This entry authored by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies
I’ll be the first to admit it — I have a problem with change. For the most part, change for me is an uncomfortable process. For example, take my recent iPhone operating system upgrade.
Apple, in all their wisdom, regularly bugged me with on-screen reminders about the system upgrade. I eventually just gave up (I think this is their goal) and did the upgrade. Thirty-odd minutes later, my phone woke up, a different animal. Gone was my traditional swipe right. Gone were my good old-fashioned power-up and power-off sounds. And gone was my revolver emoji (replaced with a ridiculous-looking water pistol).
It’s been several weeks and I’m slowly growing accustomed to this change (in advance of the next round of radical changes in a future upgrade, no doubt). And I don’t think I’m entirely alone when it comes to this resistance to change. Banks and credit unions must also consider the changes they make and how they affect consumers.
For example, sometimes core processing upgrades are a must. Bank and credit union veterans know these are a pain in the rear and take months to accomplish. But how do they affect our consumers? Are we providing them with relevant information as to how the changes, both before and after the conversion, will directly affect them? Or are we simply dumping a new system on them and expecting them to “suck it up, buttercup?”
There are many other examples to consider. Home banking systems, for example, go through regular upgrades. Most banks and credit unions do a good job letting consumers know about downtimes, but are we also filling them in on how things might work differently or look differently? The same applies to your app and the many updates that occur there. You can also go totally brick-and-mortar and consider more physical changes. Are you doing renovations that will require consumer change? Are you altering hours of operation or something as simple as re-striping the parking lot?
Change is difficult and most people don’t like it. However, change is also something we all must embrace in order to achieve and succeed. It is incumbent upon banks and credit unions, therefore, to inform their consumers about changes, regardless of how trivial we on the inside may consider them, to make the transition as easy as possible.
“Thank you.” They are two of the most powerful words in the English language. During this Thanksgiving season hopefully you will hear those words more often than usual. But the reality is as a society we sometimes jump from Halloween to Christmas. We don’t pause long enough to truly say thanks to those around us.
Saying “thanks” should be a key component to your brand—especially during this holiday season. Great brands focus on people and there are many groups you should focus your thanks on right now.
Here are four ways to have a thankful brand:
(1) Thank consumers. Sincerely.
Thanking people for doing business with your credit union or bank should not just be a seasonal activity; it should be a part of your every day routine. Competition for financial services is astronomical. So don’t take consumers’ business with you for granted. Sincerity in how you thank is critical as well; watch rote “thank yous” and going through the motions. Simple acts like sending Thanksgiving cards to your top depositors, giving branch visitors a piece of candy with a thank you note or having staff sincerely say “we are grateful for your business” are ways to thank consumers.
(2) Thank staff. Creatively.
No matter what your brand vision or brand niches are, it’s your employees who live your brand every day. So be sure to thank them for being the public face of your organization. While words of encouragement and pats on the back are good, brainstorm creative ways to recognize staff. Ideas include gift cards to grocery stores (people are cooking lots this time of year), a few hours off during the day to do some extra shopping and throwing a killer holiday party people will talk about for years.
(3) Thank back office. Publicly.
It’s easy to recognize that are on the front lines; the ones making the loans, talking to consumers and opening accounts. But the reality is your level of external service will never exceed your level of internal service you provide each other. So thanking those collection officers, accounting personnel and IT geeks is part of your brand as well. Some “behind the scenes” folks may not want public recognition but most would appreciate it. Ways to thank back office staff include taking their pictures and using those photos in a promotion, e-mailing the entire staff recognizing those key departments and taking them on a long, special lunch.
(4) Thank community. Humbly.
“Community” is an overused crutch word in credit unions and banks. Every institution loves the community or all about community service. We also tend to “toot our own horns” when it comes to what we are doing in the community. While that is certainly good public relations, during this Thanksgiving season take a different approach. Try giving to the community in small ways that don’t require a public service announcement or a photo of your CEO giving a giant check. For example, volunteer hours in a children’s hospital, give gift cards to the elderly at retail establishments and make an anonymous donation to a low-profile charity.
As credit unions and banks we have lots for which to be thankful. Our consumers. Our employees. Our communities. So let’s make thanking those groups in tangible ways part of our holiday traditions this year.
“You will always be a failure in marketing, Mark. You need to get out.” Those were the actual words uttered by my first boss at a financial institution. I was serving as a lowly marketing coordinator (so low, I was the one dressing up as the mascot). I was indeed struggling in that job, like spelling the CEO’s name wrong in the newsletter.
