“High Performance Leadership from the Next Generation” by Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional
Examine a good deal of books and articles on leadership skills desirable in today’s workplace and you will discover conversations on accountability, collaboration, communication, emotional intelligence, and integrity – to specify a small working set of many competencies. While these and many other attributes are necessary for success, what are the next collections of skills looked-for in up-and-coming credit union leaders; and, what inventive structures help to develop the next generation of managers and executives?
Listening to scores of credit union executives, from numerous asset sizes and markets, two themes emerged as worthwhile in preparing leaders for the future: get strategy out of the Boardroom and throughout the credit union; and, tap into the collective wisdom of next generation high potentials. Winning the “War for Talent” certainly goes beyond competitive pay, generous benefits, and flexible work schedules. Winning involves preparing professionals for roles that leverage their talents with your credit union’s desire for higher levels of internal engagement and commitment.
Let’s explore different hands-on methods that credit unions are utilizing to prepare leaders of, and for, their futures.
Get Strategy Out of the Board Room and Throughout the Credit Union
Describe how every job is of great strategic value. One of the most common responses focused on the importance of strategic thinking at all levels in the credit union. While the development of strategy rightly occurs at the executive and board levels, execution is paramount at all points. Credit union leaders insisted that strategic execution can quickly fall flat when individuals are not able to understand how their daily roles fit with the overall direction. After all, members most often experience the desired effects of strategy through member-facing professionals. One Texas CEO shared, “Members interact with our front line and branch professionals every day, not me. I need those leaders to understand how their daily activities aggregate to create strategic success. It’s my responsibility to model and show the bigger picture.”
Similarly, it is important for employees “behind the scenes” to understand their roles in strategy, as well. In fact, many leaders argued that employees who “never see members” are a major part of strategy since members significantly depend upon technology, back office operations, and sound financial management for a long-lasting credit union. As professionals begin to realize how strategy fits with their jobs, their mindsets shift to understanding how important each role is in strategic execution through daily activities. A New York EVP stated, “In some way, we all serve members. When we understand that role, and its end result, we see that strategy is a part of all we do.”
Add an entrepreneurial approach to every job. With an eye toward strategic thinking, ownership and accountability is significant as credit unions look to instill commitment in workplace thinking. Several credit unions revealed that their professionals were challenged to treat their jobs as their own businesses. They were encouraged to focus on the business outcomes of their duties and were provided a stake in the results from success. As they succeeded and produced results unique to their given jobs, they were rewarded. Rewards ran the gamut from money to time off to in-office celebrations. Equally important, they learned from shortcomings and aimed for quick recoveries to ensure rapid execution and a likely path to success. “Trying, and learning, every day helped us be better today than we were yesterday,” shared a Minnesota member experience executive. “
Many expressed that expecting workers to just do their jobs was not as good as allowing them to get the job done. Staff members were encouraged to understand that successful approaches to business processes and execution asked that they regularly refine and modify methods to meet the changing needs of members and workplace success. If staff members were expected to own their jobs like a business, staff would also be allowed to find better ways to accomplish goals. One Oregon-CEO shared that, “When you’re the expert and owner, you know how to do the job best. If a better way exists, it needs to be offered, considered, tested, and acted upon.”
Get uncomfortable when there isn’t change. New ways of going about business means one thing: change. Remember how Sniff, Scurry, Hem, and Haw, the characters in Who Moved My Cheese, presented different ways that people deal with change? To some extent, change management in the past was passive; one deals with change. Today, creating change is a factor in leadership; and, is actively sought and expected, rather than dealt with and managed. “If you are not moving forward, you are not making progress,” conveyed a Missouri talent and development executive. “The continual improvement of a credit union and career involves change and transforming professionals who can be instruments of change. Progressive credit unions should realize that actively involving employees in change is key to creating compulsion for change.”
Most credit unions ensured that the business reasons for change were always explained in terms of the value provided to members and the credit union. Also important was discussing how members drive change and expect evolution as a part of retail financial services. “Our mobile app was preceded by online banking, ‘Telephone Transfer,’ and the ATM. Had we failed to move forward with our members, we would not have any members,” held one Michigan CEO. Regular communication proved invaluable in securing buy-in throughout the process of change. Interaction with all staff allowed for updates and questions, even when all the answers weren’t available. As a result, change became something expected and wanted (rather than shocked by and avoided).
