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Not All Change is the Same – Credit Union Edition

Originally published on CUInsight.com

How often do you hear advice suggesting you “make a change” or “step out of your comfort zone”? There’s a reason…consistency might be easier, safer, and reliable, but it doesn’t promote growth. Making a change is good, if it’s in the right direction, for the right reasons.

Yet not all change is the same. And that’s ok. So how do we make sure our diligent effort produces the best (or any) results? By understanding the kind of change you need.

Away Means Different Things

Joe Standing on Rocks
Joe following a 30 year tradition of climbing rocks.

Regular readers know I love to travel, especially to see friends who happen to live in really cool places. They’re no longer off-limits (thank you thank you thank you vaccine researchers and nurses!). Far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a prince in disguise!

My last post came from the seaside deck of a Rhode Island home. I had a lot to say about creativity being driven by a change of scenery. Perhaps after all our time stuck in the same environments, variety is a hot topic. Consider this, “change stuff, part 2.”

Since that trip, I’ve done more traveling! Crazy, I know. When in RI, I can count on connecting with kids, participating in impromptu art projects, and riding around in Teslas. Really, it’s a tough life. And the inspiration I get from the experiences are unique.

Last month, I reconnected with one of my best friends. She lives with her boyfriend and foster rabbit north of Atlanta. They’re child-free, big on hiking, RVing across the country, kayaking, boating, and cars that go fast while making satisfying noises.

Young Deer
As seen on one of our trails.

It’s a vastly different environment. Their neighbor even built a Miata race car! (I was able to ride along, which was a blast) We also had the chance to go on longer hikes through nearby National Park sites, see deer, and jet boat around on big lakes. More change, totally different.

You Get What You Experience

Each of these trips provided a separate set of insights. For the former, well, you saw my writeup. From the latter, I had less “downtime”. Whether playing complex and awesome board games or learning how to engineer a solar system into an RV, we were always active.

Turns out, I needed a bit of this, too. Sure, I didn’t sit down on my computer and draft out posts as much (maybe not exactly ideal), but we were tending to bonds built over many years. Had I gone with the same expectations of seeing nephews, I’d have been really disappointed.

It’s a bit like traveling to Disney (which I also did in this span). No one goes there to “relax and settle down for a while”, as much as their marketing might imply you can. Many know the feeling of needing a vacation from that vacation. Still fun, just totally different.

Joe and X-Wing
Stay on target.

Be open to getting the most out of every experience while pushing expectations aside. Now I’m starting to sound like my Tai Chi instructor. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Right Change. Right Place. Right Time.

Each day, I read articles about credit union evolution, digital transformation, and emerging competition. Most of these pieces miss the point, which I touched upon way back in 2016. Exponential change means these ideas are already outdated.

It would be like me traveling to visit my nephews expecting to engage with them as they were during my last visit…18 months earlier. Or planning to do the same things with friends, even though they moved from one side of the country to the other.

Or, what any Disney person can understand: Planning to do a theme park with a set schedule for every attraction, show, and food stop. I point and laugh at those people. That’s too stressful, and it’s just not going to happen. Things will change, and you’ll have to adapt.

Start With Your Need

The best industry articles encourage leaders to focus on the mission, understand their staff and members, and recognize the needs. Individual product choices, marketing decisions, and strategy plans follow from this analysis. (We do the same with potential and existing clients.)

Passionflower and Bee
Keep your goal in focus.

What’s the change you need to serve your need? Sure, credit unions are evolving. So is everything else. How can you best evolve to meet the needs of your members today, tomorrow, and maybe next year (looking ahead really is hard with exponential change)?

For example, tackling your digital transformation is essential. But, deciding to add a chatbot because it makes your service better for “young people” or “on the go” is the wrong approach. Just ask Anne Legg of THRIVE, who specializes in that data side of things.

Looking at your services lineup and coming to the conclusion, “there’s just not enough member choice”…well, that’s likely not a great formula, either. Rick Leander at LFB Holdings understands that more progress can come from subtraction, not addition.

Find the change that gets your institution on the path it needs. Is that from insights gained while watching the sea roll by in the Northeast? Or more literally, found on a trail in a National Park? Maybe the bustle of Disney provides the right kind of change.

Next time you’re looking to make changes at your credit union, approach them from a range of perspectives to ensure they’re both the right things and for the right reasons. Because goodness knows change is only going to continue.

That might seem a bit outside your comfort zone. Perfect, you’re already on the right road.

Thinking Outside The Grid

Originally published on CUInsight.com

A lot happened at the most recent CUNA GAC. Though I couldn’t attend, it was apparent even to this distant observer that an attendee couldn’t possibly experience it all. Unless you had two years to do so! Between the sessions, round tables, keynotes, and Hill Hikes, interviews took place for a variety of industry publications. I wouldn’t fault you for missing, oh, 90% of them!

