Striving to Improve Culture, Not Morale.

The over abundant appearance of overworked and under appreciate employees, is currently being attributed to low morale. A lot of times, this in turn, is attributed to the recent economic downfall which organizations are still recovering from. Though this holds some truth, I believe that the shift in focus to being a result driven economy, created out of necessity in order survive this downturn, has created something much more harmful then low morale, bad culture.

Culture is an undisputed acceptance of particular actions, beliefs, and/or customs as correct or socially appropriate within a specified group of individuals.

Culture is, at its core, responsible for how successful projects, products, and people are within a society; or in this case specifically, an organization. That being said, being able to provide leadership with the intent of improving upon culture within an organization, can only help to increase morale, thusly increasing energy and productivity and cutting operational costs, making your organization more efficient, and in the end successful.

Not that I should have to explain, but poor morale can lead to budget busting employee turn around. If you are not in a hiring or operational position within your organization, you may not know how much it costs to advertise, hire, train, etc…a new hire, especially when talking about entry level positions. Not only that, but the level of absentee employees will rise in a low morale situation, causing operational inefficiencies, which are also costing the organization more money.  I could, but I needn’t go on; the connections here are clear.

Obviously, low morale can be caused by a negative organizational culture; but can a morale problem also ruin a good culture? Absolutely. I know this because Credit Unions have all the reason in the world to have GREAT culture, but from experience, not all of them do.

While morale is declining, negative thoughts become associated with work, going to work, and inevitably, your organization. Negativity becomes the norm in this situation, and if one influential person, or a person in a leadership position, takes this stance on their work environment, a virus of epidemic proportions substantiates and will inevitably spread from employee to employee before eventually becoming an organizational norm. With negativity being accepted as normal and correct because or your organizations low morale situation, a horrible culture emerges.

Luckily, culture is primarily a pattern of learned behaviors, as we can see from the example above, and can be changed to reflect your organization’s true vision and potential.

It is important here that I stress and address the fact that attempting to increase only morale while ignoring culture will never provide a lasting effect for a workplace drowning in cultural disparity. The cause of low morale is poor culture. If you do not solve a problem at its core, the root of the issue will still exist, continue to grow, and will rear its ugly head in due time. As I stated, morale is a problem with the view of, and operations of an organization, but a culture problem is a repeated and normal issue that is inherently associated with an organization.

As the word culture starts with a C, I find it charming to use that letter as a jumping off point to convey the three things I believe create good culture. Without further ado, here are my three C’s of good culture.

Confidence – Everyone needs to be told that they are doing a good job. Without feeling appreciated, and in turn confident about their performance, no employee will ever feel pride in their work or motivation to over achieve. Simply letting someone know you appreciate what they do, goes a long way in creating a positive experience in the work place. I am not insinuating that anyone needs to be rewarded for adhering to their job description, but conveying to someone that you’re grateful for their help will always improve an employee’s view on their work and their job. Just say thank you.

Communication – I have never worked anywhere that did not lack in this seemingly simple department. Over communication has been often seen as overstepping imaginary cultural workplace boundaries. Communication done in an appropriate manner will always help, and never hinder, a workplace culture. Communicating issues with an appropriate superior will help get issues resolved while avoiding “insubordination” and help to eliminate harmful organization slander between employees. In turn communicating in a way that makes the members of your organization feel connected is just as important. An interoffice newsletter with the achievements of departments otherwise taken for granted, will help connect (hey another C word!) and bond employees.  Helping employees to feel as though all of their co-workers, no matter how small their interactions with each other, are a necessary part of their workplace lives and success, will increase culture exponentially.

