My wife Allison and I got back from a vacation in Moab, Utah a few weeks ago – yes, contrary to popular belief Fred Becker does let me take a day off now and again – and I wanted to share a unique experience we had in Canyonlands National Park, which is is spectacular. You’ve seen some of the more popular vistas on TV and in movies, from Thelma and Louise to Indiana Jones, but there are many others that are equally amazing and will make your jaw drop. On our first night we went into Moab for dinner, wandered into Tom Till’s photo gallery, and saw an amazing picture entitled ‘Ruin in a Cave’. The description said it was from a hike to ‘False Kiva’ in Canyonlands, and was one of the most distinctive pictures we had ever seen. We decided then and there to add that hike to our must-do list.
Inspiration is at a premium for most of us in today’s fast-paced world. When you’re responsible for bottom-line results, it’s easy to lose sight of what (or who) inspired you to get to where you are today.
I just finished “Rework,” an unconventional and refreshing business book by the founders of 37Signals, a trailblazing software company. Their message is ultimately written for the budding entrepreneur, but speaks to anyone who is up against the challenges faced by most business professionals. One of the many pithy chapters that resonated with me is entitled “Make a dent in the universe.” The authors write, “To do great work, you need to feel that you’re making a difference. That you’re putting a meaningful dent in the universe. That you’re part of something important.”
It’s a lofty statement, but it appeals to my idealist tendencies. I want to know that what I do each day will have a positive impact on our members and the industry, not just the bottom-line. And without a passion for my work at NAFCU and for the credit union movement, would it be possible for me to have that positive impact?
It’s possible – but not likely.
I am constantly working to improve my leadership skills, and below are the top five things that I have found make a difference when it comes to getting results and building a team that is inspired to make tomorrow’s contributions even better than today’s.
There is a concept called ‘nurture marketing,’ which emphasizes the benefit of communicating the value of your solutions to your target audience through education, even when you know they’re not ready to make a purchase. What’s key to an effective nurture marketing campaign is that focus on education or helping your audience understand how they can solve their problems (without a lot of the salesy mumbo jumbo).
Nurture marketing helps build a relationship with your audience and also helps establish credibility at the same time. Your members appreciate the education you can provide to help them make successful decisions (especially about something that is as important to them as their finances!) As a result, your positive brand image becomes top-of-mind, which means that when a purchase is ready to be made, you’ll be the first phone call.
Unfortunately some organizations are better able to communicate their expertise and knowledge than others in order to build a positive brand. Your credit union is no different. How does nurture marketing fit into your marketing plan or do you even have a marketing plan? (You should!!!)
Dealing with disruptive change is an ongoing strategic challenge for credit union executives. What, for example, does the prospect of NFC transactions by cell phone and the potential entry of companies like Verizon and AT&T as gatekeepers in financial services mean to your business five years from now? Or ATM technology that allows a member to talk directly to a member service rep via videoconference to a branch-centric organization? Or peer-to-peer and micro-lending networks to your core business?
In the short run, a dominant paradigm for commerce can be defended against technological innovation. But in the long run, winners are those that embrace innovation and adapt their business models and their organizations. If it helps you feel any better, this is not the first time executives have struggled with these issues:
The classic 1970s novel ‘Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ spends a couple of hundred pages exploring the question of how you define quality, among many other things, including motorcycle maintenance. I don’t remember anything at all it said about spark plugs, but the discussion of what the term ‘quality’ means really stuck with me.
In a meeting last week someone made the observation that they thought their organization was ‘world-class’ when it came to operational excellence. I’m not sure that I would agree, having experienced first-hand their service as a client. That reminded me of the book — how do you define operational excellence in the context of a credit union, without just falling back on the ambiguity of ‘I know it when I see it’?