Across the past decade I’ve had the privilege of working with credit unions across the country and speaking at credit union conferences in almost every state. During that time my work has focused on strategic planning, leadership development, and culture building programs for credit unions across the spectrum of sizes, locations, and fields of membership.

As I write this, we are coming to the end of a year and entering that time when leaders begin to finalize plans for the next 12 months. In an effort to stimulate their thinking and encourage them to move their credits unions to higher levels of success in the year ahead, I would like to suggest five steps to success based on the past decade of experiences:

Step One…Define Your Culture and Values…Many of the stronger credit unions I have encountered in my travels are grounded firmly by their core values. These values define their culture and support day-to-day decision making at all levels throughout the organization. Employees who understand the culture and values of their credit union are more engaged and committed to their jobs.

Step Two…Live Your Mission and Vision…Mission and vision create a strong sense of purpose within the more successful credit unions around the country. Those credit unions that lack clearly articulated mission and a well-defined vision seem to be struggling with high turnover rates, poor member service, and overall weak market positions.

Step Three…Elevate Your Strategic Thinking…Credit unions with more diverse boards in terms of age, background, position, and experiences, tend to be doing a better job of thinking strategically than those boards that are more traditional in their make-up. These leaders are actively engaged in scenario-based planning and defining true strategic visions, allowing senior leaders to take control of operational and tactical planning to achieve the strategic vision the board has created.

Step Four…Engage Your Employees in Teamwork…Mixed results are being achieved in the area of teamwork, particularly in credit unions with multiple locations. The best are engaging their teams in visible programs that recognize and reward team performance. The worst are simply labeling employee groups as teams, but neither empowering them to act as teams, nor rewarding them for team performance.

Step Five…Develop Leadership and Succession Programs…Many credit unions are well behind the curve in the critical areas of leadership development and succession planning. Only the best credit unions have well defined programs for growing their future leaders, and very few report having written succession plans that identify short-term disaster replacements, let alone groom long term permanent replacements.


Use the questions below with your Board and Leadership team to define your action plan in each of these areas. Now is the time to invest in building the foundation for long-term success…if you tackle the five areas outlined above, you will take an important step along that path!

1. Where is your credit union with respect to culture and values? If you haven’t delineated the core values that should guide your employees in their day-to-day work on behalf of your members, it is time to put this on the immediate to do list. With these in place you can begin to shape the kind of culture you need to create your future success.

2. When did you last update your mission and vision, and how are they being reinforced for your employees? If they are not current, update them as soon as possible. If they are not being communicated effectively, launch a broad-based initiative to commit your entire team to living the mission and achieving the vision every day.

3. How would you rate your board in terms of its commitment to strategic thinking? If they are not focused on true strategic thinking and engaged in defining a strategic position for your credit union that will position you for long term success, it’s time to change your approach so that they start talking about where you will be five to seven to ten years in the future.

4. What is the nature of teamwork within your credit union? If there is a lack of consistency across locations, a lack of genuine peer-to-peer support, or a lack of recognition of team success, it’s time to take action. Work to create an environment where well trained employees work together to achieve goals and the entire team shares in the rewards when they succeed!

5. Do you have a strong leadership development and succession plan? If not, take action today to outline the process you will use for developing those within your credit union who possess leadership potential. But don’t stop there. You also need to at least outline a succession plan that defines who will succeed whom in case of an unexpected event that leads to the loss of one or more key employees.