At that point in my career I had a choice to make: I was either going to be fired or transferred to the collection department (my version of Purgatory). I was recently married and wanted to stay gainfully employed so I chose collections. For the next four and a half years I served as a collection officer and eventually loan officer. I was quite good at those jobs, was making good money and on track for a management position.
And I was utterly miserable (because I was not doing what I was passionate about). Eventually a job came open at another organization for a lowly marketing coordinator. I took a significant pay cut to try “this marketing thing” again. But my boss at this new organization did not see me as a failure. Rather he poured his life into mine and taught me incredible communication, branding and marketing skills.
Terry Young changed my life. Not because he was a manager—because he was a mentor. If you supervise people, you need to mentor them.
Here are the three I’s of a great mentor:
- Ignite—Great mentors focus on your learning. You need to teach the people you mentor. But you can’t teach what you don’t know. Mentors are lifelong learners themselves. You also need to question the people you mentor. One of my favorite questions to ask is “What is the last book you read?” As a mentor, you should ignite learning in those around you.
- Invest—Great mentors are focused on you. You need to love the people you mentor. Even people unlike yourself. In fact, you can’t lead them until you love them. You also need to serve the people you mentor. In fact, put their needs above your own. Many credit unions and banks say they compete on service. If that’s the case, keep this point in mind: your level of external service to your consumers will never exceed the level of internal service you are giving your team. As a mentor, you should invest time and energy in those around you.
- Inspire—Great mentors focus on improvement. You need to stretch the people you mentor. In other words, challenge and push them. Think of your favorite coach growing up. My guess is they didn’t let you stay stagnant. You also need to emotionally connect with the people you mentor. Michelangelo once said “I saw the angel in the marble and I chiseled until I set it free.” What do you see in your people? As a mentor, you should inspire vision and greatness in those around you.
Leadership matters. In fact, leadership is so important we offer a customized leadership-training program that specializes in taking your supervisors from just being mere managers to magical mentors.
Why? Because no one should feel like a failure in their careers.
Before you know it, strategic planning season will be in full swing. Every bank or credit union takes time to build their plan for the upcoming years. But do they do plannning well? Sometimes we leave those strategic planning sessions frustrated, uninspired or even disappointed in the outcomes.
How do you take those strategy sessions from boring exercises in futility to engaging moments filled with hope and a positive sense of direction? Besides throwing out the SWOT, there are several practical steps you can take to improve your next meeting focused on long-range issues.
Here are five practical suggestions to have the best planning session ever:
- Address issues honestly—Nothing will ruin a planning session more than a group of people who agree on every issue. Make sure your team engages in lively debate. It’s okay to disagree. And the key word here is “honestly.” Too many times we hold back in meetings. Some people are afraid to speak their mind. Eliminate that attitude in your session. One way to address issues honestly is before the meeting have everyone write down their answers to this question, “What is the elephant in the room issue we must address in this session?”
- Prepare before the session—If you expect an amazing planning session to just happen magically, then keep right on wishing. Because it’s not going to happen without a lot of preparation. And by prep, I’m not referring to the location and meal details. Make sure everyone involved in the session completes a pre-meeting survey of key issues. Also circulate a few articles about relevant issues. Have everyone bring a list of talking points or issues they think you must address. One key to having the best planning session ever is to start that session way before it actually begins.
- Put away electronic distractions—Nothing kills a meeting more than someone’s cell phone ringing or text alert buzzing. But taking your session seriously is more than just turning your phone to vibrate or do not disturb. How many times have been in a meeting and half the people are glancing at their devices every five minutes? That means they are not fully engaged. And you’ll never have a great session without full engagement. One suggestion is to put all the devices on a side table so that no one is even tempted to look at them. If you take this drastic step then be sure to allow everyone to check those electronic leashes every hour or so.
- Use an outside facilitator—Some things in life are made for your “Do It Yourself” projects. Strategic planning is not one of those things. Am I biased on this point? Of course. But I can tell you from first hand experience when I was an executive at a financial institution that during the years we hired an outside facilitator the sessions were always better. Why? Because we could focus entirely on the key issues and the facilitator could expertly guide those discussions.
- Plan off-site—You don’t necessarily have to go out of town (although it helps) but at the very least don’t hold your sessions at one of your offices or the boardroom. That type of setting breeds familiarity. People will sit in the same seats and have the same views. Which means you might get the same results. It’s amazing how simply changing up the setting can impact how differently people think and how much more engaged they are.
Having the best planning session ever means doing that meeting differently. Take those five simple steps above and you will set yourself and your financial institution up for success.
Have you ever wondered how many strikes you get with your customers or members? How many times can your financial institution make mistakes with the same person’s account before that person gives up on you?
