Why ask why?

Remember the “Why ask why, try Bud Dry.” commercials?  This blog isn’t about those.  What it is about is the importance of asking, “Why?”

Why is a pretty popular question asked in conversations between friends, it’s even more popular in conversations between adults and 3-year olds.  Where it’s not as popular is in the business world.  By now, you know I love to talk about credit unions, but I’m sure the absence of “why” in the workplace is fairly prevalent throughout the entire business world.  Why you ask? (If you asked why, even in your head, this blog has already served part of its purpose.)  Well, in my humble opinion, the absence of “why” is primarily due to fear.  More specifically, fear of possible repercussions.  Coming in at a close second, perceived lack of time is another culprit.

If you ask me, “why?” has got a bad rap.  This is probably due to those conversations between 3-year olds and their parents, but let’s set those incidents aside for a minute and look at why asking “why?” is essential to developing sound business strategy.

“Why?” is a portal to deeper understanding.

So, your CEO, President, VP (you name it) has asked you to complete some task.  You and I know that you’re asking yourself, “Why?”, but you wouldn’t even entertain the idea of letting those three letters cross your lips.  Right?  Why?  Because no one wants to questions the boss person (See, I am politically correct most of the time.)  This may be true with some “leaders”, but I guarantee that an effective leader is secretly waiting for you to ask.  For more on leadership, check out Matt Monge.  He’s got a lot of great stuff but this blog is especially relevant to this discussion.

Consider another situation.  Imagine you and your team are assembled around the table discussing a new marketing campaign or business initiative.  Have you ever questioned the motives, intentions or expected results?  Those are pretty important issues if you ask me.  Sure, your leadership team probably (keyword probably) has answers to those questions, but shouldn’t you be privy to those as well? (Sometimes you might not, I get that.)  But, what if a simple, “why” could pull those motives, intentions and expected results into question?  What if a simple “why” could help fine tune those expectations?  What if the expectations are unrealistic?  “Why?” is the only way to start conversations that NEED to happen, but most of the time they don’t.  We must to be flexible or cartilaginous as an industry.  We can start by being flexible with our employees.

If we can not get our entire team (I’m talking CEO to newest employee) to understand why they are being asked to do something, there’s no possible way that the proposed initiative will be as successful as it could be.  We are thinking creatures.  We are asking, “Why?” unconsciously all day long.  It’s time we make a conscious decision to grow in understanding about why we are doing the things we do.

 The best laid plans…

The best laid plans are NOT laid without someone asking, “Why?” (Several times in most cases.)  Bringing a product or service first to market is a great thing, but if you don’t have a clue as to what you’re going to do once it’s “out in the wild”, you’re bound to be spending a lot more time creating a plan of action that could have already been established if one brave person would have just asked a simple question or two.

Even if you launch a product, service or initiative and it’s wildly successful, we still need to ask “why?”  What did we do?  Was it just good timing or did we rock it out because we did all of our due diligence and had a solid plan in place?

If you didn’t quite accomplish what you set out to do, “why?” becomes even more important.  Why didn’t this work (Why is a gateway question)?  What could we have done differently?  What can we learn from this?

No one likes to play 20 Questions, but I’m confident that any sensible business person would choose 20 Questions over a failed business initiative.

In summation

Asking “why?” is essential!  Pick your spots, but seeking a deeper understanding is always a good thing.

Do you have any examples of when simply asking “why?” has helped you?  Any stories of when “why?” may have not been worth it?

I’d love to hear them!

 Without wax,

Bryce

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What Can Credit Unions Learn From Rudy?

Rudy, Rudy, Rudy…

First thing’s first, among my unhealthy love of Star Wars, Apple and quite a few other geeky things, I am a hardcore Notre Dame fan.  Regardless of your personal proclivities in regard to college football, I think we all can enjoy an underdog story.  If you’re reading this, you are probably:

  1. Really bored
  2. Humoring me
  3. Affiliated with a credit union

Either way, you might as well read this until the bitter end.  No one likes a quitter.  So, what can credit unions learn from Rudy?

