The Best/Worst Pencil Sharpener: A Note on Sharpening Your Focus & Difficult Decisions in Strategy

Credit unions are challenged to sharpen their strategic focus. To do this they need to make hard decisions about what they will and what they won’t do. Saying “no” to things can be challenging.

by Kevin Smith

I know, I know. I can just hear the comments now, “You’re writing about what?! AND you’re going to lead with a pun like that?!?!” Yes, I have some thoughts about my pencil sharpener that I’d like to share. And I swear that I think that they are totally relevant to credit unions and strategy.

There … in the picture. That’s it. The pencil sharpener that I’d like to talk about. It’s awful looking isn’t it? It’s huge, and heavy. A “Boston Champion.” And here’s a feature: it’s kinda hard to use. It takes three hands to successfully use. Well … sort of. Once you get the hang of it you can do it with two hands. There’s video below so you can see it in action.  Much about it is clunky and inconvenient.  And here are the steps involved to make it work:

Calibrating the Strategy between the Staff and the Board

As board members get better at staying out of operations and focusing on strategy, sometimes the new problem is calibrating that strategy. This means making sure that the staff and the board are on the same page about what that strategy means for their day-to-day activities.

By Kevin Smith

I love the word “calibrate.” It sounds so scientific and important. It sounds like you’re really doing something worthwhile when you calibrate something. And let’s face it … it sounds so much better than “checking to see that we’re on the same page.” Pffftttt. What a lame metaphor that is.

The more planning sessions I facilitate, the more I’m seeing the disconnect between how the board sees what’s going on and how the staff sees things. And isn’t that exactly what the strategic planning session is supposed to accomplish? To align these perspectives? But it seems that what we agreed on last year, wrote down (hopefully), and moved forward with, often morphs into two different plans. One for the board and one for the staff.
To quote a notable lawman from the movies, with some cool sunglasses, “What we have here, is a failure to communicate.”

The U.S. Yield Curve & Things Coming Soon

Tim Harrington

In a slight departure from our typical blog style, I’d like to comment, if briefly about the news that I’m keeping up with. Part of what we do at TEAM Resources is try to help our clients, and our followers keep an eye on what’s going on that might impact the financial services industry. Lately, the trusted news resources that I follow have been noting some economic trends that I think are worth paying attention to and sharing. For example, here’s a recent headline from David Ader at Bloomberg:
The U.S. Yield Curve Is Sending the Right Signals
The economy is exhibiting classic late-cycle behavior, and a recession may not be too far off.
Click below for the full story. 
With this information we encourage you to consider how this impacts your organization particularly as we head into the “typical” strategic planning season. 


Coming Soon

Beyond the U.S. yield curve, I want to also point you towards something that Kevin Smith has in the works: The Board Governance Video Series. This is coming soon to the TEAM Resources website. This will be a valuable, ongoing resource for credit union boards and executives. Check out the preview below or  here.


Dealing with the Weakest Link

Dealing with the Weakest Link 
Do you have a “weakest link”? Then stop behaving like a chain. Be a Net.

Teams often use the “weakest link” and team-as-a-chain metaphor. This becomes a way to deflect blame and avoid accountability. Stop this mindset and behavior and create shared accountability to improve the dynamic and the performance. Don’t act like a chain. Try being a net.

by Kevin Smith

Are you the weakest link? Can you easily single out the weakest link on your team? This metaphor of team-as-a-chain has become so common and recognizable that they named a verkakte* television show from it for a while. We all know this trite phrase. 
(*Yiddish word which sort of means very bad.)

You’re only as strong as your weakest link, right? I get it. It sort of makes sense. You can easily picture this and how it works. It’s visual. It’s tactile.

Right and Wrong Times to Deal with Governance Issues

Right and Wrong Times to Deal with Governance Issues

Boards of directors often end up taking time to deal with their governance issues, and learning, in the wrong places at the wrong times. Boards have a limited amount of time to do their work and if it’s not efficient and on track, they will end up taking up time meant for other activities, such as a strategic planning meeting, to try to address their governance issues. This is distracting and a poor use of time for those taking part and to the goals of the session.

Tim Harrington and Kevin Smith

We regularly use the metaphor of walking a tightrope for talking about what it means to work at the most efficient levels of strategic governance. Go too far in one direction and the board is too strong, taking over operations or micromanaging. Too far in the other direction is too weak, not keeping up with issues, and rubber stamping without proper oversight. Here’s the thing about tightrope walking – you have to tweak and adjust at every moment along the way. Good strategic governance is the same way, constant adjustment.

Board Members: Stop Trying to “Help” Your CEOs

Staying at the strategic level can be difficult for credit union board members. When their “day job” involves getting things done at a tactical level, seeing tactical results is how they know they’re effective and it’s what their evaluated on. The natural impulse is to try to “help” their credit union’s CEO. This often causes conflict and unclear roles.

by Kevin Smith

I know. I know. The headline sounds ridiculous but I’m not going to back down. You’re thinking I’ve lost my marbles or at least my focus with that statement. Why wouldn’t you try tohelp your CEO? Why would you try to make things harder and worse for the credit union and thus the members? Bear with me as I try to explain. I think I have a valid point to make.

