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How To Manage Change Inside Your Credit Union In Today's Environment

With all the changes occurring within the economy and adversely affecting CUs, change inside your credit union is inevitable. That said, how many initiatives are you putting on your employees' plates in the coming months that will require them to do their work differently — or more efficiently — to ensure the survival your credit union while still providing quality member service?

What can you do to beat the odds — especially when your survival is potentially at stake?

These strategic initiatives usually fall under several major categories: top line growth, expense control, credit union differentiation, member experience, and compliance/regulatory measures. Some of these initiatives will be simple and easy for employees to embrace, others will require some significant planning as they will require employees to behave in very different ways.

Before we get started, however, research shows that 75% of major change efforts fail to meet the expectations of stakeholders. Author John Kotter, known for his best selling book, Leading Change, says that there are eight barriers that stop change efforts dead in their tracks. They are as follows: Not establishing a great sense of urgency; Not creating a powerful enough guiding coalition; Lacking a vision; Not creating a powerful enough guiding coalition; Not removing obstacles to the new vision; Not systematically planning for, and creating, short-term wins; Declaring victory too soon, and Not anchoring changes in the corporation's culture.

There are two basic elements to consider with any new initiative. First: How easy will the employees (and members) be able to "digest" the new initiative and embrace the change quickly?

Second: From a communications standpoint, how can the management team communicate effectively to ensure employees are engaged in helping change their behaviors to successfully meet the expectations of the credit union and its members?

The following are some tips on how best to address these two elements:

  • To forecast how easy it will be for employees to digest and embrace new initiatives, use these six factors to create a scale to help plan the scope of implementation — as well as have a realistic idea of the time required to be successful:
  • Technical. Does the initiative require emerging IT technology with a steep learning curve and new skills required, or will you use existing technology and established standard?
  • Operational. Does it require a high start-up effort and long transition or is it a good fit with existing operating methods, using the "same look and feel" as what employees are currently using to do their work?
  • Legal. (Does the initiative have potential legal barriers or not?)
  • Motivation. Is it resource constrained, with limited buy-in, or is there strong, visible support
  • Organizational. How many functions does it impact — many or one?
  • Composition. Is the project long in duration or less than six months?
From a communications standpoint, author William Bridges wrote in Managing Transitions, a practical book on "change leadership," that describes how to engage employees around transitioning to new and exciting business initiatives. He describes the importance of every executive being able to effectively communicate the same answers to the Five Ps:
  • What will be left in the past? What parts of the "old way of doing business" will employees no longer need to do? It is "assumed" the employee will stop doing the old behavior — causing employees confusion and uncertainty. So, to "do the right thing," they will use redundant steps — the old one and the new one.
  • What is the "rational" logical purpose of the change initiative? This part of the communication process supports educating employees on the business of the credit union and how the change initiative will help the business model.
  • What is the "emotional" picture of the change initiative? How will employees and members behave? This is an important, but difficult, element in this communication process. How well does your story engage the hearts of your employees so they will bring energy and commitment to the change initiative?
  • What is the clear and measurable plan to accomplish this? What is the plan to roll out the change? Without a clear plan outlined, employees will find it difficult to engage in your efforts, as they will only "guess" what that plan will be and how it might affect them and their jobs.
  • What part does each employee play in the implementation of the plan? Employees want to know how the initiative will affect them and their work (even if the change is simple). They will become much more engaged if they know what is happening in their sphere of influence.
Using these tips, above, to implement change should cause a higher success rate for your strategic initiatives, resulting in more engaged employees and satisfied members — and the survival and success of your credit union.

Jim Cardwell is CEO of the Cardwell Group and can be reached at jcardwell@cardwellgroup.com

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