Why are we here: Does your credit union mission inspire its employees?

As we all refine our strategic plans and look beyond this year’s successes to yet another New Year, leaders should be challenged to ask themselves, “Are our employees engaged and focused on a mission-driven purpose tied to members and successful strategies?”

Over my 31-year leadership career in the credit union industry, through the evolution from those early years without the internet, email or PCs, until today’s focus on digital transformation and member experience, one thing has been a constant with our industry. That is, successful credit unions foster a mission-driven culture that attracts and engages talented team members. And the culture drives service excellence.

In a recent edition of the Harvard Business Review, an article titled, “Why are we here” caught my eye. The author’s premise was that, if we want employees who are more engaged and productive, we have to give them a purpose – one concretely tied to customers and our strategy.

Well, obviously that is what we should all want but how do we do it?

The article suggests that a purpose or mission statement is critically important and it needs to be continuously reinforced organizationally. As CEOs and management staff, we’re responsible for creating a powerful purpose or mission statement that clearly articulates strategy and that motivates employees. But this is so much more than words. It may begin with the words, but it has to extend into how they are communicated and reinforced throughout the credit union’s day-to-day operations, its website, marketing materials, employee reward systems and staff training.

Equally important, the HBR article suggests that delivering on the purpose includes several key elements. They are:

  1. Be a magnet for the right talent
  2. Connect with intention across boundaries
  3. Invest behind your purpose, and
  4. Make sure your leaders model your purpose

Today, it’s so easy to navigate through any credit union’s website to find their mission statement or elevator value pitch. These aren’t always the official mission statements but they articulate the credit union’s value proposition clearly and succinctly to current and prospective members:

California-based Schoolsfirst Credit Union promises this:

“Having served school employees for more than 80 years, we understand the financial challenges you face both in your classroom and at home. We design our products and services with you in mind, creating an ever-growing number of lower-cost, higher-quality offerings in an environment where your character counts more than your credit score. Compassion and a commitment to excellence are the promises we make to each other, to the educational system, and to every Member, especially those who need us the most.”

That’s pretty compelling. And surely employees find meaning in their work delivering on that promise.

At Michigan-based One Detroit Credit Union, and as a smaller urban credit union, their value pitch reads like this:

“Our mission is to impact and change lives.

We help people in our community who have been overlooked by the mainstream banking system by providing them with credible, fair and reasonably priced financial products and services.”

I love this emphasis on a purpose-driven mission to help those who need it the most.

The world’s largest credit union, Navy Federal puts it this way:

“Since 1933, Navy Federal has grown from seven members to over eight million members. And, since that time, our mission has remained the same: to serve and enrich the lives of those in the military community.”

That defines purpose very succinctly and powerfully.

And Pennsylvania’s largest credit union, PSECU professes this on their website:

“Opportunity starts here. Our free checking, ATM rebates*, cash rewards credit card, and low rate loans will help keep more of your money with you.”

I love that emphasis on helping people keep more of their money.

But to deliver on purpose, let’s go back to the four tips from the HRB article mentioned earlier.

First, being a magnet for the right talent means putting the right people in the right roles to achieve the credit union’s goals and competitive distinctiveness. For most credit unions, especially smaller ones, it’s unrealistic to achieve this in all operational areas. So, prioritizing the most pressing functions that need improvement, and committing to staffing excellence there, will carry the day. At any point in time, resource reinvention might be more pressing in product development, finance or sales culture.

So, prioritizing the areas where staffing excellence is most needed, is a critical staff for resource-strapped credit unions.

Second, to connect with intention across boundaries means that, once you have the right high-priority talent, the credit union needs to be configured to allow the team to accomplish the credit union’s objectives.

Again, this is so logical but so much easier said than done.

A popular concept is to create cross-functional teams. For instance, an innovation team or lending enhancement team to improve member experience. But cross-functional teams require prioritization and long-term commitment and lots of communication to avoid just creating another round of unproductive meetings.

Just as prioritizing talent improvements makes sense, so does the prioritization of cross-functional teams to address the credit union’s most pressing planning objectives.

Third, investing behind your purpose…

Few things are as demoralizing for staff as being asked to improve something without adequate resources and management commitment to follow through.

So, for instance, if a credit union wants to commit to a cross-functional process for improving member experience in mortgage lending, management needs to commit to staffing changes, enhancements, meeting processes, investment in technology platforms and other identified tactics in order to meet the objective.

CU Solutions Group recently acquired a company called, MemberXP. The platform is used by over 100 credit unions large and small.

MXProdigy lets you uncover the highs and the lows of multi-touch member experiences such as lending with pinpoint precision. In today’s omnichannel world, a typical loan might originate on the Web, get approved by a loan processor, and be closed by a telephone representative. That’s a great journey for the member, but there are plenty of places to stumble along the way. MXProdigy breaks omnichannel and multi-touch experiences into distinct parts for scoring and analysis so you can take action where it’s critical.

This is one example of a product that requires an investment by the credit union. Investing smartly behind your purpose is so important.

And finally, fourth, making sure leaders model your purpose…

I can’t tell you how many times my staff and other stakeholders have heard me reference CUSG’s mission statement of helping credit unions serve, grow and remain strong, so that together, we can make an impact on people’s lives.

But as leaders, we need to do more than say the words. As previously mentioned, we have to commit to staffing enhancements, the organizing of teams and the investments behind top objectives. We have to walk the talk.

Longtime Michigan football coaching legend Bo Schembechler led the University of Michigan’s football team for 20 years between 1969 to 1989. During those years, the team won almost 80% of their games and won or shared 13 Big 10 championships in the pre-BCS playoff era.

He famously said…

“When your team is winning, be ready to be tough, because winning can make you soft. On the other hand, when your team is losing, stick by them. Keep believing.”

In today’s record-long expansion economy, most credit unions are winning and producing great performance metrics. But when times are good, it’s easy to get soft and complacent. The largest banks are investing heavily in improved customer experience and digital banking. Credit unions need to do the same.

And when the next recession comes around, that’s when leaders especially need to invest in and believe in their team.

Great tools like Member XP’s member experience platform can help with that.

More broadly, applying principles like those laid out in the Harvard Business Review article can make for great plans that will truly impact the creation of the right organizational culture for attracting and retaining the talent that will make us successful in good times and bad.

Dave Adams

Dave Adams

Dave Adams is  President / Chief Executive Officer of CU Solutions Group. The  CUSG office is located in Livonia, Michigan. Mr. Adams joined the Michigan Credit Union League in August of ... Web: www.CUSolutionsGroup.com Details

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