Core Values are a Compass for Future Success

“That isn’t in line with our Core Values.” The sweetest words I can hear as the unofficial “brand and experience manager” at Members First Credit Union is to overhear this phrase during a discussion between employees. Why? You know you’ve been successful at instilling something important with your staff when they are actively living them and talking about them. 

But how does an organization go about defining and – more importantly - living its core values? It is a process that requires thought, time, and buy-in from all levels of the credit union.

Step 1: What are core values?

The phrase “Core Values” has a generic overall definition of “a principle that guides an organization’s internal conduct as well as its relationship with the external world. Core values are usually summarized in the mission statement or in a statement of core values.” Source:

But an organization’s Core Values, if they are well-defined, are anything but generic. Your credit union’s core values should be deeply personal to everyone at all levels of the organization. In the same way that if physical fitness were important to someone, they will condition themselves to make cardiovascular and weight training a regular priority by going to the gym or seeing a personal trainer several times a week. The same type of training regimen needs to occur with something vitally affecting the health and success of your credit union such as its Core Values.

Step 2: Research! What makes your credit union a great place to work and bank?

The Members First Credit Union Core Values took shape over several months this year and through several ways. The information we used to assemble our values was gleaned from employee surveys, member surveys, and extensive conversations at the supervisory and management-level. The last step was to compile the master list during one of our Leadership Team meetings – something we have committed to doing on a weekly basis.

Step 3: Take the time to get buy-in from everyone

The most important step in the determination of your credit union’s Core Values is obtaining that mutual agreement, at all levels, that your Core Values accurately represent “who we are and what we are about” as a credit union. Spend time discussing it during management meetings, staff meetings, department meetings, board meetings, and in everyday conversations at the credit union.

Once mutual agreement is attained, buy-in from the members, staff, management, and Board naturally follows. But without buy-in, your credit union’s Core Values will become just another soon-to-be-forgotten management memo.

Step 4: Communicate, communicate, communicate

Writing down your Core Values is only one step in truly adopting and living your organizational core values. The harder and ongoing work comes from continually communicating them to everyone who encounters the credit union, both inside and outside the business.

Once our Core Values were defined, we went to work designing a Core Values Communication Plan to bring them to life in our credit union. The plan outlines the mediums by which the Core Values will be communicated, the frequency, and staff member(s) responsible for each. If everyone is committed on the inside of the credit union, communicating the core values effectively to people outside of the credit union will take care of itself. The important thing to note about our communication plan is that it isn’t just the marketing department’s responsibility. Every department and every staff member has an important role in carrying out this communication plan.

Step 5: Walk the walk

As you can see by the Members First Credit Union Core Values, we deeply value the member-driven aspect of our unique industry, the people we serve, the people who work for us, and clearly state that honesty and respect are imperative to being part of our team. That’s why you’ll hear “Your Members First Credit Union, how may I help you?” when our real-person receptionist answers the phone. It’s why we have an employee recognition program that rewards good deeds performed to members and/or between coworkers. It’s why we do everything that we do.

In my opinion, some companies that do a great job of defining and living their Core Values are:

After looking at each of these companies, you’ll see that these values aren’t just words to their respective organizations. Whole Foods is an organic food-shopping experience. You know that you’ll always get a speedy delivery and stellar service when you order from And, even though I’ve never been to Disney, I still know it’s “the happiest place on Earth.”

An organization’s Core Values have both a direct and indirect impact on everything involved in managing your credit union. A complete set of Core Values, arrived at through mutual agreement on the part of the members, staff, management and Board, can be so powerful that they will act as the credit union’s compass. Using this compass will help you determine what new products are offered to members, which business partners you choose to work with, pricing on new and existing services, and how you review your loan applications. It works this way because our core values compel our members to tell us what they want and what they need. In short, your Core Values will guide the strategic and operational direction of your credit union.

Make sure you put the time in on the front-end of the process to develop the consensus necessary to make the project worthwhile. By doing so, you and your members will be rewarded with a crystal clear vision, a unique member experience, and a thriving credit union for many years to come.