 Being huge isn’t a prerequisite

“Size matters not.” – Yoda

How I managed to get a Star Wars reference in here amazes me…

Anyhow, the size of your membership, your asset size or the number of employees under your roof will NEVER be as important as the effort your team puts forth.  We must always be mindful that our members have chosen us as their financial institution.  We should be working everyday to show our members why they made the right choice.

Rudy Ruettiger was the smallest guy on the field.  He wasn’t an All-American, he wasn’t even a starter, but he is remembered.  Why?  Because his efforts and constant desire to  succeed left a lasting impression on those around him.  This leads into my next point…

Win your team over and your fans (members will follow suit.)

If you can’t win your own team over, how can you expect others to buy-in to what you’re doing?  A culture of success is a tough thing to build, but it is absolutely necessary.  If you want to know more about culture, I strongly suggest you follow Matt Monge on Twitter and read his blog posts regularly.

During Rudy’s time at Notre Dame, there was a culture of success.  Today, well, not so much.  Either way, Rudy bought-in to that culture.  He did the things that no one wanted to do and he took a beating while doing it.  Eventually people noticed.  In fact, Rudy had no right to even dress for a game.  The only reason he dressed for the final game of his Senior year and actually stepped on to the field is because his teammates saw what he was all about.  As credit union professionals, we have to work hard everyday with the resources that we have.  Hard work hardly ever goes unnoticed.  If you can get your teammates to do this you are on the right track.

The Practice field

In my humble opinion, too much emphasis is based on immediate results. People are always looking for a shortcut or an easy way to achieve what it has taken others many years to accomplish.  Don’t get me wrong, no one should be making decisions willy-nilly, but success takes time.  Your office is your practice field and chances are you’re on that field at least five days a week.  Are you doing the research?  Are you thinking: “How can I create a solution?”

Put the time in, make a plan and then execute.  A good friend and mentor of mine, Kevin Ralofsky would say this, “It’s all about blocking and tackling.”  I’m not sure how Kevin would feel about this reference, but here goes: If you find yourself struggling, ask for help.  In Rudy’s case, D-Bop (played by Jon Favreau) was that help.  Yes, Kevin, if you are reading this, I just called you D-Bop.

A good mentor is hard to find and admitting you need guidance is usually even more difficult.  Regardless, a healthy apprentice/padawan (again with the Star Wars references) relationship can go a very long way.  Credit Unions are in the business of collaboration and cooperation.  Have you started building a network of people who can help you achieve your goals?  They are out there and there’s no doubt in my mind that they are waiting to help.  Find your D-Bop, get on the field and do something memorable.

Persistence pays off

If you succeed at first, congratulations.  For many of us this won’t be the case.  If it is, again, congratulations, but ask yourself, “Am I setting my goals high enough?”  Setting easy goals and checking them off may feel good, but how much better does it feel to do something big?  Answer: It feels fantastic.

It won’t be easy, and it won’t come quick, but it shouldn’t.  The toughest part about being persistent is, well, being persistent.  When things get rough, our natural reaction is to seek some way to alleviate the “pain”.  I call this finding a solution.  What is important to note is this: There are no simple solutions for complex problems.

The first solution is not always the best.  It’s not like a multiple choice exam where you just go with your first thought (this got me through college.)  These sort of things need to be thought out.  If it is a problem that requires immediate attention, stop the bleeding and then go in search of the source.  Whatever you do, don’t quit!  If you’re reading this, you’ve put a lot of time into (reading this, and) what you do. I bet you’re proud of what you’ve done.  You should be (not talking about reading this blog post.)

I’ll leave you with this.  Rudy almost quit.  The underdog story of this young man almost never happened.  Some of you may wish it never did happen because then you wouldn’t have to read this.  Either way, sometimes, when we are the closest to accomplishing the things we’ve been working for, the opportunity to quit presents itself.  Don’t do it.  Don’t compromise either.  Seek the guidance of a good friend or mentor and find the right solution.

Without wax,

Bryce

(All spelling and grammar errors are my gift to you.  Free of charge.  You can thank me later.)

Are Credit Unions a Rebel Alliance?

If you know me at all, you know I am a self-proclaimed Star Wars geek.  I’m totally cool with it.  I love Star Wars because it was revolutionary, also because I am a geek, remember?  Other than the pure entertainment value of the series, I think there are some correlations to the credit union industry.  I also believe that all of us can learn a few lessons from Luke, Leia, Yoda (of course) and even the ewoks.

