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find themselves constantly challenged to grow and evolve if they want to succeed and not be deemed old fashion or out-of-date in meeting the demands of customers.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 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 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.
When faced with the reality that the corporate culture has changed to such an extent that it no longer is influenced by the values and principles that have defined its very essence from the day it was founded, we’ve seen businesses pursue various tactics.
Some, like Starbucks and Ritz-Carlton, focus on service quality to create a pathway back to their core values. Others find the solution in an ombudsman or an inspector general, who acts with an established degree of independence in order to represent the interests of the public 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 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 members.
Can that be said of your credit union and the way it stays connected to its heritage, particularly during this International Year of Cooperatives?
During my years at WesCorp, I’ve been fortunate to visit a number of small 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.
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 and pride in the service they were providing to others.
Unfortunately, not every credit union is generating that same kind of 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. Then there are shops where the staff works in silos, where communications are nonexistent or where the environment feels more like a for-profit financial center.
At a time 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 that they continue to embrace a heritage that is both cooperative in nature and committed to principles that Wall Street might find unappealing and old-fashion. It’s a time to recapture roots and renew our commitment to the dreams and aspirations first proposed by Filene and Burgengren.
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 can be a winning proposition.
By reclaiming a credit union’s heritage through innovative communications, public relations campaigns and creative educational and training initiatives, this “Chief Heritage Officer” (for lack of a better title) 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. Is it possible 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? n