Conveyance – Culture will always start at the top. Without the dedicated leaders in place to convey and live the culture your organization strives to encompass, there will be no change. A lot of the time, a leader is looked at as someone who knows the most. Being knowledgeable is a trait of leader, but does not make you fit to lead. To make a good culture a permanent part of your organization, you need leaders who are willing to create more leaders. This seems contradictory to success as leader, creating someone who could succeed you, but it’s not. If the CEO or an organization trains their President to lead in a way that is beneficial in promoting a positive culture, and in turn the President leads their VPs to lead in a way that successfully corresponds to their cultural vision, and this pattern continues to trickle down, all staff is leading, and being led by, leaders of a greater vision. If the staff in your leadership positions are afraid to create more leaders, what is left other than employees who feel like peons, slave to a corporate vision they are not a part of?

When I talk about leadership, I want to clarify that I deem a leader as someone with a specific dominant yet compassionate personality, and skills to rise above and prosper in the face of adversity. With that in mind, don’t you want all of your employees to be leaders?

Improving upon culture is a long a teadious process. However, no process can be completed without the effort to initiate change. This is where morale is addressed rather than culture. Addressing as issue only once will boost morale temporarily, but finding a permanent solution which improves morale consistently, will lead to improved culture. Without addressing culture, the blind will continue to lead the blind into an irreversible spiral of punch in punch out mentality. If your staff has no passion linked to their day to day ventures, how will your Credit Union ever hope to convey the passion it has to help its members?

I leave you with this quote, because if you can’t trust a peon, you can surely trust a man with a 170 IQ.

“We must not conceal from ourselves that no improvement in the present depressing situation is possible without a severe struggle; for the handful of those who are really determined to do something is minute in comparison with the mass of the lukewarm and the misguided.” – Albert Einstein


An Aroused Member is a Lustful Member

Though the word arousal is usually associated with sexual desire, to be aroused can be simply defined as to become excited or experience excitement. Think for a moment what it feels like to experience excitement. Can you imagine the feeling of butterflies swirling around in your stomach? Now think of a scenario where this feeling bombards your senses in full force, shall we say, a first date?

It is a proven fact, that visiting an amusement park on a first date could substantially increase the chances of securing a second one. We as humans can thank what is called the misattribution of arousal for this fun fact.

This physiological concept states that when our body experiences a physical change, such as an increase in heart rate or sweaty palms, our brains may attribute this to something completely different from the actual cause. Our brains, on an unconscious level, try so desperately to make sense of these sudden physical changes, sometimes those emotions are misattributed; so in context, your date’s racing heart, that was caused by the Farris wheel, dart game, and haunted house, are now accredited the excitement they are experiencing while having such a good time with you, or simply put, lust.

Don’t believe a peon? If you would like to read more about the misattribution of arousal and the experiments used to confirm its existence, read this.

What do first dates have to do with Credit Unions?

Well, what is an account opening at a Credit Union, if not a first date?

As a potential life partner to a new member, Credit Unions have a lot going for them right from the get go. We come from modest roots, and our life story is romantic and noble. We are honest, live to help others, and in our free time, can even be quite the trend setters. It doesn’t hurt that our mutual friends say great things about us either; a good wingman can make all the difference.

All joking aside, what this interaction does lack, is a heart pounding, sweat inducing, and adrenaline pumping moment; the type of moment that could add just enough excitement to leave them wanting more. Offer them a credit card (and if regulation allows, pre-approve them for one). This is especially true for Gen Y’ers who are eager to sink their young shiny teeth into this type of opportunity.

Why is this exciting? The feeling of acceptance in itself evokes a feeling of accomplishment or achievement, which is exciting, even if this acceptance wasn’t actively pursued.

Once that excitement is buzzing around the room, this new member, will in theory, misattribute this instance of excitement to this first encounter, rather than the excitement related to being offered a credit card. The member will leave floating on cloud nine, full of lust for their new Credit Union, eager to tell others about this new and exciting relationship.

I don’t mean to suggest we should use physiological principals to manipulate new and potential members, but I do mean to suggest, that if we can use this principle to create a stronger bond with our members while helping them simultaneously, why wouldn’t we?

Credit Union cards tend to be offered at a much lower interest rate than most of our competitors, and creating this spark now can create a bond, otherwise known as loyalty, which can be used to help members through various life stages later on. This member has now been shown the Credit Union trusts them, and they will continue to trust in the Credit Union.

