SAN ANTONIO — Be interdependent and learn from your mistakes, engage your customers and innovate but be careful what risks you take.
That’s the advice of some of the management experts who spoke at America’s Credit Union Conference here. The conference theme was “Big Time,” and attendees were encouraged to think big when addressing the management and regulatory challenges they face in these tumultuous times.
One of the speakers, Alison Levine, recounted her experiences climbing some of the world’s highest mountains and made comparisons between the challenges she faced with those people in the business world have to deal with. Levine, a former investment banker for Goldman Sachs, now combines her love of outdoor adventures and business expertise to advise individuals and companies on management and personal development strategies.
She noted that when she put together her teams for climbing the highest peaks on every continent, the skills and experience of her potential teammates were important, even more significant was the compatibility of the members because they knew they would have to rely on each other and spend every waking hour together.
She noted that when they began their climbs, focusing on the end goal often seemed daunting so they learned to break down the task into smaller, more manageable parts.
Levine said when executing your plan, don’t obsess about any missteps you might make and don’t worry if you are afraid.
“Fear is O.K>, complacency is what will kill you,” she said. “Storms are always temporary. The key is to plan less and execute more.”
Levine, an adjunct professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West point, was channeling the philosophy of one of its most famous alumni, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who famously said that when preparing for battle “plans are useless, planning is everything.”
She also said while getting to the top of several mountains is exciting and satisfying, the thrill is sometimes short lived. And she added that that is often the case with other life goals which is why “it’s not about the outcome but about the journey.”
To make that journey more pleasant and successful for credit unions and their members, customer service specialist Jeanne Bliss advised credit union leaders to treat your members as people not numbers and show you want to earn the right to the next customer interaction.
Bliss said organizations should be willing to jump over fences to help customers and try to avoid passing them among staff members to solve their problems.
Bliss also advised to avoid using acronyms when discussing products and services and have written communications that are readable.
She told attendees that they will earn members' loyalty if you get them involved in the planning process when rolling out new products. When you've made a mistake handle it quickly and with class, she added.
"Grace and wisdom guide the decision making of respected companies," she said.
Bliss said that by taking these steps you will have a positive influence on the way your members tell your credit union’s story and you are likely to thrive in the ultracompetitive financial services marketplace.
Before you can engage customers, you have to have innovative products and services and an organization that is responsive to the changing economic and technological landscape.
That was the advice of Douglas Hall, the founder and CEO of Eureka! Ranch, an invention and research think tank.
“Use innovation to reboot and restart your growth curve. There's never been a better time [to do so] than now,” he said. "If you are not meaningfully unique, you better be cheaper [than the competition].”
The key to measuring whether you have done enough innovation is to determine if you are smarter than you were six months ago.
Hall warned that while sensible risk tasking is often effective, people shouldn’t do crazy things because that invariably gets them and their organizations into trouble.
He added that when you have decided on what products to promote to your members, do it as clearly and concisely as possible because “marketing gives you a chance to declare your organization’s purpose.”
Hall said although he works with many organizations he feels a special kinship to credit unions, which he described as “the only intelligent life form in the banking industry.”