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  • Writer's pictureFred Kelly

2 Proven Ways to Transform the Productivity of Your Credit Union

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

First published on CUInsight.

It doesn’t work. I know because I tried. I went to the gym 9 days in a row. Not Thursday obviously because that was a national holiday. No, I didn’t go on the weekend either. That’s Netflix time. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that I went lots of times to the gym and it didn’t work. So Harry Judd obviously got his 6 pack abs some other way.

As absurd as this sounds, it happens in credit unions across the country every single day. Sales teams wonder why they aren’t selling, COOs wonder why their projects aren’t advancing faster, CEO’s wonder why their membership isn’t growing.

The reason is that the best outcomes occur as the result of processes over time. Just like going to the gym. The problem is that the improvements are often too small to notice in the short term and our brains don’t like this. Our brains prefer certainty today over uncertainty tomorrow.

In a joint study between Harvard, Carnegie Mellon and Princeton’s Center for the Study of Brain, Mind and Behavior, researchers found two areas of the brain that appear to compete for control over behavior when a person attempts to balance near-term rewards with long-term goals. The research involved imaging people’s brains as they made choices between small but immediate rewards or larger awards that they would receive later.

They found that people behave impatiently today but prefer or plan to act patiently in the future. For example, people who are offered the choice of $10 today or $11 tomorrow are likely to choose to receive the lesser amount immediately. But if given a choice between $10 in one year or $11 in a year and a day, people often choose the higher, delayed amount.

To overcome this bias, we need to employ strategies that enable us to defer instant gratification in favor of better longer term results.

So how can we get better results?

There are two things we can start doing differently today to reach our objectives.

1. Identify the process you need to get the outcome you desire

If you want to grow your membership then you will get better results with a customer-centric sales process. When you have a well-designed process, you know that if you follow it consistently you will get results. However, because there’s work today with a pay off in the future, some sales people will falter. If you have a robust sales management process you will be able to pick up on this fairly quickly. Look out for common phrases like, our credit policy is too rigid, the economy is bad, it’s the wrong time of year, we are too expensive, our system is too old and I’m still waiting for sign off.

There only two reasons we don’t reach our objectives:

The process is wrong or the process wasn’t followed

Getting buy-in to a process can be a challenge. It’s advisable to have the folks that will be using the process, involved in its design. The process will be better and you’ll get more commitment to it.

Of course, the world isn’t static. Our processes need to be able to adapt to change. What works today may not work as well tomorrow. If we don’t map out our processes and measure them at each stage it’s hard to figure out where the problem is and how to fix it.

2. Focus your energy exclusively on the processes that align with your objectives

Most credit unions (indeed almost all organizations) have too many projects on the go simultaneously. This creates bottlenecks and competing priorities. Culling projects is the single most effective way of getting more done. This is simple to understand but notoriously difficult to achieve in practice because prioritization can be uncomfortable and takes consistent discipline.

Greg Mckeown, author of the superb book Essentialism, suggests that we ask this question before every task: “Is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?”

The basic philosophy behind this approach is that once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, you can make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.

The Eisenhower Matrix – a Framework for Prioritization

The 34th President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower was incredibly productive. He had a process for prioritizing his tasks in order to generate the best return on his most valuable asset, his time.

The Eisenhower Matrix is a method of prioritizing your tasks on the basis of their urgency. It helps to determine the activities which are important and the ones which do not deserve your attention at all.

The matrix is divided into four parts or quadrants:

  • Quadrant 1: Important and urgent (tasks you will do immediately)

  • Quadrant 2: Important but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later)

  • Quadrant 3: Urgent but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else)

  • Quadrant 4: Not important, not urgent (tasks that you will eliminate)

The idea is to make a list of all the tasks you need to accomplish and sort them into the applicable quadrant.

If you are interested in optimizing your organization’s productivity, I really recommend James Clear’s blog. James is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits.

The Kanban System

Another tool that I use religiously, and wish I had known about when I was a community bank CEO, is The Kanban System. It has been popularized by project management software companies such as Trello, and, my personal, favorite Asana.

Kanban requires you to limit the flow of tasks and prioritize. Visualizing your workflow and tasks on a Kanban board helps you better understand your processes and gain an overview of your workload. Its roots lie in the Toyota production system and was given a new lease of life with the emergence of agile project management for software development.

The beauty of Kanban is the concept of Work In Progress (WIP) limits. WIP is the number of task items that a team is currently working on. It frames the capacity of your team’s workflow at any moment. Limiting work in progress is one of the core properties of Kanban. It allows you to manage your process in a way that creates a smooth workflow and prevents overloads.

For more on Kanban, I recommend the Atlassian series of videos, the first of which can be found here.

You can start today

The beauty of both process mapping and focusing on the things that create the greatest value for you and your organization, is that they are simple and can be implemented without any significant investment.

Credit unions of all sizes can get started on this today.

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