Organizations driven by a clear purpose enjoy many benefits over those that don’t. Credit unions have this kind of purpose baked into our DNA but often it’s not clear enough, or it doesn’t reach everyone. Aligning towards the purpose of changing people’s lives through is a powerful engine that can move mountains.
By Kevin Smith
Last week I got to do one of my all-time favorite activities. A credit union invited me in to kick off their strategic planning process by talking about purpose. I love talking about this. Tim and I have been talking about organizational purpose for years in our own planning sessions. And we’ve seen dramatic changes when an organization embraces this approach.
It’s all too easy for credit unions to think about their “purpose” in very corporate terms. We take deposits, make loans and help people with their money. (*buzzer sound*) Thanks for playing but that’s not the correct answer (IMHO). A purpose-driven organization is one that has a mission beyond making a profit. It’s a beacon guiding people in all of their decisions and motivating their actions. A clear and worthwhile purpose inspires people giving meaning to their work and lives.
Shoes, Socks and Purpose
Now, this might be a bit harder if you’re selling shoes and socks, but look at Toms and Bombas. They figured it out. But we’re credit union people. This is baked into our DNA, in our history. Too often it gets lost in the day-to-day, in the bank-like nature of how we compete these days. It’s there though, bubbling underneath. It’s time to let it out to do its magic!
The “Good Old Days” and our DNA
Over the course of my years working with credit unions, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing hundreds of stories about the “good old days” of credit unions: children delivering deposits or loan payments to credit unions open on Saturdays at a kitchen table. Some run from converted broom closets on the factory floor. And these credit unions started because a group of people got together to help one another when they couldn’t get a loan elsewhere. This is our driving purpose: to change lives for the better. Doesn’t that sound better than “taking deposits and making loans”?
Leading with purpose has many benefits.
- Higher staff engagement
- Lower turnover
- Better recruiting
- Higher organizational performance
- Among others
And get this, research conducted during the pandemic indicated that those living their purpose at work reported:
- Five times (5X!) higher levels of well-being
- Being four times as likely to report higher engagement levels
- 2 ½ times as likely to be free of dementia
- 52% less likely to have experienced a stroke.
It has health benefits to boot!
Leading with a purpose that is higher than profit drives engagement. You have to pay people enough, for sure. But pay raises aren’t enough to drive engagement and give meaning to their lives. If you communicate how the credit union changes lives and connect people to how their roles move the needle towards changing more lives, they will be sparked to do more. It’s jet fuel.
This was all true before Covid but recent research (see links below) has shown that the pandemic has caused broad swaths of the working population to reconsider what they do and why. People are now more determined to have their work have positive impact and meaning. This is our “in” for getting the right people who share our passion.
Credit union leaders:
You have access to this. But are you doing enough with it? Creating this kind of culture is messy. There’s no straight line or timelines. It has to be constant and it starts with demonstrating what drives you and simple conversations. All. The. Time! There’s no room for lip service, for “do what I say, not what I do.” You have to walk the walk and people will follow you.
Here’s your next caveat leaders: Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re already doing this enough. The McKinseyresearch says that 85% of leadership feel like they’re living their purpose at work. But only 15% of frontline employees say that’s true. Just because everyone around you says it doesn’t mean it’s happening everywhere. Mind the Gap. Close the gap. Communicate and follow through.
Here are all of my sources:
- Simon Sinek, The Infinite Game (2019)
There are lots more too! I dare you to Google it. (Kevin)