Put purpose at the center of strategy

Your credit union’s purpose matters. Organizational purpose is not just an abstract concept. It is the reason an organization exists. Your purpose is the call to action for your credit union to serve and benefit your members and the community. Putting purpose at the core of strategy creates more unified organizations, more motivated employees, and a broader positive impact on society. It helps everybody in the credit union to understand the “why” you do what you do. A clear articulation of purpose at the core of strategy lets your people see the “what” of value creation for members, and the “how” they are responsible for member service. It is an impetus for action and inspires employees to accelerate their connection to both the organization and members.

A clear statement of purpose is the one or two sentences that define why an organization exists. In theory, your mission is your purpose, and you can think of mission and purpose as synonymous. But there is power in thinking of purpose as even more: more personal to employees, more impactful, more enduring, more ambitious. Although powerful, only a minority of organizations effectively deploy purpose as a driver of strategy. Even though most Boards and leaders understand the importance of purpose to strategy, almost invariably obstacles in employing purpose involve lack of clarity at the top, insufficient clear communication around purpose from the top, or both. Clear consensus among the Board and C-suite officers on the statement of purpose is the starting point. Once the Board and senior management are aligned around the simple, clear, distinct, and unique statement of the organization’s purpose, it can guide decision-making, be shared throughout the credit union, understood by all, and used to align the employees with the execution of strategy. They get a sense of the bigger picture when their true north star is purpose.

COVID-19 has been disruptive to so many credit unions, and many are finding that they have to pivot to even survive. This makes it an especially fitting time to take a hard look at purpose and consider the process to assess, refine, and re-articulate the reason your organization exists. The process may be backward-looking, forward looking, or a hybrid. Looking backward can clarify and define the credit union’s existing reason for being. An “aha moment” can arise when the Board and C- Suite assess purpose with fresh eyes and realize that the statement of purpose describes what has been in the organizational and cultural DNA all along. The purpose makes sense of the credit union’s past; makes clear where it came from; how it got to where it is; and what makes it unique to members. 

Alternatively, a forward-looking, externally focused approach takes into account the overall ecosystem available to the credit union and the potential for operating in that system. The statement of purpose emerges as leaders ask about the trends affecting the business, new needs for members, different opportunities, and novel challenges that lie ahead. Purpose clarifies how the credit union will address this future. In addition, a hybrid approach may start with the Board and leadership assessing the existing statement of purpose and then adjusting it based on the emerging realities. 

Regardless of how the Board and leadership arrive at a current articulation of purpose, they must consistently and frequently articulate it, so everyone knows the “why” of what the credit union wants to do and the “where” the organization is going. There is a growing sense that by manifesting purpose, firms can contribute in definitive relevant ways to societal well-being. Credit unions have been ahead of other companies in understanding the importance of purpose for creating multi-faceted expressions of societal value. When a credit union lives its purpose, its members, suppliers, the community, and other stakeholders trust it even more and want to interact with it. The members are more loyal and employees more engaged.

Stuart R. Levine

Stuart R. Levine

Founded in 1996, Stuart Levine & Associates LLC is an international strategic planning and leadership development company with focus on adding member value by strengthening corporate culture. SL&A ... Web: www.Stuartlevine.com Details