It inevitably happens at some point in every credit union planning session, and for most it will happen sometime in the next few weeks.

The discussion will start with an innocent question,such as: “How can we attract more members from the younger generations–they are our future?”

From there, it will go downhill because everyone in the room will unconsciously make one simple, understandable, and easy mistake…a mistake that is not acknowledged and given sufficient weight in the discussion.

Here’s why it happens.

We see the market and the credit union’s membership from where we are in the market.  Simply stated:  We forget the old sales adage that to sell Jane Smith what Jane Smith buys, you have to see Jane Smith through Jane Smith’s eyes.

The result is that our discussion about how to reach new members is biased and ineffective.  No matter how hard we try, we cannot understand what others want unless we ask them and listen to what they tell us, or analyze their behavior and see what they actually do.

So we explore ideas and options based on our perspective of what the credit union offers, how it has impacted us and those we know, and what we believe it can do for others in the future.

In plain language, this is A VERY BAD IDEA!

If we seriously want to define a strategy for reaching the next generation of members, we need to engage them in the conversation.  Not only will it help us understand what they really want, but it will also be an important first step in building relationships with them.  Remember, these people we are trying to reach have grown up in a collaborative world where their opinions matter…reaching out and giving them a chance to share them has more value than most of us realize.

ACTION ADVICE: Before your next planning session, consider taking these steps as you plan to plan so that you are better prepared to address this inevitable question more effectively:

1. Conduct a few focus groups or do some survey work via social media to learn what your current and prospective younger members want from your credit union;

2. Analyze your current membership data and identify the habits and behaviors of your current younger generation members…what products and services are they using, how often do they come into the credit union, how heavily do they use your online services, and so forth.  Document the results and use them as a baseline for understanding the behavior of those you have already attracted to reveal how you can attract more of them.

3. Invite a broad spectrum of members to an informal reception with your Board prior to the planning session.  Serve some refreshments, let the people mingle, and focus the conversation on what they like, what they don’t like, and what they want from your credit union.  Summarize the knowledge gained and use it to make better decisions at your planning session.

It’s Your Turn…What do you think?  How can your credit union avoid making this common mistake?  Any Gen Y or Millennial readers care to share your insights on how to handle this?  Who will post the first comment and get the discussion started…?