Often creditunion board members have or had careers that involve getting “stuff” done, checking off projects, tasks, etc., that are by their very natures more operational, in the nitty gritty of the business they’re in. This is a pretty wide generalization here to be sure, and board members that I’ve met across the country come from a wide set of backgrounds. Sure, they may have some involvement or input on the strategic plan of their department or their organization, but it’s typically not where they spend the bulk of their time.

Review of Daniel Pink’s new book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

Review of Daniel Pink’s new book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
by Kevin Smith

After hearing Daniel Pink as a guest on a podcast recently, I bought his new book When. Now, I’m not a rush-out-and-buy-a-new-book kind of guy. I’m a cheapskate from way back and I’m comfortable on the library waiting list for a while. There’s always plenty on my table to read. But the way Pink talked about this material struck a chord with me. The subtitle of the book is: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. As a consultant who works at home alone, I’m more than happy to tell you that I am fully in charge of my own schedule and I attend very few meetings. It works for me, but it’s not for everyone. One of my challenges is how to orient my day in order to be most effective. Busy isn’t the issue. Effective is the issue. The stories that Pink began describing about what he found sounded incredibly helpful. I think it will be, but it’s too early to tell.

Pink digs into the research of timing in a variety of interesting ways:

  • “The Hidden Pattern of Everyday Life.” The best time of day to tackle certain tasks. (The answer of course is “it depends” but it’s not the copout that it sounds like. It’s simply a more nuanced answer.)
  • “The Power of Breaks.”
  • The influence of “Beginnings, Endings and In Between”, for days, events, meetings, lives etc.
  • “Synching and Thinking.” How to synch groups and get your ideal “when” together.
  • And more.

Are You Doing Enough to Onboard Your Directors and Committee Members?

The Spotting of an Extremely Rare Event: A Full-Day Onboarding Event
by Kevin Smith

I recently had the privilege to be part of something I’ve found pretty rare in my time working with credit union boards and supervisory committees: A full-day onboarding event. And … it made no pretense about being comprehensive. The fresh meat … er … I mean, the rookie members got the clear message that the full day of onboarding and training was not meant to cover everything, and they were enthusiastic about this fact and theyunderstood. This event had little to do with where the coffee is kept, how to access email and set up the new iPad. It had nothing to do with the schedule for the year, or where the strategic planning session will be held this year. The agenda called for a thorough review of duties and responsibilities, for best practices in communications between the supervisory committee and the board, for governance best practices. Deep stuff!

This all begs the questions:

  • Why is this rare? (And if you want to argue with me about the fact that it’s rare, bring it on.)
  • Are you doing enough as a board, as a committee to make sure you’re all up to speed and, more importantly, on the same page, and functioning as an actual team.

Does your CEO Feel Safe Enough to Admit Failures?

Does your CEO Feel Safe Enough to Admit Failures?
(Psychological Safety and the Board/CEO as Team)
By Tim Harrington & Kevin Smith

It sounds kinda weird to say that we hope the CEO of your credit union fails. But in a way, it’s true. (We’ll qualify this. I swear.) More importantly for credit union board members: Does your CEO feel confident and safe enough to readily share any failures with you?  A few weeks ago we wrote about Google’s research into what makes teams perform at the highest level. The number one indicator: psychological safety, the ability to be vulnerable and know that this would not be used against you by the other team members. Does your board and CEO operate at this level? You are a team after all.

Here are two scenarios that we see as radically different:

1. The board asks the CEO to report on the progress of strategic project X. The CEO responds saying it will take some time to gather data to adequately address that project. He/She requests that this be an agenda item for next month’s board meeting. At reporting time there are a flurry of statistics, qualifications, points of context and a lot of use of the passive voice (i.e. “assumptions were made,” “benchmarks were missed,” “due diligence was done”).
2. The CEO calls the board chair and says, “I need to give you an update on strategic project X. We missed the benchmarks and a few things have gone wrong. I don’t want you to have any surprises. I will update the rest of the board more thoroughly at the next board meeting. In the meantime, can you give them a heads up and send them my way if they have any questions?”

Both of these are reports on a failure. The tone of the two are polar opposite. In scenario 1, the CEO comes off as defensive, covering tracks, diverting blame, delaying accountability, etc. In scenario 2, the CEO is proactively addressing the issue, before being asked, in plain language and leaving the door open for further information which is a higher level of transparency. Which one of these two CEOs has the trust of the board, and vice versa?

The Board and Supervisory Committee Dynamic

Creating A Good Board/Supervisory Committee Dynamic
By Tim Harrington & Kevin Smith

What does it mean to have a healthy relationship or dynamic between the board and the supervisory committee? We suppose that’s probably as unique as your organization and as individual as your members. That means that there’s no one “right” answer to this.

Kevin and I were recently facilitating a two-day governance workshop and this issue came up. We didn’t end up with a great deal of time to talk it through (as we had a litany of items to talk about), but it did get us to thinking about this as an issue.