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Why Troubled Economy Signals Time Is Ripe For CU Expansion

Credit unions were founded for times like today’s economic challenges. The main reason that we are in such a credit downturn today is that too many financial institutions turned to transactions in lieu of relationship building.

The fact that credit unions are the bastion of financial relationships gives us the key to guiding our members “through” the challenging times. Now is the time for credit unions to step up and grab the opportunity to build a solid recovery for our families/members.

In a world of media bombardment we cannot assume that the members know that credit unions offer solid solutions to many if not most of their challenges. I am still amazed at the services offered by my credit union in both personal and business accounts–and I have been serving the industry for several years.

Now is the time for boards and management to immerse themselves in ways that might actually change the way we do business with members. While the core principles must not change, methods and practices must reflect the times and the attitudes of our members. Do you know what these are?

Allow me to offer some suggestions in how to approach and ensure that you realize the best for your members/staff as well as create a legacy that will live on long after your leadership:

Innovation: America is renowned for being a place of innovation. It is my belief that we have only skimmed the surface of innovations and possibilities are waiting to be discovered. The biggest handicap in this area is the fact that we are not releasing the power behind innovation. It is not confined to the executive offices but very likely exudes itself in the very heart of the organization–the team on the front line. I challenge you to create innovation teams and give meaningful recognition to the individuals and teams that create the best new products, services, and practices that put the “wow” into your organization.

Talent: Before you look outside the organization for ways to positively gain ground during these economic times I would encourage you to look inside–at your talent. After almost 40 years in the workplace I still find scores of people waiting for leadership to show how ordinary people can achieve extraordinary results. Ask them what they see and what hurdles are in the path to keep them from realizing the fullness of their potential. Then, when they tell you, be prepared to create the world where they and their team members can realize these dreams.

People Leaving People

People leave people, and not jobs, which allows you to address one of the biggest cost factors in the credit union industry–turnover. Can you imagine what your credit union would be if the vast majority of your team was discovering a world of possibilities?

New Business Models: It is literally impossible to continue doing the same things the same way and expect different results. One of the attitudes that is a curse for many credit unions is “we have never done it this way before!” Why not? If you are not ready to take calculated risk then move over and let someone else lead. This is not the time to hide in an ivory tower but to touch and feel the realities of day-to-day world in your organization. In order to take on the new you must make room by letting something go.

Consider practices that are not serving you or your members well–even products and services–and let them go. Do not be the latest “me, too” to follow auto lending, selling off loans, etc., but get ahead of the pack and create where others can follow. Challenge your vendors to change their business models as well to better support your real needs and ways of doing business.

Mentoring/Coaching: The best way to realize new heights in your career or credit union is through one that has experienced the journey successfully. In fact, a healthy objectivity cannot be achieved unless the advice and guidance of one is sought outside the organization. There is power in the perspective of one that can call a spade a spade, whose only objective is to help you to grow.

It has been said that when we stop learning we begin the process of dying. This is very true and applicable in the business environment. A mentor can not only show you new ways of observing and moving but can surface the real potential within you waiting to spring into life. Find a mentor or leadership coach that understands both the credit union and the bigger financial services industry and with a heart that aligns with you and your organization. The mentor is one that thrives on enriching the lives of others. This relationship can not only positively impact your professional life but your personal life as well. Do you know what you do not know?

The current credit crunch is an opportunity for new leaders to emerge realizing the goal of making credit unions the financial institution of choice for decades to come. Be visible, innovative, caring, learning, building community internally and externally, and believe that the best is waiting for our discovery.

Jim Rives is the Founder & CEO of Executive Leadership Institute, LLC in Phoenix. For info: www.executiveleadershipinstitute.com. (c) 2008 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.cujournal.com http://www.sourcemedia.com

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