In today’s competitive marketplace, businesses find themselves constantly challenged to grow and evolve if they want to succeed and not be deemed old fashion or out-of-date in meeting the demands of customers.
Although change and a willingness to grow and become — for the right purpose — is a proven good strategy, any constant urge to fix one’s gaze steadily toward the future while letting go of the past can prove detrimental to the organization’s identity and reputation. Losing touch with one’s roots, one’s heritage, is a sure course for disaster. It not only fuels a dysfunctional workplace but can tear apart the very fabric of the organization’s brand.
We’ve seen businesses pursue various tactics when faced with the reality that the organization or its corporate culture has changed to such an extent that the organization itself is no longer influenced by the values and principles that have defined its very essence from the day it was founded,
To offset that tide and create a pathway back to their core values, some, like The Ritz-Carlton and Starbucks, focus on service quality. Guaranteeing an experience of quality not only helps to excel their brand reputation beyond all others in the marketplace, it unites staff and customers alike under a common banner that clearly spells out who they are and what their heritage represents. It creates a sense of pride among staff and loyalty among customers wanting to be identified with excellence.
Others find the solution in an ombudsman or an inspector general, who acts with an established degree of independence in order to bridge the interests of the public with the organization in an unbiased manner.
Then, there are those who take an innovative course. They hire someone like the stern elderly lady in the Hanes underwear commercials. Remember her, Inspector 12? She would look over each pair, stamp it and proudly proclaim, "They don't say Hanes until I say they say Hanes!"
No matter what course of action is chosen, any attempt to recapture one’s roots needs to be fully comprehensive and all-pervasive in nature if it is to be successful. It not only needs to find ways of expression through enhanced communications but it must also be celebrated and embraced on a daily basis, by the board, the staff, and yes, even among members.
Can that be said of your credit union and the way it lives its heritage, particularly during the month of October as we observe International Credit Union Day on Oct. 18, and especially during a year designated by The United Nations as The International Year of Cooperatives?
I would think that for some, the effort is simple and easy, while for many others it can pose quite a daunting task.
During my years at WesCorp, I was fortunate enough to visit a number of small-asset size credit unions and remember seeing on more occasions than one, the manager greeting members by name, one-by-one, at the front door. Amazing as it was, that was just the tip of the iceberg. The spirit and morale of what it means to be a “credit union” ran high in those shops, among staff and members alike.
In those shops, members were actively involved in educational offerings and in the annual meeting. They all seemed to display a genuine love for the credit union, and that included all their immediate family members as well.
Was it because they were made to feel like owners or was it simply that they experienced the values associated with the credit union business model in a very direct and personalized way? I never was able to ask the members or learn their actual reasoning, but one thing was absolutely crystal clear to me. Each of these small-asset size credit unions was grounded firmly in its cooperative heritage. They all remained faithful to their roots.
Some may conclude that it was the small size of the organization that contributed to the spirit. Others might attribute it to serving one SEG or explain it as simply the reflection of a leader who by example lives the values of the credit union’s heritage. Nonetheless, each shop had a pervasive spirit of cooperation, honestly and pride in the service they were providing to others.
Unfortunately, not every credit union is generating an equivalent experience. Right now there are shops in the U.S. struggling to build morale, searching desperately for a way to recapture the days of old when the credit union represented something more than a place to do one’s banking. There are shops where staff works in silos, where communications are abysmal or where the environment feels more like a for-profit financial center than a credit union dedicated to people helping people.
At a time in history when more people are transferring their money from banks to credit unions than ever before, credit unions of all shapes and sizes need to ensure the public — their members — that they continue to embrace a heritage that is both cooperative in nature and committed to principles that Wall Street finds unappealing and old-fashioned.
It’s a time to recapture roots and renew our commitment to the dreams and aspirations first proposed by Filene and Bergengren.
We may not need an ombudsman or an Inspector 12, but certainly appointing someone whose fulltime job is to ensure that the credit union remain faithful to its roots, and acknowledges that heritage in word and deed can be a winning proposition. Consider the results for a moment.
By reclaiming a credit union’s heritage through innovative communications and PR campaigns, through creative educational and training initiatives, this — let’s call him/her, “Chief Heritage Officer” — can nourish morale and enliven the spirit of the credit union in ways that can have a far-reaching impact for staff, the board and members as well.
Yes, there is a price to pay but is it not worth the investment? Or, can it be that improved morale and a heightened awareness of the credit union’s values and reputation in the community might not contribute significantly to the bottom line? I’m willing to wager the opposite. What about you?
It seems to me the real secret for a credit union’s success may have been with us from the day we first opened our doors and served a member. We just need to be reminded on a daily basis that we aren’t a credit union until we first BE a credit union by embracing our roots and living the values and principles embodied in our credit union heritage.