food for thought cloudStrategy and leadership coach Dr Jeff Callander, offers some Food for Thought on the importance of purpose to a credit union. Jeff is a speaker at the CFCFE Credit Union Conference on 29th March, when he will expand on these ideas.

“Greek philosopher Aristotle is said to have believed people and organisations need telos… a concept that provides meaning and purpose and adds value to our lives. Meaning and purpose is what research has shown contributes to “buy-in”. Buy-in is the acceptance of and willingness to actively support and participate in something. Yet engagement surveys repeatedly show that staff do not buy-in to their organisation’s Purpose (that is to say, if they have one!). But, in the age of the knowledge economy, it has become even more important to gain staff engagement and buy-in.

Let’s talk about how this might have come about. Firstly are the old business school teachings (and is still taught) that an organisation needs a mission and a vision BUT driven solely by creating shareholder value. This is an antiquated Harvard-based view that they themselves no longer promote (they now lead with customer value, or in the case of credit unions, member value) and even a Board’s fiduciary responsibilities have now widened to include the broader definition of stakeholders (including but not limited to members!). However, notwithstanding that mission and vision tends to be a wordsmithing game by Boards with little significance to staff, Purpose has been, until recently, perceived as nothing more than a marketing strapline, and not a practical tool or, importantly, the starting point for strategy development which is not helpful!

A second reason is the pressures that drive management to want to leap into the How before resolving the Why. Notwithstanding that a strategy should look after the long-term sustainability of the organisation, things like quarterly and even monthly targets tend to override the organisation’s strategy. In the absence of doing the homework on Purpose, management approach to achieving short-term targets has been to default on a command-and-control style adopting the mantra of Nike’s “Just Do It”.

Reimagining the Purpose of an organisation must take into account that strategy is first and foremost a leadership tool. Creating and externalised Purpose, setting goals and choosing strategies that are fact-based leads to successful achievement of the strategies. It is about carving out a clear and tangible place in the market that translates into meaning and value for members and other stakeholders. It provides a description of why the organisation exists which both staff, members and other stakeholders can link to both, emotionally and rationally. It, along with the values, guides the organisation’s strategies and day-to-day decision making (the How). Having a Purpose led strategy is about ensuring successful implementation.

Purpose is a journey – imagine someone asks you to get to a particular destination to help someone but you don’t know why and what value will be gained to that someone or yourself. How can you decide the How without this information…?

The real question are credit unions really aware of their Purpose? For instance, how is member ownership uniquely providing the direction needed to create a valuable and sustainable model for member financial wellbeing, for and on behalf of members?”

Dr Jeff Callander, March 2021