Change before you have to, or... (well, change NOW)

Every business person knows that change is inevitable, but they also know it is usually managed in two different ways. Depending on the eye of the beholder, you might even make the case that both are viable strategies.


Most people hope they have the vision and the capabilities to move their organizations to change before they have to. They hope they can set the terms of the change. They want to believe they can drive the evolution and avoid the remorse of being behind the curve, out of synch with a market, or pressured by financial factors that now mandate the change. They hope they have time. Many do, and many believe the fight to overcome the status quo and the inherent push-back against new models is worth expending political capital and other resources consumed to complete the process. And these people might be right...but they are seldom in the majority.

Others have done the math and see that reacting to forced changes—having everyone understand that time is up, the change is a mandate, and there really is no choice—is galvanizing, safer. It’s better to be a part of the pack, licking their wounds on the way to a new reality, than to risk all going early to new spaces. And they might be right...but they are definitely in the majority.

One thing for sure is that no CEO can claim constantly to be in one camp or the other every time and keep their job in the long term. Sooner or later, if you always choose to change before you have to, you will choose the wrong direction too many times, burn through all of your resources and political capital...and you will be out. On the other hand, if you always choose to wait until the hand is forced, you will eventually wait too long and just be too far out of step to recover...and you will be out. What to do?

Too late! It's late in the first quarter of 2009 and the credit union industry is now locked into Changing Because We Have To!

There is change...and there is Change
This is where things get tricky. Let's review this Corporate thing. It seems we all agree that Corporates knew that there needed to be big changes. The industry and the Corporates have debated it, written about it, and lobbied for it for years. Corporates laid in their plans and even took actions against each other to change the market space, and individually they hoped to declare they changed the Corporate system through good, old-fashioned competition. But along comes the economy and wham, they are just out of time.

But then a funny thing happens. The vision for change just gets ugly. Instead of innovation, the masses now seem just to want someone fired, some board removed, with some regulator to stomp in and take over, and then some trade group to take the stump and tell the world how ticked off we all are. This version of change is too narrow. It is usually limited to removing one team and replacing them with a new team that will just continue to do the same things as the old one. There will be new name plates and new brands, but no real new model.

The mistake in such a narrow response is what our industry now needs to learn and guard against more than anything else we will learn from this period. We must expand our hopes for change. We must envision more of a commitment to change before we have to, and push for that to be the majority decision time after time in our business plans.

Shoot for an inch, or demand a mile

Very soon we will experience the results of changing too late, through the actions of all of us who will have to react to annual audits, short-term financial returns, and the emotions of being forced. We are not going to feel the pride of changing before we have to, of being part of a solution ahead of a mandate. But once the rules reset, and we find our stride in dealing with these mandates, I wonder if we will be ready to craft new directions based on changing before we have to, from this point forward.

We need to free ourselves of the concerns over the expenditure of political capital and the risk of overcoming the status quo. Remove these constraints and talk about fresh ground to be gained by big innovations. Let the world know that you are demanding that you and your team work on changing far ahead of the next mandate.

Here are a few of our goals for changing ahead of a mandate:

  • Build a culture where the strength of peer-to-peer models can be counted on beyond the confines of a single organization. Envision a network response where peer-owners lead the way through tough times.
  • Participate with a regulatory body that is trusted to be a leader on systemic issues as well as those of single institutions. Promote a regulator to be an innovator amongst regulators of any kind. Trust that our regulator is governed by strategists and balanced by tactical experts. Envision a network response where peers come from both inside and outside the borders of a credit union charter.
  • Create a fertile market space, a network design where opportunity is fluid and the roles of vendor and customer, business and employee, and competitor and partner are fluid enough to expand the opportunity for all participants. Envision a network response to guarantee the financial strength of member, institution, and employee.
  • Count on the industry to understand and respect that every stakeholder—whether credit union member, professional, CUSO professional, regulator, or trade organization—is, first and foremost, vested with an equal voice, and is a peer worthy of commenting and leading this industry. Envision a network response that counts on diverse expertise and is the richer for it.

Many will say that these changes are just too broad, too touchy-feely, and beyond the scope of a CUSO that specializes in technology and operations. But some will see there is still time to change for the next generation of credit unions, and the next generation of people who will benefit from vision delivered before time runs out.

Off to the races...



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March 23, 2009


  • This is completely incoherent.
    Dan Terio
  • I gues if any one would write that they do not undertand that the industry had options and just plain waited to long to do something - the we see why this mess has so many people blaming everyone else. Change before you have to, is an option, but not one that we do well. Too bad.
  • it says this is optional but since you require it, I would say that it is a rambling mess of information. The only constant in business is change!