There is so much to do. Member expectations continue to increase. The need to grow overall membership does, too.
In the meantime, you must invest in digital platforms, talent, and process optimization. You also cannot forget marketing and education. Who knew we would have to keep reminding people that credit unions are different than banks?
The challenge with being this busy for this long is that it wears us out. Change fatigue is real. Lethargy and apathy are the results.
Organizations that become lethargic become comfortable with the status quo. They see their team accept mediocrity. You hear statements such as, “We tried that once. It didn’t work,” or “There is no way we could ever pull that off.”
The team and Board that were once ready to conquer the world are replaced with people who limp into the future doing the minimum to get by.
There is nothing wrong with that approach if you don’t mind irrelevance. Yes, your credit union will eventually become obsolete in the marketplace. If you are lucky, you will have moved on by then and another credit union with more energy and resources will step in to serve your members.
Should your credit union experience a slow decline into irrelevance, you can console yourself in the fact that the status of “legend” is earned by very few.
Wait – you do want to be legendary? You don’t want to settle for becoming a lethargic, irrelevant has-been?
Retaining a nimble, energetic culture is a challenge. As Peter Drucker said, “So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.”
You can prevent – or at least impede the spread of – organizational lethargy by avoiding these six traps.
- Telling members what they need rather than listening to what they want. In energetic, engaged organizations, every opportunity to interact with a member is celebrated. You wanted to make your products and services better. Most important, energetic credit unions go out of their way to make members feel important. That obsession with making members feel important can wane when you experience success, and it is easy to slip into the trap of viewing them as an inconvenience rather than a valued partner. If that happens, the energy around solving member problems turns into complacency. Complacency easily becomes lethargy. As Newton’s First Law of Motion taught us, objects that are in motion tend to stay in motion. Keep everyone moving toward making members feel important.
- Hiring people for competency rather than hiring people who get your vision and culture. This is a slippery slope that begins innocently when you decide that the tradeoff between fit and hard-to-find skills is worth it. You rationalize that the team can work around one person who doesn’t quite “get it.” The next time sacrificing fit becomes a little easier because your initial experience wasn’t THAT bad. Before long, you have lost the commitment to the vision and culture that gave your credit union life. The adage that “one bad apple spoils the barrel” is based on science folklore. Sacrifice your vision and culture at your own risk.
- Rewarding efficiency and risk avoidance to the detriment of investment and innovation. It is easy to emphasize efficiency and risk avoidance when costs are increasing every day. They generate increased resources and keep expenses in check. The savings can be reinvested in member benefits. The challenge is that your credit union needs new ideas, services, and products to grow. Sure, innovation can be messy and disruptive. On the other hand, you do not want the last words of your organization to be, “We’ve never done it that way before.”
- Valuing specialists more than great leaders who create energy and focus. The President of the University named most innovative regional college in the South for eight consecutive years is led by a president who is not an academic by education. A large international financial services client placed a person from marketing in the role of CIO because they wanted an increased focus on the customer. A municipal government client made a police captain the head of public works because he embodied leadership. Specialists know the best practices that worked in the past. Great leaders know the questions that help you focus and change for the future.
- Becoming a slave to policies and procedures more than being guided by doing what is right. Policy and procedure provide structure and consistency. Those are good things as you grow and become more successful. They, however, become a bad thing that sucks the energy from your operation when following the policy prevents your team from exercising judgement to do what is right. As Emerson noted, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
- Failing to act on the signs of fatigue and burnout. There are many things that can derail your credit union over which you have little or no control. Failing to watch for and act on the signs of organizational fatigue is not one of them. Even small, spontaneous acts send the message that you care.
Apathy and lethargy do not appear suddenly or without warning signs. By the time they are evident, complacency has started to take root in your organization. Our members become complacent about us when we become complacent about them. That is a sure path to irrelevance.