Note: The following post was written by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director for On The Mark Strategies.As a speaker at a recent conference of young professionals, I was privileged to interact with a roomful of bright and energetic financial institution professionals. The majority of attendees were marketers and communications specialists.
I was struck by their enthusiasm and drive. The group was attentive, respectful and full of pointed and relevant questions. Surely these are not the zombified slackers that Hollywood and pop culture makes a fortune stereotyping. In truth, I saw reminders of myself in their eyes from some 15-20 years past. All in all, it was an excellent experience and I hope they learned at least as much from me as I did from them.
A small group of young professionals stayed after the presentation with a shared question:
When all the slideshow, facts, stats and conference dust settles and we have to go back to work, how can we actually impact the brands for which we are responsible?
An intriguing question, to which I offered the following answers.
- You’re going to have to leave your office and enter the lion’s den (CEO, CFO, etc.).
- In a polite way, get in the executives’ faces.
- Assume they know nothing about brand and can learn a great deal from you (without insulting them).
- Ask them to lunch for an informal brand education opportunity.
- Provide documentation (condensed) and relevant brand success stories about other banks or credit unions.
- Read up on current branding hot topics (generational marketing, content marketing, social media, native advertising).
- Prove the ROI of branding to your CEO.
- Learn to recognize your allies and keep them close (those who truly get brandin).
- Open yourself to brand improvement (and criticism) from staff.
- Assume everyone is watching you at every turn and live the brand you preach.
These are just a few possible answers culled from my experience. There are certainly many others. What advice would you offer young professionals looking for ways to meaningful impact the brands they guide?
I’m a big believer in enjoying each season of the year in its own time. That’s why you won’t see me joining the bizarre ritual of those that put up their Christmas decorations before the Halloween jack o’ lanterns have sputtered their last flickering flame.
Let’s not forget that magical holiday wedged between Halloween and Christmas – Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving and all its trappings. Families together, great food, parades and football. I also enjoy taking time out of what usually is a hectic schedule to give thanks for the many blessings of life. It’s refreshing, rejuvenating and serves the valuable function of focusing my thoughts on the good in life rather than the struggles.
This approach is also valuable in our work environments. At your bank or credit union, do you ever stop to reflect and give thanks for the blessings of your work? I know, it sounds a little corny and might be tough when emails, voicemails, meetings, travel and budgets chew up so much of your time. Pausing to remember the good things about work, instead of grumbling over the bad, helps put it all in better perspective.
Here are a few thankful thoughts to help you get started.
- Thankful to simply have a job. In this day and this economy, with so much doubt, fear and worry simply having a job that allows one to provide for themselves and their families is a blessing.
- Thankful for co-workers. Yes, this even applies to the ones that drive us nuts. They’re right there with us, slaving away, with just as many worries and problems. They also provide help and camaraderie when we need it most.
- Thankful for growth. We grow as we work. We learn, mature, expand horizons and push personal boundaries. Without our work environments, many of us would go couch-side and overdose on Dr Pepper, Funyuns and soap operas. Work helps us become better, smarter people.
That’s a very short list of things you might be thankful for at work. I’m sure you have others to add. In the long-run, while doing daily work grind can wear us down, it serves countless valuable purposes and that’s something for which to be thankful.
Note: The following post was written by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director for On The Mark Strategies.
No problem can be solved until it is reduced to some simple form. The changing of a vague difficulty into a specific, concrete form is a very essential element in thinking.
– J.P. Morgan, American financier and corporate titan
Several years ago I read an excellent book by John Steele Gordon, An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power. During a recent business trip I took my copy down from the bookshelf and began to re-read it. As with many favorite reads, dusting off this gem was like coffee with an old friend.
I was particularly struck with its depiction of finance and business icon J.P. Morgan. Morgan, among many other feats, was responsible for the creation of General Electric and United States Steel Corporation. He is also recognized as one of the pioneers of management techniques. Amongst his successes, Morgan was also beset by many failures. History, however, canonizes Morgan far more for his successes than his setbacks.
As the above quote testifies, Morgan was a firm believer in breaking down seemingly insurmountable challenges into smaller, easier-to-tackle portions. Some of you may recognize the following familiar adage in the guise of Morgan’s original wisdom: When eating an elephant take one bite at a time.
When life tosses problems our way, at home or at work, an easier way to deal with them can be found in Morgan’s words. As leaders at your financial institutions, your fellow employees and management team will look to you for guidance and inspiration in times of adversity.
When faced with such challenges, try to break them down. For example, let’s suppose your new branding efforts are beset with difficulties. Staff isn’t following branding guidelines, management isn’t backing your play, etc. After all the time and effort you put into the project, such challenges seem overwhelming. Try breaking them down into smaller parts. Approach individual staff members and ask them why they’re having difficulties with the brand. Take the time to explain, explain again and explain some more why the brand is vital and why their support is more vital still. Conference with management team members and hold similar conversations. Remind them that the brand is only as successful as its many components and failure to lead on it is an open invitation to disaster.