A colleague of mine was talking to me recently about a series of mishaps her family experienced at a local Whataburger. The fast food chain was notorious for getting little things wrong on every order. The family was willing to overlook the small things, but the mistakes kept getting worse.
One night they ordered at the drive-thru, got home and found a completely different sandwich than the one she had ordered. What made it worse was she was dieting at the time, and as she described it, “Never get between a woman and her cheat meal.” She was so angry that she drove back to the restaurant, in the middle of a storm, with sandwich and receipt in hand, demanding the right food. She then informed her family they would be boycotting that location forever.
Her family didn’t listen. They went back without her one day and ate inside the restaurant. When her son bit into his burger, he found no meat on the bun. He took it to the register, and they vowed to fix it. When they brought it back a second time, the bun still had no meat on it. That was the restaurant’s last strike with this family.
Continued mistakes, whether at a restaurant, store or financial institution, boil down to leadership. Yes, it’s the employees who usually make the mistakes with customers and members, because they are on the front line. The question is, why are they making those mistakes? They’re either not being trained properly, not being held accountable for their mistakes or are not the people who should have been hired in the first place.
These are failures that fall on management’s shoulders, and it’s a trickle-down effect. You can replace the people who keep making mistakes, but if you don’t do your job well, the employees who replace them won’t do their jobs well. When they don’t do their jobs well, your service to consumers. How many strikes do you get before they give up on you completely?
This is a relatively easy fix. Start by hiring the right people. Look for personality traits and prior experience that fit the position for which you are hiring. Train your employees well, and frequently. If you can’t train them, find someone who can, even if you have to send them outside your four walls. Finally, define goals and performance metrics for each job position, and hold your employees accountable for meeting them.
When you invest time and resources in your employees, they will invest more in the service they deliver to customers and members.
John Maxwell writes, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Think about: everything at your credit union or bank rises or falls on leadership. Take it a step further: everything in you department rises or falls on leadership.
If your financial institution is not growing, odds are there is a leadership problem at some level.
The challenge is that when we say or use the word “leadership” we immediately think of the CEO or other executives in the organization. We might even send those top officials to special classes or courses.
However, for your credit union or bank to really rise, you must lower your leadership. In other words, you must take leadership to all levels of your organization, including your mid-level folks and even future stars that don’t have the word “manager” or “supervisor” in their title. My favorite definition of leadership comes from Maxwell when he says ultimately, “leadership is influence.” There are plenty of people inside your financial institution much lower than the “C” suite that have influence. So invest in those people.
Here are four ways to take leadership “down”:
- Require everyone to read a business book—To some degree, everyone is in leadership. So make reading a business book part of everyone’s training program for the year. You may not have the resources to send every one of your managers to a formal leadership course. But you can probably afford to buy them a book on leadership. When I was an executive at a financial institution I had all my direct reports who were managing other departments read Developing the Leader Within You. Each of their areas improved greatly that year. The lesson: when I improved their leadership skills, I improved their departments.
- Invest in a leadership program for your managers—One of the most important positions at any credit union or bank is the branch manager or mid-level department manager. They are often the ones who can have the most immediate impact on the day-to-day operations and goals of the organization. Yet they sometimes get the least amount of training. Reversing that trend will yield a huge impact for your overall growth. For example, several of our clients have partnered with us to conduct leadership training specifically for their supervisors and managers. This customized training yields great results. “There were years when we were having struggles as a management team,” said Cindy Beauregard, CEO of Heart of Louisiana Credit Union. “On the Mark Strategies was able to come in and do some leadership training with our management team. We’ve had an amazing change in our management team since working with them.”
- Create a university or library—Some financial institutions have truly kicked it up a notch when it comes to how they develop their people by creating a formal university, where employees take a variety of classes and earn certifications. This philosophy especially helps with leadership. If you are requiring employees to read business books (see bullet point number one above), then be sure to create a resource library for your people as well. If you purchase a few business books each year then over time you will build quite a repository of information your employees can check out on a regular basis to improve their leadership. Have them log what they read and report back how they are going to apply what they learned.
- Have training days focused on leadership—As financial institutions we are in the people business. And you can’t impact people without having impactful leaders. A best practice many credit unions and banks use is to take one of the traditional “banking” holidays like President’s Day or Columbus Day and turn it into a training day. If you’re doing that then be sure to focus part of that day on leadership. Everyone needs fuel in their tank so give some “leadership diesel” to every one of your employees.
Everyone in your credit union or bank has the potential to serve as a leader. Titles mean nothing when it comes to leading with impact. Real leadership doesn’t just happen at the top: you have to take that leadership down a few levels.