There's a commercial on TV right now that makes fun of all the different "bests" out there — "best grandmother," "best boss," etc. And then there's the increasingly ubiquitous phrase: "best practices."

I don't think there's a credit union conference out there that doesn't have at least one session with that phrase in the title. We're pretty much on "best" overload, aren't we?

So, why should you pay attention to Credit Union Journal's 2014 Best Practices Awards, instead of considering that nearly as relevant as "best coffee cup?" Because CU Journal's awards don't get handed out willy-nilly to anyone who applies for them. We look for strategies with tangible, measurable results that can be adapted by other credit unions.

And then we take it another step further, asking the credit union executives who implemented these strategies exactly how they did it and what lessons they learned, allowing you to avoid the first half of another common phrase: "no pain, no gain."

Looking to spark better loan growth? Take a look at what Carolina Postal CU did to jumpstart its lending portfolio. The CU found a way to make loans to members with less-than-perfect credit without adding a whole lot of less-than-perfect risk.

Learn how Connex CU took a program most-often associated with professional sports teams and turned it into a valuable tool for increasing members' usage of the CU's products and deepening those relationships.

Trying to find a better way to improve employee performance and engagement? Check out the strategies being used by Royal CU and Pioneer West Virginia FCU. Royal has turned the traditional incentive program on its head by making sure the goals being set line up with the credit union's mission. After seeing the value of executives engaging in conversations with staff, Pioneer took what started out as an informal management tactic and turned it into a formal, organized endeavor to measure employee engagement.

Find out how Community 1st CU bumped up the number of its members that consider the CU to be their primary financial institution — and added new members along the way.

Tearing your hair out trying to figure out the best mix and level of staffing at your branches? So was Marine FCU, until it found a solution that is saving the credit union more than $200,000 per year.

Discover how Diamond CU did its homework to determine where its next branch should be — resulting in that location opening a record number of checking accounts in its very first month.

Seeking a way to get your plastic at the top of your members' wallets? See how People's CU created a card that elicits an emotional response from its members every time they use them.

Learn what Partnership FCU did to keep key staff focused on their primary duties while increasing efficiency and cutting costs.

Still not sure how to make Facebook pay off? Check out TruStone Financial FCU's strategy for turning "likes" into loans.

In fact, we had so many strong entries this year that we can only fit the first 10 of them into this issue, so don't miss the other 11 to be featured next week, including Mountain America CU's homegrown solution to its connectivity issues and how Vital CU engaged in a successful culture that leads to a real turnaround in loan growth.

And the strategies being shared run the gamut, from mobile deposits, social media and online mortgage servicing to rebranding, automation and even a special award to two credit unions for their cooperative best practice.

With 2014 swiftly coming to an end, CU Journal's Best Practices Awards are a treasure trove of tested, results-driven strategies that can make a real difference at your credit union as you gear up for 2015.

Managing Editor Lisa Freeman can be reached at