Collaborate to Reach Your Greatest Potential: Part Two

Credit unions are cooperatives with many facets. Foundationally, we are comprised of members pooling their resources for better rates and lower fees. Take a look from a higher level, and we are cooperatives with one another on a local level through chapters, CUSOs, and other ventures. But we are also part of a national and worldwide cooperative of credit unions as well.

We not only have a responsibility to help our members, but we have a responsibility to all of the other levels of cooperation within our movement.

In my last blog post, I outlined how the formula for someone’s professional success can be applied to the success of credit unions and the cooperative credit union movement by installing an organizational culture of change and growth and collaborating with other credit unions. So let’s look at how a credit union can attain success by adopting those same principles.

Discover Your Strengths

As one of the biggest reasons for instituting an organizational culture is to cultivate die-hard fans out of your members, it is important to focus on one thing and do it really well. Credit unions need to stop trying to serve everyone and with everything available in the marketplace. Instead, it is imperative that your credit union does two things to start out:

  1. Define what you are good at and focus on it!
  2. Actively position your credit union around its strengths! Your strengths are your value proposition for your members. If your credit union prides itself on having the latest and greatest technologies for it members, make that the focus of your marketing efforts and in regular communications with members. If it is “we always have the lowest rates on home mortgages in town,” that is your value proposition. Choose one and go from there. If you don’t focus on what you are good at, you can’t get people to love you and become die-hard fans!

Realize You Are Not Alone

As the regulatory environment and global economy continue to put more pressure on our industry, credit unions are feeling the squeeze: financially (hello, NCUA assessments!) and time-wise. The window of opportunity for credit unions is wide open – and continues to get wider as banks institute fees on debit cards for example - and we have the luxury of collaborating with other credit unions. This will help us to maximize our individual strengths and also gain market share as an industry.

If you find that your credit union is overburdened with compliance issues, changing technology, or operations, why not partner with another credit union to streamline processes, cut costs, and free up some precious time? Other credit unions are not the competition. Credit unions and community banks are all working to attract people who bank at the big institutions such as Chase, Bank of America, and others. It is these large financial institutions from which we can most starkly differentiate ourselves as a cooperative movement. This is where the opportunity lies to gain market share.

Some steps to get involved might be:

  • Network with peer credit union leaders – invite them to join you for a cup of coffee!
  • Participate in local credit union chapter events – these typically revolve around education, community outreach, and/or political advocacy and can be a great benefit to you and your employees.
  • Volunteer for a credit union chapter committee or board seat (they are always looking for trustworthy and motivated people to join their ranks).

All of these things will introduce you to other leaders in your industry, set the stage for peer relationships, and possibly open doors for collaboration in the future. If you don’t get out there and get involved, you are insulating yourself and your credit union from success that could be leveraged by focusing on our cooperative structure.

Enlist the Help of Others

Just as marketer might befriend a graphic designer to collaborate on a campaign, credit unions can do the same. Members First Credit Union and Powerco Credit Union, a similarly-sized area credit union, joined forces in late 2009 to start Member Power Mortgage in order to offer our members a safe and economical way to attain mortgage loans. There are hundreds of credit union partnerships like this all over the country in the form of CUSOs and joint ventures. Credit union history and past success is steeped in collaboration and creative ways to join forces

Our industry needs people who care about the movement as a whole just as much as they care about their own credit unions and members. Collaborating within our cooperative movement is what we need to do for credit unions to go viral and raise awareness to that 95% of the market we haven’t reached. For example, a recent post on The Financial Brand blog entitled “Credit Unions: Here’s That Awareness Campaign Everybody’s Been Waiting For” is a great way credit unions can leverage our nimbleness, our community roots, and our small budgets to have a huge impact. All it takes is a great idea and a “work together” attitude between credit unions.

On the service side, if your credit union rocks at auto loans, but needs help with its credit card portfolio, find the credit union whose core strength is credit cards! We are stronger – and can do much more – together. Case in point: Shared Branching

As I said in my latest video update, culture leads to growth and profitability in your credit union. Not only will an organizational culture help your credit union to succeed by focusing its efforts and collaborating with others, but doing so can allow you to better serve your members, which is the responsibility we all share as credit unions.

Focus on the Positive and Form Positive Partnerships

Surrounding myself with positive people – both professionally and personally – has helped me to become a better marketer, chapter president, sister, daughter, girlfriend, and friend.

The same thing can ring true for your credit union.  Having good-fit employees is one of the five key targets for Members First Credit Union, which came directly out of the organizational culture we began instituting this year.  Focusing on your employees’ strengths, getting them into the correct positions, and sometimes letting go of ones who don’t buy-in or fit with your credit union’s core values is the most important step in developing an organizational culture.  Having a positive environment at your credit union will catalyze your credit union’s future success.

Once you have those good-fit employees, you need to continually equip them with the tools they need to grow. For example, my credit union has recently made a library of personal development, organizational development, and business-related books available for employees to “check out” at any time. And they are rewarded for doing so. For every two books they read, an employee will receive a $25 Visa Gift card. There is no “test” for them to take at the end. They just need to think of at least one idea from each book that they would like to implement at the credit union. Again, our culture is one of growth and embracing change, so this program fits perfectly with that goal.

If you or your employees don’t have time to read, make the books that interest you available on CD so your employees can turn their cars into “traveling universities” as my friend Mark Arnold wisely advises his audiences and clients.

Your credit union will benefit from building its culture around positive focus and positive partnerships because it increases employee engagement, innovation, trust within your credit union and its relationships with other credit unions, and a better experience for your members.

Lastly, reach out to your fellow credit union peers.Positive reinforcement, support, collaboration and encouragement not only increase trust and build solid relationships; it’s a principle on which credit unions were founded.