversion. In fact, meeting goals rarely can be done without changing something.
When there is a shift, whether big or small that makes you and your organization feel disoriented, this is the time to revisit values. Values are deeper than goals and are what guide goals. Sometimes the goal feels like the objective or the reason for being. It is time to remember it is not. Accomplishing a 10% year over year member growth goal is notable. It is not your credit union’s reason for being. As credit unions, when we lose sight of our values, the seven cooperative principles are an easy anchor to come back and review. Those are your reason for existing. Tangible things in credit union branches should reflect member participation, democratic opportunity, and concern for community, among others. Your specific credit union may have other values that extend beyond the cooperative principles, but these should be values we share as an industry. For example, I have had the privilege of working with a board member who was also a founding member of my credit union. He consistently reminds the board that our organization was founded to combat predatory lending and promote economic equity. He ensured this was a guiding value of the institution even though specific goals changed from year to year. The institution also valued the seven cooperative principles but understood why it existed on an even deeper level than the shared industry principles.
Values ground us in times of change, but also remind us that goals for their own sake aren’t the objective. We need to be reminded that we are not growing or lending more or onboarding new vendors or developing better training programs for the sake of being the biggest, most profitable credit union around. If winning in the competitive landscape is our only reason for being, it isn’t enough. It is not enough to engage employees, to attract members that are loyal, and it is not enough to continue fighting a challenging battle for consumer wallets in an environment that favors very large financial institutions. As an industry and as individual credit unions, it is important and necessary to identify the values that make us what we are, and make sure those values are guiding our goals and determining the direction of the changes we implement.