The theme and focus of this article is inspired by Simon Sinek’s book, “Find Your Why,” and the hundreds of thought-provoking conversations I’ve had with credit union teams in search of finding their unique purpose and the secret sauce that makes them clearly different and better.
I like to begin strategic conversations with a review of the credit union’s mission, vision, and values. I discovered a long time ago that a quick review of the Mission and Vision statements alone isn’t usually enough to inspire anyone. Heck, I’m lucky if anyone remembers their Mission or Vision statements! However, when we get the group talking about their “why,” i.e., their purpose, cause or belief and reason for existing, the conversation quickly turns to inspiring stories that evoke heartfelt and even visceral responses. That’s when I know we’re ready to expand on the “why” to clarify the vision and subsequent support strategies and activities moving forward.
I’ve said it before and it remains true today: there are a lot of credit unions that have an identity crisis. They struggle to provide an inspiring or motivating reason why someone should belong to their credit union versus the many other financial institution options available. If you believe your credit union team is suffering from an identity crisis, I recommend that you lead them through these three conversations.
Conversation One: “What makes you proud?”
Get your team to share specific stories of when they’ve felt the proudest of the work they do or of their credit union. You must get beyond, “I offered a lower rate and the member saved money.” You need to peel back the layers and get to an action that was meaningful and triggered an emotion. Stories about people and moments.
- “I’m proud that our credit union helps people with financial challenges that may not qualify for credit elsewhere.”
- “I’m proud to work for a company that encourages employees to support social causes and social responsibility.”
- “I’m proud to work for an organization that’s widely known and respected for its community service.”
Conversation Two: “What was the specific contribution that made you proud?”
The second conversation is linked to the first. This question focuses on the specific action or contribution the employee or the credit union made that contributed to the proud moment. Responses here are action related.
- “I listened to a member facing financial challenges and was able to find a solution that was right for her.”
- “I sign up for as many volunteer hours as I’m allowed by my credit union to support causes that we believe in.”
Conversation Three: “What did the contribution allow the member or community to go on to do or be?”
Here, we link the responses from the first and second conversations to complete the overall experience. What was the impact and/or outcome? How did the contribution make a difference?
- “Financial education that I provided helped a member qualify for a car loan, and now she has reliable transportation to work and greater financial security.”
- “My team’s contribution to and support of Habitat for Humanity resulted in affordable housing for good people in our community.”
Connecting the dots
Clearer themes emerge when management gathers employee and member experiences. Breaking down these experiences tap into what really motivates the team and it lays a foundation to strengthen the credit union’s brand and establish a firm foundation on which the credit union exists.
I’ve found that this exercise will freshen up Mission and Vision statements too. For example, breaking down the examples listed above, you could summarize the credit union’s “why” with the following statements: “To actively listen to members and find solutions to unique member needs so that they can have a better life,” or “We support Habitat for Humanity so that people of modest means can afford a better home.”
Why it matters
The last thing the world needs right now is another financial institution. Our products and services are perceived as commodities, and for many of our employees, their work at our credit unions is just a J-O-B. Members and our teams frequently have a hard time showing any emotion about the work we do or why we exist. Those credit unions that can clarify, with some level of emotion, whey they exist will have the best opportunity to differentiate, compete and win. The work environment will be more rewarding, and it will even be easier to recruit volunteers.
If you’re not convinced you have a purpose worth rallying toward, I hope you’ll give this idea a try. Who knows, you just may be surprised by the amazing stories your team shares about what they’re most proud and the impact it’s had on your members? You’re golden when this happens, because you’ll have clear and impactful examples of why you really matter.