Live in the Moment but Plan for the Future
Credit unions consistently tout their superior member service, particularly when comparing themselves to the bank next door. I would bet that most credit unions would find themselves in a dead heat in that comparison, or even falling behind. Credit unions need to get out of the mindset that putting a smiling face in front of the person walking up to the teller counter is all there is to member service.
Behind that beaming face, cogs better be turning in their mind. That person not only needs to be cordial to your members but also knowledgeable enough to speak intelligently about their questions or direct the member off the top of his or her head to the person who can.
That person also needs to be able to cross sell products and not just by asking would you like a credit card to go with your checking account. The person needs to be able to dialogue with the member and be perceptive enough to what products might be of interest to the member. Highlighting the special rate on mortgages that month to someone who closed on their house last week is a huge waste of everyone's time. However, listening to the member talk about the family car dying should instantly spark the thought, "Our auto loan rates are the best in town" or whatever you see as your credit union's advantage in that area.
However, this takes training, an item typically cut when times are tight. Cutting back or out training is a huge mistake; employee training is a worthwhile investment and not just some expense line item you can do without. Well-trained employees can earn a business so much more money than they cost. These employees are also happy employees, precisely because they feel they are invested in and they created a very tangible benefit to the company.
Employee buy-in is crucial to any successful business, and this is one area where credit unions should really shine because they truly can be doing a world of good. But these front-line folks, arguably the hardest working, most important people at your credit union, are also likely the lowest paid and have the highest turnover. At a time when credit unions should be assuring members that they're in business to stay or recruiting from the banks in the area that have gone out of business, the last thing you should have is a revolving door at your front line.
I would also be remiss if I did not bring up diversity of staff during African-American History Month. Make an effort for your staff to represent the area or field of membership you serve. Different and wonderful ideas come from people of all walks of life, which can help your business become better diversified and in-tune with the people you are serving or would like to serve. If there's a large population that speaks another language, some staff should be bilingual.
Diversity should also pertain to age. Don't keep the twenty-somethings out of the executive meetings; they have valuable insights to offer. Sometimes those of us beyond that age don't realize how far beyond it we are, and we can't possibly determine what potential members that age want from their financial institution. No matter how many surveys you do or studies of Gen Y you've read, anecdotal evidence at your fingertips has a value, too. And if an employees' opinions are listened to, evaluated and occasionally implemented, they feel better about the organization they're working for.
Including younger employees in some of the strategic meetings also subliminally trains them for what goes on at those higher levels. One day that marketing assistant could be running the department, and there is nothing better than on-the-job training. Executives can evaluate whether this whippersnapper is potential management material and so can the employee.
In the next 10 years or so, there will be a growing hole in the leadership at credit unions as the baby boomers make their exit. Some executives may be in denial of their own mortality or fear being ousted or be incredibly egotistical but creating a succession plan and developing employees to fit into it is essential to the continuity of an organization. I frequently hear that lack of succession planning as a key concern from consultants, NCUA executives, and credit union executives. A credit union is larger than any one executive, responsible to employees for income and members for financial safety, and the organization should be able pick up and keep humming along if you were hit by a bus tomorrow.
Still others just don't bother. A merger is their succession plan. But as the current economic crisis has limited merger options so much, if the CEO were to leave tomorrow, is a merger even still feasible for your credit union? This is no plan; it's an easy out for someone else to deal with.
Facing facts and planning for the future. That is an executive's job. If you aren't doing it, you aren't doing your job.
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