|Posted by Scott Butterfield on February 23, 2017 at 6:10 PM|
It can be exhausting to review a credit union’s to-do list. I’m talking about that long laundry list of everything a credit union team has committed to for the year. It’s interesting to review these lists alongside their owners. All too frequently some items have little to do with the credit union’s key strategic priorities. I see this conflict all the time.
Sometimes there is debate over whether or not something on the list will have a material impact on the organization’s key strategic priorities. In these cases, the potential impact of the debatable action is minimal. Far too many items on far too many to-do lists are low-level operational and compliance-related. Important tasks, but tasks that at the end of the year contribute very little to key strategic priorities such as loan, revenue, and membership growth. It’s frustrating: teams spend the year chasing low-impact initiatives, and end it without any significant impact on loan growth, membership growth, service delivery, or revenue.
My experience is that the most successful credit unions do a better job at prioritizing focus and activities. They know how to say “no” to the right things. These leaders understand that they lack enough resources to do everything, and they want to commit their teams to those activities that will have the greatest impact on their key strategic priorities, such as growth, profitability, and member service. The to-do lists of these teams are shorter, and more focused. True, they may lack some products and services, or some of the latest technological bells and whistles, but they succeed because their team has a clearer focus and more energy to pursue activities that have the greatest opportunity for impact.
Zen leaders create Zen environments
Zen leaders understand how to focus energies and resources to those tasks that best fit the requirement of strategic success. Besides leveraging focus and resources more clearly, this approach avoids a great deal of frustration and dissatisfaction for themselves and their teams.
I call this “Zen leadership” because it emphasizes rigorous self-control, reflection, practice, insight, and commitment to the benefit of the organization and team. The problem is that many of today’s leaders are so focused on that long list of to-dos that they fail to think strategically – above the day-to-day minutiae – and consequently they spend less time developing their people and removing obstacles for their team. The pursuit of Zen credit union leadership includes mastery over conflicting priorities.
Prioritizing means you consistently think strategically, with long-range vision and knowledge of your organization’s highest priorities to see and determine which tasks are more important at each moment. Zen leaders give those tasks more of their attention, energy, and time. They help others focus on what is important at the expense of lower-value activities. Prioritization is about making choices about what to do and what not to do. To prioritize effectively, you need to be able to recognize what is important, as well as to see the difference between urgent and important. Here are a few ideas on how to improve your Zen focus:
Clearly identify strategic priorities. Keep this list high-level and short. This is the organization’s “come hell or high water” list of results that have to be reached. Examples might include profitable loan growth, deeper member relationships, or organic membership growth. Focus the team’s activities on these high-value strategic priorities. These activities should dominate the team’s focus and conversations.
If you consistently practice Zen leadership, you just may find Nirvana. What is Nirvana? Spiritually speaking, Nirvana is a state in which suffering has been “extinguished.” Credit union Nirvana exists when your organization is consistently achieving strategic objectives, and team members feel successful, having accomplished more and felt less pressure to spend time chasing an endlessly long, lower-impact to-do list.
Why it matters
There are a lot of credit unions that I deem “safe and stuck.” They’re well-capitalized, but they aren’t growing or generating the earnings they will need to keep up. Unless they change, they will be left behind at some point. The world we operate in is rapidly evolving. Successful credit union leaders have the discipline to focus first on key strategic issues and spend less time hanging onto actions that generate mediocre returns. They have the courage to limit exhaustive to-do lists. They have the courage to say “no” to many things, and find more time to focus on those things that are the most critical to their survival. While many chase long to-do lists, successful leaders chase the strategies that really matter for their members, the credit union, their team, and their community. There’s only so much time. For what will you be known? Focus on that and get after it.