Tap into the Collective Wisdom of the Next Generation
Design programs for high potential employees. Odds are good that a portion your staff show a desire and ability to advance and lead in your credit union. As credit unions identified those who might lead at higher levels, they developed a range of formal programs. Some created in-house, emerging leaders management programs. Many enrolled emerging leaders in industry management schools and certification programs. Others developed longer-term, cross-functional assignments that allowed emerging leaders to work together on projects involving respective specialties. And, several paired emerging leaders with next-level managers to help execute larger start-to-finish, profit-and-loss types of projects. The aim was to see how potential executives performed with executive kinds of responsibilities.
High potential programs add great value to succession planning, as well. They help to create leaders who are well-versed in understanding strategy, operations, and the interconnected nature of running the credit union. They allow a professional who is a specialist (say, Director of Payments) to gain exposure and experience to other credit union functions. This increases business savvy, broader credit union communications skills, and growth as a generalist (a skill many CEOs shared was increasingly important in higher leadership). In all cases, emerging leaders had opportunities to present before senior executives, the CEO, and even the Board. This gave the highest levels of leadership a helpful opportunity to meet succession in action.
Instill two-way mentorship programs. As formal education courses and internal learning curricula provide opportunities to grow, mentorship programs allow for mastering the nuances of organizational life. Mentorships pair an emerging leader with a seasoned executive or manager to regularly discuss ideas, challenges, opportunities, and work/life issues that might influence workplace projects and relationships. Most objectives for mentorships focus on helping the mentee accomplish more and improve professionally by: setting goals; building strengths; developing and assisting others; and, incorporating priorities, resources, and professional acumen when moving business initiatives forward.
Of greatest interest was the value that mentors received from mentees. Where mentors shared from experience and been-there-before wisdom as a way to help mentees increase effectiveness, mentees helped mentors see that “the gears of bureaucracy don’t need to only turn slowly.” One Florida EVP/mentor shared: “I thought the main benefit of this program would be giving our next generation of leaders a head start on how to advance and when to retreat. Instead, the real benefit was mine. When ideas are right for our credit union – and our members shouldn’t wait – my mentee taught me that moving faster than traditional ways beforehand made the credit union and me more nimble and ready to act.”
Create forums for innovation. Armed with outside training, internal development, and insights from those who have gone before; why not create formal mechanisms to give new ideas a chance to grow and succeed? Some credit unions instilled “Ideas of the Month” to gather systematic ideas. Others held quarterly “Good-Better-Best” meetings to aim for continuous review and improvement. But, six credit unions created so-called Departments of Innovation, made up of their high potential staff and overseen by the CEO. The premise was simple: the CEO would post an actual challenge to the innovation team with one message: “Pitch to me a solution with a concrete business plan.”
“Shark Tank” quickly became the nickname for the innovation teams. High potentials, from all areas of the credit union, would get to work with a goal, deadline, and permitted budget. Working together, they would debate, discuss, determine, and design a solution to the challenge. Understanding strategy helped with focus. An entrepreneurial mindset created excitement. Continuously in search of change generated lots of ideas. Working directly with other high performers set a high standard and prepared them for executive roles. Having a mentor brought clarity to considering the well-being of the credit union and culture. Come “Pitch Time,” the CEO would hear a plan ready for execution and, periodically, in need of some refinement. More important, the CEO had a cross-functional team of high performers that could, concurrently, work toward a common business objective. That, alone, established an advancement in succession planning.
“Credit Union Executives Will Soon Retire in Record Numbers,” summarizes the title of many articles in current credit union publications. And, it’s true. What’s also correct is the number of potential leaders, already in credit unions, with aspirations to learn and sustain that leadership. Invest in their strategic value. Invest in their ideas. Invest in their vision for the next era of your credit union.
© 2019 by Jeff Rendel. All rights reserved.
Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional and President of Rising Above Enterprises, works with credit unions that want entrepreneurial results in sales, service, and strategy. Each year, he addresses and facilitates for more than 100 credit unions and their business partners.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.jeffrendel.com; 951.340.3770.