 If you haven’t watched Star Wars, stop reading now.  You will not enjoy this post and you will probably miscategorize me as a nerd.  Geek > Nerd.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

 

The Cooperative Network

As an industry we are small.  Individually, we are even smaller (earth shattering, I know.)  The Rebel Alliance was small, too.  They were like the credit union industry: United by a common bond, scattered (throughout a galaxy mind you) and facing an opponent (competitor) with more resources, strategically engrained in the very essence of the general populace (that Palpatine was a tricky dude.)

The Cooperative Network is one of our biggest assets.  Our capitalization here is a must.  Continually talking about the level of service we provide is a waste of time.  Member service should be at the center of our daily operations and engrained in our organizations, it is not a marketing or branding tactic.  Talking about outstanding member service at length is equivalent to an elaborate touchdown dance.  Act like you’ve been in the end zone before.

Instead, I propose we focus our messaging on Shared Branching.  Not every credit union has it and in my opinion that is a shame, but it’s what makes us relevant outside of our own respective fields of membership.  Even more disappointing to me are CU’s who refuse to embrace the concepts of collaboration and cooperation.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it is a fact that credit unions often lose members upon two specific life events: relocation for education or employment (there are others, but many of our members will approach one of these markers.)  This is important because if a member is heading off to college or starting their first job after university, they will need to borrow money soon.  We need loans and they need protection against higher rates and hidden fees.  It’s a win win.

When people move, they are generally thinking about two things: Where will I live and how will I access my money.  A member that is unaware of shared branching will likely look for a new credit union or bank.  I can understand the “comfortability factor” of having your money at a brick and mortar that is within miles, but don’t under estimate the power of the Force (gotta love techno and Star Wars)…err…umm the relationship they have forged with your credit union.  Take the time to look up credit unions where they will be moving.  Explain how shared branching works.  Talk about the power of cooperation among credit unions and do not let the member leave your branch or office without a list of credit unions they can frequent in order to access their money if they decide to remain a member of your institution

Pick the right Master and be a good Apprentice.

You don’t have to look any further than The Credit Union Times to know that there are some fantastic up and comers in our industry.  What CU Times has down with their Trailblazer 40 & Below program is completely rad.  Why is it so rad?  Well, it shows that there are a lot of young people with different ideas and experiences that are doing awesome things to move the industry forward.

Just like Star Wars, we must remember is behind every Apprentice there is a Master (mentor).  There is no doubt in my mind that the only way to make yourself a better CU professional and better person is to find the right mentor.  For me it was Kevin Ralofsky.  All I am saying here is regardless of our age, position or status, we all need a mentor.  The mentor relationship is not a one-way street, each person benefits from sharing thoughts, ideas and information.

There are a lot of differing opinions about marketing, branding, strategy and much more floating around in CU Land, but the only way to sift through them all and come up with a plan and direction that is right for your credit union is to collaborate within your own CU’s walls.  If we can not do this effectively, how can we expect to collaborate on a larger scale?

Take advantage of unique opportunities

There have been a number of great blogs about small credit unions and their flexibility.  I do not wish to take up your time and hammer this issue home anymore.  Frankly, I don’t think I could put it any better than how James Robert Lay puts it here.

What I do wish to pass on to you is the importance of leveraging unique opportunities.  We’ve all heard that we only get so many chances to do something awesome.  Most of the time this is said about personal opportunities.  I think the same holds true for businesses (credit unions).

Many credit unions are creatures of habit.  They do the things they do to brand, market and sell loans because “That’s how we’ve always done it.”  Well I’ve got news for you, people used to send mail by horse…  The bottom line is this: Many of the biggest advances known to man started off as “off the wall” ideas that someone had enough guts to undertake.  If you want a Star Wars reference, think Ewoks on the Moon of Endor.

We don’t have to do things the way they’ve always been done.  In fact, if we do not continue to innovate, collaborate and cooperate, we stand no chance at all.  We need to nurture and develop unique ideas.  Sure, trying something completely foreign is a scary thing to do, but settling for less than stellar strategy is even scarier to me.

What other lessons from Star Wars can you think of?

Without wax,

Bryce