Change of mind

April 8, 2014
in Strategy
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Four actions we took to dramatically grow our membership

With First West’s 2013 performance now in the books, we’re reflecting on another year of growth in our membership: four per cent net membership growth this year, with an average growth of five per cent since 2011—or 19,000 net new members.  For many years prior, we—like other credit unions across the country—struggled to attract new members. In fact, before  2011 our organization experienced flat to negative net membership growth.We were always welcoming new members but not at the same pace that others were leaving or letting their accounts go dormant.

“We cannot change anything if we cannot change our thinking.”

So how did we achieve the turnaround, where on average we welcome about 18 new members each and every day? It wasn’t a flashy new product. Or pricing. Or an increase in marketing spend.  It all boiled down to one thing: a shift in our cultural mindset.

Here are the four things we did to shift our thinking and inspire action.

  1. We made the issue visible.
    Spread sheet numbers and percentages rarely create an emotional connection to an issue. We realized we needed to create awareness, but in a way that was tangible, front-and-centre.  So we sent paper man cutouts to all our locations and administration centres. The plan was to have our locations put up a paper man cutout for every net new member we added. But when the first weekly report came out, rather than a net growth number it was a net decline. And the same for the second week. And the third.  So someone started posting the cut outs anyhow—but with frowning faces drawn on them. As the weeks turned to months, the chain of frowning paper men began to grow—first one row, then a second. It wasn’t what we wanted to see but believe me it suddenly shifted the conversation. Regardless of your role in the organization, you knew one thing: this trend was not good and it had to change—not because of a report that someone ran but because we could all see the threat these departures had to our business. The issue became an urgent one that everyone knew needed to be addressed and would need to be tackled together.  We all had a part in it.
  2. We made everyone accountable for growing membership.
    Looking back, I realize that somewhere in our journey—I’m sure unintentionally—we developed a perspective that acquiring members was the sole domain of our sales team. How untrue! And how this thinking held us back! When we saw the situation we were facing, we made an abrupt change in our position: everyone—from board directors to back office clerical staff, facilties staff to HR benefits coordinators—everyone had the potential  to bring new members into our organization.  Everyone had an opportunity to refer people to the credit union, whether when they were volunteering in the community or through simple everyday conversations with the neighbor next door. To help drive accountability, we set membership growth goals for every team and created contests that rewarded those who made membership growth a priority.

    We saw tremendous results as everyone began to take ownership of the problem and seized opportunities within their personal networks. And though we performed very well with this approach, perhaps the most important thing we did was this: we discovered that we could do it—we could actually achieve our goals when each of us personally chose to make it possible.
  3. We rethought how we delivered service.
    The way we were delivering service was out of step with what consumers were expecting. We had a very segmented work flow—with specific roles only performing specific services. When you’ve been doing it this way for years, you don’t really think twice about it. But in a different business context, you see the absurdity of it. Imagine going into a café for a coffee and pastry and being told that you had to see different baristas to order each of those items. It’s doubtful a coffee shop with this mentality would grow its consumer base and we began to see the challenges  of growing our membership base with our own version of this.

    So a few years ago we began an evolution toward a holistic service approach. Our senior banking staff can now  provide broader service to our members—lending, depositing, and investing—eliminating many of the hand-offs that were characteristic of the old approach. Our branch teams have deepened their skills and expertise to be able to provide a simpler and more complete service experience. The holisticapproach continues to evolve:  in a few months we will be opening a new concept store in the upper Fraser Valley where a member’s needs from start to finish can be addressed by any person from the store team who greets them when they walk in the door.
  4. We all began to run it like we owned it.
    One often hears the term “pride of ownership” in conjunction with being a homeowner. It’s a powerful motivator, grounded in the creation of value. Most homeowners understand that they have an active part to play in maintaining their property to help sustain its worth.

    You sometimes see a similar mindset at work in retail, more often in the franchise model, as opposed to traditional models. It’s partially because franchisees understand that everything they do—or fail to do—has a direct impact on the success of the business. Embracing that truth, we encouraged absolutely everyone in the organization to think like an entrepreneur, to “run it like they own it.” Encouraging this behaviour was a natural progression from our earlier efforts to make the membership growth issue visible: both work together to create awareness and inspire a more holistic way of operating the branch, with less “division of labour” in serving members. The result is a more fluid and intentional service experience that continues to play a part in our membership growth trend.

Changing our mindset in these ways helped make membership growth activities fundamental to what we do everyday. Without a shift in thinking, our day-to-day behaviour would not have been enough to achieve the degree of success that we have, no matter the strategy or how many new and innovative products and services we had at our disposal. As it has been said: “We cannot change anything if we cannot change our thinking.”

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