Culture is a Balancing Act


“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” said the late Peter Drucker, a distinguished management consultant and organizational scholar of our time. “But, what if your strategy is to change the culture?” countered a credit union CEO and friend.

Both were spot-on: Culture is a crucial component of organizational existence. How credit union professionals comprehend, identify, and react to culture drives organizational capability and attainment.

Recently, the Harvard Business Review published an article titled, “The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture.” One of the more noteworthy aspects of the article and research were eight identified culture characteristics along two dimensions: how professionals interact (from independence to interdependence) and a general response to change (from flexibility to stability). Across all industries, two culture traits surpassed all others with respect to effectiveness: results and caring. More interesting, results and caring were opposite each other along the two dimensions. It seemed clear that a balanced approach to culture was most effective.  

How are credit unions defining, building, and living culture? How do credit union cultures bring clarity and focus for actions and decision-making? In listening to scores of credit union executives, the same two characteristics emerged as drivers and shapers of credit union culture. Let’s explore themes that demonstrate how credit unions are fostering cultures around the attributes of results and caring.

A Culture of Results

Quite a few CEOs voiced that every colleague is the CEO of her or his job and its specific role in the member experience. In fashioning this CEO mindset at every level; expectations were critical; accountability was non-negotiable; and, acceptance of and action from feedback was significant. As a result, execution was optimal when all understood their day-to-day influence on long-term strategy.

Initiating and acting on member-focused opportunities also formed this facet of culture. While obvious occasions centered on members’ use of products, services, and technology, support and managerial coworkers contributed to member-focused approaches through enriched processes, workflow, and efficiencies. Face-to-face member interaction was not a prerequisite for one’s contribution to members’ experiences and success. And, in many cases, non-member facing activities were the principal determinants of the member experience.

When results help to steer culture, focused measures and outcomes are needed. CEOs clarified that strategic objectives and metrics are not reserved for those in the board room and executive offices. In fact, it’s the opposite. When strategic initiatives and measures are delineated – all the way to the first lines of delivery and support – every colleague is a stakeholder in the credit union’s success. As measures are achieved, celebrations follow. And, if measures miss the mark, lessons are learned, strategies are fine-tuned, and the drive for relevant results continues.

A Culture of Caring

CEOs also made clear that a key feature of culture is ensuring that all distinguish the role that credit unions play in members’ lives and, ultimately, financial services. Regardless of members’ needs or circumstances, credit unions aim to enrich each member’s financial standing and the place they call home. This greater good and point of focus manifests itself in pricing, service, and community commitment. Many CEOs underscored the enduring stability of this pledge (closing in on a century in some cases) as a hallmark of culture.

Relationships and reciprocated trust among colleagues further defined caring as a part of culture. With all credit unions, the purpose and agenda were straightforward: service to members and their credit union. This standard necessitated that coworkers strive for professionalism, authentic communication, and partnership in their many interconnected working relationships. The result was not just improved collaboration and effective execution, but greater levels of commitment in a dynamic and rewarding atmosphere.

Depending on workmates for insights, ideas, and innovative approaches to a credit union’s progress was useful. One CEO shared that the most practical and up-and-coming ideas often derive from those who best comprehend the inner workings of a department or job. Why not look to them first? Many credit unions built idea-sharing into job descriptions. This practice added value in that staff members readily contributed to building a better business model and continued to provide information as they understood where ideas fit and did not fit into present strategy. That their voices were heard mattered most.

While many other faces of culture exist and thrive, consider broadening “results and caring” as prominent parts of your culture. Though opposite in position, together they help align long-term strategy and everyday leadership. Credit union leaders – as they convey ambitions, cultivate leaders to promote a balanced culture, and persistently talk about culture – will discover they can achieve change and build their credit union in any business environment.

To learn more about Strategic Link Partner, Jeff Rendel, visit Rising Above Enterprises online.

Posted in GoWest Solutions, Industry Insight.