What do Pluots, Grapples and Tangelos have in Common with Credit Unions?

Pluots, grapples and tangelos are just three examples of exotic hybrid fruits created by adventuresome farmers. What do they have in common with credit unions? Sometimes merging the culture of two very different organizations can create a unique beast like these.


Pluots, grapples and tangelos are just three examples of exotic hybrid fruits created by adventuresome farmers. For some people, these offer exciting new tastes. Others just want their apple back.

Merging two credit unions can yield similar results. Sometimes the end result is a unique combination of two cultures; other times, picking a "winner" from two unique organizations may be the right answer.

I recently spoke with a number of people involved on the frontlines of credit union mergers. While the obvious challenges like data processing conversions, account changes and HR paperwork, can dominate one's day-to-day, all agree that the softer side of merging – your employees and your members – can pose the greatest challenges.

For some credit unions, it stems internally from being "unique." Let's be real: we all think we're unique in some (better) way than others. This can pose a serious challenge when you've invested a lot of time instilling the underlying values in your employees and now are facing joining forces with another credit union with a different set of values.

One classic example: a pay-for-individual-performance culture meets a collective-fate culture. In the former, employees were probably attracted to the credit union by the prospect of commissions, rapid promotion, and potential bonuses. In the latter, employees may be motivated to excel by the prospect of stable employment and the certainty of standard raises.

In this example, these cultures can't co-exist so deciding which one will survive is necessary to maximize the value of the combined credit union. Or you have to call off the merger. Assuming that's not an option, the challenge then becomes communicating with the employees of the "losing" side how the change can help them and making sure employees from the surviving side give the new employees a chance to adapt.

One HR manager I spoke to held private, one-on-one meetings with each employee from the disappearing side (no matter how big an organization) to map out their professional needs and wants. As she explained, "The more I listen, the more they are willing to listen. I tell them directly: I want to know what your fears are."

Other advice these intrepid souls have shared:

  1. Be honest. Sugar coating can come across as lying.
  2. You can't overcommunicate.
  3. Get HR involved early—and often. Provide comprehensive, structured on-boarding just like you would any new employee off the street.
  4. Know their stuff. This isn't about being able to explain why your benefits are better. You have to understand what they believe they are giving up. This is exactly the dynamic playing out with the national debate over healthcare reform.
  5. Take extra time with resistant employees and you may be pleasantly surprised by what they have to offer in terms of experience. Sometimes, they just need some extra effort to come around.
  6. That being said, know when to cut bait with those same resistant employees. At some point, you just have to find a dignified end to what could turn into a protracted stand-off.
  7. Remember: you're doing this to improve value for the member. If you can't figure out which of two things to do, ask yourself "Which will benefit the member most?"