Now that trust and loyalty have been created, realize this – two of the biggest factors in creating a healthy and nurturing relationship, have been accomplished here, simply by offering your new member a credit card. Simply put, you’ve created love, and isn’t that worth taking a little risk for?

Why Credit Unions Almost Lost Me: A Response to “Credit Unions are LOSING”

With the philosophical debate of fate or free will aside, sometimes, something that can be explained in no other way than fate, intervenes in your life at the most influential of times. (Specifically, about six months ago…)

As far as ruts go, I was in deep. I sat thinking that my short and seemingly nonproductive time spent behind a terminal as your friendly neighborhood teller was coming to a fast and abrupt end. Change seemed imminent and it was upon me. That was when I ran across an article called “Credit Unions are LOSING.” I HIGHLY suggest reading this piece; this article single-handedly saved my Credit Union career. I say this because sometimes, all it takes is knowing you are not alone in your struggle to inspire perseverance and determination to succeed.

To summarize, this amazing article addressed the elephant in the room, why young professionals are leaving the Credit Union industry. It speaks about how as an industry, we are losing a vast amount of incredibly talented and potentially detrimental players in the movement to community banks or even other industries in general. The author, Sean McDonald, shares insight he has received from former Credit Unioneers (as a disclaimer, I am hoping this well catch on as we are currently pioneering a progressive and ever-changing industry) who had crossed the line from C.U. to B.A.N.K.

I am writing now to share my point of view.

Credit Unions as a whole, sit on a foundation on philanthropy. They come from the most humble of beginnings, persevere through the most epic of struggles, and triumph with dignity over its naysayers. Most Credit Unions started in a basement or in a shack somewhere, built from nothing for the sole purpose of helping others. A charming and endearing love story, isn’t it?

As a member of Gen Y, I should want nothing more than to work within an industry with such a noble mission. Alas, I didn’t. I instead felt betrayed by an industry that promised its starry-eyed young professionals a chance at fulfillment and progression toward the great good. Here are my top four reasons as to why:

                1.There is an adversity to change and innovation. The majority of leaders in the industry today, remember a point in time where they fought. There was a daily battle to seemingly accomplish what we have today, and thus has emerged the mega Credit Unions. Simply put, if you had achieved what you had fought for, why would you fight to change it?

                2. Numbers have taken center stage. Though elaborate facades obviously have a higher overhead then a shack or basement, growth in numbers in terms of money have become of high importance than reaching economic goals within the community or other measures of success. Understandably, money is the lifeblood of the financial world, money is the inventory of the      Credit Union world, but unfortunately, it has also become out product. Credit Unions once sold the American dream, now they sell money.

                3. Practice makes perfect, but preaching takes less effort. As employees of a Credit Union, we hear about great mission statements and visions of a brighter future, however, we see a lot less     of that then we hear. I believe there is a longing among employees to feel empowered and see  this change. Though change may be seen in our numbers, we desperately want to see this change on a level that isn’t measurable in an excel spread sheet.

                4. Young professionals are feeling betrayed. As I stated above, I felt let down by my industry. As a generation, Gen Y was taught to do what they loved and to never settle for less. The Credit Union love story reeled us in, but hasn’t proved efficient in sustaining a healthy population of young professionals. We were lied to. Once dreams die, what is left in work but money, and let’s      be honest, there isn’t much of that going around either.

From the micro Credit Unions struggling to survive, to the evolved institution with a proud corporate heartbeat, change needs to be seen universally to overcome this almost insurmountable obstacle. Though we’ve reached a comfortable plateau in our story, the heroes will rise above, challenge our security blanket, and ask what’s next.

It’s important to remember that though we are successful today as we are, we’ve also been successful as an industry, and gotten where we are today by building upon change, innovation, and challenging the status quo. The past is insight into our future, and looking into the past might be just what we need.