Board Culture Strengthened by Learning
This past year I traveled 300,000 miles globally. The experience helped me connect dots that have serious consequences for business strategy and succession planning. It also reinforced a central theme that is emerging for all of us on boards: Can we learn as fast as the world is changing?
As directors, we are always in a position to influence the strategy of the corporate entity we serve. Change comes in multiple forms. The social unrest witnessed in the U.K. this past summer and the Occupy Wall Street movement reflects the environment in which capitalism operates. Technology-driven changes, I believe, will create increasing importance on the director’s new role as stewards of capitalism.
We understand that this speed of change implies greater volatility and more uncertainty. Linking our two primary responsibilities of strategy and succession planning, it raises the imperative of identifying creativity for key leadership positions. Creativity encourages an openness to understanding the importance of consumer needs and the products and services designed to meet them. It additionally includes the skill set of being able to manage and align people behind changing visions and missions over both the short and long term.
For context, I will share an experience I recently had at the Jay Walker Library of Human Imagination. I touched a page from the original Gutenberg bible. His invention of moveable type began the journey of unleashing information for large population bases. I was also overwhelmed by a message housed in the library. In early 1942, World War II was not progressing well for the Allies. Gen. Hap Arnold requested a meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Arnold expressed his concern for a defined war strategy. On the back of a cocktail napkin, Roosevelt defined the winning path for the war with bullet items. It was a stunning example of both clarity and vision, and reflected the Allies’ ultimate strategy.
In an era where we are overwhelmed by PowerPoint slides, this is a reminder of the need for prioritization, dashboards that link to strategy, the ability to communicate effectively, and learning. Further, boards have the imperative to unite their credit unions by setting values and succession planning leadership.
Years ago, I discussed with clients the issue of competition coming from two people in a garage. That moment of truth has arrived. Barriers to entry are evaporating as cloud technology becomes more ubiquitous. That reality has implications for the balancing of market demands for local consumption with global standards.
Boards will play a major role in setting the tone for the well-being of their members. Here are a couple of dots that can serve as early warning indicators: If your leadership team requires a Power Point for every conversation, you may not get to core customer imperatives.
Senior leaders have to have the character to reward behavior that is clear, concise and allows people to make better and quicker decisions. CEOs and boards need to ask questions that are designed to allow themselves to learn and collaborate. Asking direct questions requires thinking in a culture of both confidence and courage. When all these elements are in play, boards can feel much more confident about their credit union’s ability to succeed in a changing world.
So ultimately, boards should better understand how their credit union culture is being strengthened through learning. This spring, Bethpage Federal Credit Union will launch a learning curriculum that will provide an opportunity for their senior leadership to participate in classes that are designed to ensure creativity and innovation. Participants will begin by engaging in a current economic view designed to better understand the complexities of United States, employment and its implications for the rate environment.
They will then hear case studies on change management that will help to strengthen the foundation of communication and team alignment. This will be followed by a session on innovation and creativity. The last learning session will solely focused on the regulatory environment, public policy and its implications for credit unions throughout the country.
In the collaborative credit union spirit, under the leadership of Kirk Kordeleski, a decision has been made to invite neighboring credit union leaders to participate, with the belief that the credit union mission is always about cooperation based upon shared beliefs of member well-being and security. The Bethpage Federal Credit Union board participated fully in the creation of this educational effort and through their understanding of the importance of learning, leadership will be strengthened to drive new strategies and members will be better served.
Stuart R. Levine is chairman and CEO of Stuart Levine & Associates LLC, a strategy, leadership and governance consulting firm.