Defining the pathway to success in a turbulent and uncertain economy is difficult, if not impossible. Despite this, credit union leaders and boards must set a course for their credit unions in the year ahead..

It will need to be a course that will provide sufficient flexibility to adapt to the inevitable changes that will occur while leveraging available resources to protect the safety and soundness of the organization. And the most important first step will be defining the areas to tackle.

Based on my work with credit unions across the country, my review of the trade press and media coverage of the outlook for the year ahead, and my evaluation of what makes some credit unions outperform others, there are five critical areas where I suggest that you focus your efforts.

Each of these needs a strategic goal that is measurable and attainable, and an action plan to produce those results. We’ll take a closer look at each one in the next few posts, but for now, here are the five areas and the reason they merit your immediate attention.

Efficiency…Finding ways to do everything you do better, faster, and cheaper has never been more important. That means that everything is open for discussion, evaluation, and possible elimination or enhancement. The goal here is not just wholesale cost cutting and elimination of people and other high expense items, but rather developing a mindset within your team that is focused on finding better ways to do everything that you do…ways that are more cost-effective in terms of people, dollars, and time.

Business Development…Whether you see it as member development, business development, or just growing the credit union, it is imperative that you implement a solid plan that will create long-term growth for your credit union. Few credit unions have mastered this and even fewer have made the investment in skilled staff who know how to go about building the business. It is simply no longer enough to provide logowear and deliver educational seminars to your SEGs or within your community; you need to ask for the order and make the sale so that those who are touched take action and become active, profitable members.

Technology…Tomorrow’s members will interact with their financial institutions much differently than yesterday’s members did, many already do. Moving forward, more and more of your members will seek to be served by technology that lets them control their interactions with their credit union. Making the investment in the tools and engaging the early adopters in helping your refine and enhance them for the rest of your members is going to be one of the key differentiators between the high performers and the also rans as the industry unfolds in the future.

Culture…Uncertainty leads to concern for your employees, and that concern can have a wide range of impacts, few of which are positive. When you add into the mix an entirely new generation of workers with a different set of expectations, it becomes more important than ever to actively engage in defining and developing your culture. Putting words on things has never really been enough, and that is even more true today. For example, if you call your people a team, you need to treat them as a team…with team-based rewards, team-assignments, and team-recognition. Whatever approach you choose, devote time, energy, and resources to making sure that the culture is being lived throughout the credit union…that is the best way to build the loyalty and commitment you need to grow your people as you grow your credit union.

Branding…The simple reality is that ‘credit union’ is not a brand. While it means a lot to those who have been involved for a long time, it means very little to those who are just learning about the differences between credit unions and other financial institutions. If you want to create long term success, you need to define a clear brand that is recognizable and that defines your difference…the thing that people have to come to your credit union to get. It goes deeper than the logo, the building design, and the brochures; it defines your position in the marketplace and the minds of your current and prospective members, and lets them know if you are the credit union for them.

Let’s stop there for now. These five areas beg your attention as you work to define a strategy that will lead your credit union to long term success, and each needs your attention now more than ever. Talk about them, think about them, look for examples, and define your strategy, then take action to make it happen in the year ahead!