One of these segments was shared by LSCU (the League of Southeastern Credit Unions, no affiliation). In it, they discussed disaster plans with Ted Koppel, namely, power grid failure strategies. As you know, a branch going down is an inconvenience. Imagine if an entire city was dark for days. What services fail first? How do you manage member funds? Do we fall back to a cash (or seashell)-based economy?

You would be correct to say the primary concerns center around medical care, providing clean water, and distributing food to the community. But what about after that infrastructure has emerged? How long can you operate on battery backups and satellite phones if only overloaded mobile cell towers (usually on trucks) are available?

The discussion raises interesting questions and requires, wait for it, outside the “grid” thinking. Being an environmentalist, my first thought is focusing on adoption of solar and other self-sustained energy sources. These can substantially increase your capabilities during a utility outage, while fostering a community-based energy economy (think local farming, except your product is electricity). Plus, reducing emissions from energy production benefits everyone.

Your goal in building disaster resilience is to ask the right questions, ahead of time. But what if the “disaster” isn’t in a loss of power or something your crisis team cooked up? The other side of thinking “outside the grid” is to look at problems from a new perspective. Instead of considering how you can deal with a situation, imagine what you can do to avoid falling in to it entirely. How can you be, “off-grid”, as it were, to the issue?

Think of any challenges that arise throughout your member experience. Yes, coming up with simple ways to address them is important, but is it possible to eliminate the problem from ever occurring? I’ve seen a lot of credit unions using a graduated rewards program. However, none of them offer easy access to a chart showing what I need to do to be considered “Bronze”, “Platinum Plus”, or “VIP Gold”. I know these loyalty systems are tempting, but maybe you’re approaching them in a way which creates complexity no matter how well it’s planned. When the original iPod was released, a famous parody video emerged showing the packaging had Microsoft’s marketing team designed it. Sure, their final product told the customer a lot more, but, in reality, did it? Was the simplicity a crutch to be overcome or a victory in messaging on its own?

You’ve heard consultants suggest “outside the box” thinking. That’s so cliche. Who’s thinking “outside the grid”?

Image credit: http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/styles/article_hero/public/Hero_Grid_0.jpg

Strategy for the Future…and Today

“Our competitors don’t stand a chance,” goes through your head as you step out of the shower. Hey, aren’t all your best ideas conceived between shampoo and conditioner?

Write it down. Draw out a cost/benefit analysis (SMART). Share it with others. Edit, improve. It doesn’t even matter what your idea was. Remember, “a dream without a plan is just a wish.” – Katherine Paterson

As a technologist and futurist (I look to new technologies and assess how our society will evolve in coming years), I view ideas as the root of our growth. So don’t stop dreaming! Just ensure it makes sense in today’s world.

Take, for example, hydrogen fuel-cell cars. If you’re not familiar with the concept, that’s ok. They are really new. I mean, only a few exist…new. Given the right technology improvements, policy decisions, cost-scaling, and marketing, it can be the holy grail of clean transportation. Your tailpipe would emit water. That’s it. And the compressed hydrogen the vehicle uses could be made using renewable energy.

Toyota showed us a glimpse of that possible future with the Mirai, a concept vehicle running on compressed hydrogen with range in the hundreds of miles. Refueling can be done in a few minutes at a compatible hydrogen station, and you’re on your way.

So what’s stopping us from switching to this obviously better fuel source? No harmful emissions, no oil, clean energy made here…let’s do it! Not so fast. Barring a few stations in California (and others scattered around the country) there’s nowhere to refuel the vehicle. Our current fueling infrastructure was built over the course of a century and would take years (not to mention billions of dollars) to match with hydrogen. Impossible to overcome? No, just something essential to consider.

Back to your shower idea. Turns out, it is industry-changing: your staff, focus groups, even sampled members agree. Using the hydrogen vehicle example, here are some questions you need to ask:

  • Is it ahead of its time or your competition?
  • Can it run the risk of being a non-starter?
  • Does it cost you time and money with little short and unpredictable long-term benefits?
  • Are you willing to build out the figurative fueling infrastructure?

A few months ago, I suggested having an R&D budget for your institution. Depending on the answers to those questions, your idea may be best passed along to this division. That way, when you are ready to make it happen, the hard work of development is already done. And you can still crush your competition!

tl;dr (Summary) – It’s great to be ahead of your competition and have the “early mover” advantage, but there is also a danger in pursuing a strategy/solution that doesn’t make it. Must have a strategy for today and tomorrow, with how you plan to get from A (the way it’s done now) to B (your super-duper amazing solution).

Aside: Yes, it’s a click-bait image.  But it’s a puppy, in a bath!

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