The branding problem is only one issue you might face. Other recurring management issues include:
- Employee morale and/or disengagement
- Time management
- Relationship building
- Communication deficits
- Lack of appreciation
How you deal with workplace challenges will in large part define you as a leader, in the eyes of fellow employees and management. Learning innovative ways to tackle these inevitable issues, such as breaking them down into smaller parts, goes a long way towards helping you establish a problem-solver image.
We make a lot of excuses at credit unions and banks, especially when it comes to a lack of growth. But excuses are crutches. It’s time we stop using crutches and start walking into growth.
As Jason Jennings, author of The Reinventors, says, “Instead of accepting personal responsibility and addressing the root cause—an unwillingness to embrace radical change—for their lack of growth, many business leaders spend their time finding excuses for their poor performance.”
What are excuses we use for our lack at growth? Here are five common ones that we need to throw aside:
- Our economy—Perhaps the biggest excuse I’ve heard for lack of growth in the past three to five years is the economy. Get over it already. The truth is every financial institution is dealing with the same economy. Some are growing and some are not. So if some banks and credit unions are growing then a lack of growth cannot be solely linked to the economy. Recessions can actually be a good time to grow. Use the current economy to your advantage rather than use it as a crutch.
- Our marketing—Marketing usually has a target on its back. Stop aiming arrows at your marketing department. Blaming marketing is just an excuse. If you are truly concerned your marketing is suffering, conduct a marketing audit rather than throw marketing under the bus. A marketing audit will give you unbiased feedback along with strategic and tactical recommendations on improving this key area.
- Our unwillingness to change—If you are not changing, you are not growing. And who controls change at your credit union or bank? You do! So if your financial institution is not changing as fast as it needs to grow, there is no one to blame but you. As Abraham Maslow once said, “you will either step forward into growth or back into safety.” Being unwilling to change is not an excuse (it’s stupidity).
- Our board—Don’t let your board hold you back. Too many times we avoid taking risks as financial institutions because our boards tend to be conservative. While that is certainly understandable, it also can prevent growth. Rather than using the board as an excuse, challenge your board. Talk to them about their legacy: what do they want to leave future generations?
- Our technology—We can’t keep up with all the new and changing technology tools. Well, who can? Rather than lamenting what you can’t do because of technology, focus on what you can do. Also, if technology (or a lack thereof) is really slowing down your progress, then address those technological challenges. “We can’t do ‘such and such’ because our technology won’t let us” is nothing more than excuse. Fix it.
You get the idea. You are far more in control of your growth than you realize. Stop making excuses and start growing.
Life, both personal and business, is often a series of compromises. Compromise is often a necessary step towards attaining a desired greater goal. It may not be the easiest thing to do, but sometimes must be undertaken.
Some things, however, we are much less likely to compromise. These tenets can include our faith, morals and beliefs. The same applies in business. As banks and credit unions, there are some things we generally must compromise in order to conduct daily business. Other things, however, we must cling to. These include:
Rules and regulations. This is a fairly simple one. While these may not be near and dear to the heart like other examples, rules and regulations (no matter how seemingly burdensome and superfluous), are enacted to be followed. For financial institutions, such rules and regulations might include edicts handed down by the NCUA, FDIC and CFPB.
Brands and identity. Enormous amounts of time, money and planning go into brands and corporate identity. If you don’t live the brand at your bank or credit union every day you risk tarnishing and losing it. A lost brand is next to impossible to re-earn. Don’t compromise it. An example of a compromised or degraded brand is Toyota. Beset by a series of major recalls and safety concerns several years ago, Toyota has been forced to work diligently to revive its once sterling brand.
The best interests of your customers or members. They’re why we’re in business. If we fail to take their best interests to heart every day and factor them in every decision, we may as well shut the doors now. If it’s not the right thing to do by your consumers, don’t do it.
Your corporate values. These may differ from your personal values (although they can often coincide) but you should guard them no less zealously while on the clock. If your bank or credit union says it’s “people friendly,” has the “fastest service” or “offers the lowest rates in town,” live up to that. These values are also intimately tied, in most cases, to your brand identity. Core values and value propositions are critical to the long-term success and public image of your bank or credit union. Learn more about value propositions here.
Strategic planning. Yes, plans are meant to be changed and altered to meet the unforeseen twists that occur in any given year. The real crime here, however, is cramming tons of time and money onto an elaborate strategic plan then failing to assign duties, conduct follow-ups and review its progress against benchmarks. If that’s your idea of a well-utilized strategic plan, you should just splash those dollars in the nearest toilet and flush vigorously. Don’t forget the last critical step in strategic planning – implementation. Learn more about this sometimes overlooked step here.
Compromise situations are bound to arise. How we handle those at home and at work help form the people and employees we are. As banks and credit unions, compromise is also an order of the business day. Knowing where to draw the line against compromise and stand firm to corporate principle performs a similar corporate function.