What does success look like?
As the name of my company suggests, we exist to help credit unions succeed. Consequently, when I meet with a prospective client one of the first questions I like to ask is “What does success look like?” I’m often met with a puzzled look. However when I phrase the question “How do you measure success” I tend to get better results. Improved results, but the answers still lack confidence. Without being able to define this how does an institution know whether or not it is succeeding?
The truth of the matter is that many institutions have difficulty projecting out quantifiable results 3-5 years in the future that they are willing to commit to as corporate goals. Yet to be truly successful they need to start taking specific actions today that will get them moving towards “success” in the not too distant future.
What Gets Measured Gets Done
My opinion is that credit unions must develop a limited number (i.e. 3-5) of ideal long term measurable goals that blend growth, profitability & member satisfaction; then identify the short term measurable goals that will be required to pave the way. Follow this directly by implementing the underlying actions that will create the desired results over time.
If you’re like most institutions these days you’re creating more data than you’ll ever be able to utilize. But extracting meaningful and timely results from these warehouses of data can be incredibly frustrating. It requires a careful blend of science and art to arrive at metrics that will truly impact and move your institution forward. In my experience if you can’t measure the results at least monthly you’re not able to be proactive in responding to competitive opportunities that quickly come and go – that’s not a marketing issue it’s a strategic governance one. Eliminate “noise” and confusion whenever possible. It’s imperative that your team understands not only why the goals are critical to your success, but how they are measured and what will impact them.
Where to Start
Once you have a defined, focused vision it should be fairly easy to “see” the outcomes that successful execution will produce. Look to historical trends and peer data to see what’s reasonable yet challenging. Make certain that the results you want to achieve will produce the effect necessary to move your credit union to your desired state. Just as important, ensure that you have valid, concrete and actionable strategies that can be implemented to “raise the bar”.
It’s All about Balance
Just like many things in life if taken to excess the end result can be unhealthy. Consequently it’s important to have the appropriate checks and balances in place when identifying your company’s critical measures. While growth is critical to overcome unavoidable increases in operating expenses, unprofitable growth can be an organization killer. Likewise growing too quickly to maintain acceptable service levels can also be the precursor to failure. It is essential in selecting what you will measure that you consider the pros and cons, and when necessary ensure the appropriate counter measures are included.
It’s far too easy to get distracted by shiny, new apps and tools that promise a remedy for what ails you. Coupled with the excuse of ever increasing compliance, regulations and security issues maintaining focus on executing projects that will impact your corporate goals is harder than ever. Yet that’s exactly what needs to happen. It requires discipline and structure to keep your attention on the very limited number of objectives necessary for you to succeed. However, in many ways it also helps to simplify the decision making process. If it doesn’t impact the corporate goals then you don’t need to make it happen. Therefore it’s imperative to choose the right goals and set them appropriately.
Celebrate Success & Constructively Address Failure
If you’re hitting all your goals right out of the gate you haven’t created challenging enough objectives for your credit union to really excel and differentiate itself from the competitive landscape. Failure to achieve initial progress can be a great learning tool for you to see how your team responds and who has the right attitude and determination to persevere over the long haul. While getting some quick wins has its merits consistently creating ever increasing momentum over a sustained period of time is much more difficult. A truly great organization has to be built over a period of time – part of that includes learning from your mistakes and a mindset of continuous process improvement.
Finally, if I’ve learned anything in my decades of credit union leadership it’s that change, while sometimes painful, is the only path to greater heights. At times when certain metrics have been achieved it’s fine to retire them and start working on other underperforming areas in the organization. As in life the reward is in the journey itself – hitting your goals simply reinforces the progress you’re making along the way.