Matt Walsh

Envisioning the CU of the future

‘It’s as much about culture as it’s about code,' says futurist Mike Walsh.

September 30, 2016

How must a mid-21st century credit union differ from the credit union of today?

No real blueprint exists, Mike Walsh told attendees of the CUNA Technology Council Conference and CUNA Operations, Sales & Services Council Conference during his keynote address Wednesday in Las Vegas.

“We’re in this process of trying to find a reconciliation with change,” said Walsh, the principal of Tomorrow, an innovation and research lab. “What I’ve found is that what makes [credit unions] tick is, it’s as much about culture as much as it’s about code.”

Walsh offered four steps credit unions can take to bring their organizations into the 21st century:

1. Maintain an agile mindset. Credit unions must strike a balance between creating an agile culture driven by both performance and mindset, Walsh said. Performance-driven people can create operational efficiencies, but mindset-driven employees might better adapt to changes in the marketplace. “Focus on people energized by unknowns,” Walsh said.

2. Stay small to scale up. Credit unions must ask themselves how fast they can scale up to capture a new market development. “If you want to scale up quickly, you have to actually think small,” Walsh said. He referenced Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s theory to not create a project team any larger than can be fed by two pizzas. “What he’s saying is that bigger teams can fall into the trap of group-think,” Walsh said. “People just start agreeing with each other. Keep the team small enough so they are agile, adaptive, and come up with genuinely new ideas.”

3. Design a social environment where people are comfortable to work. The nature of work is trending toward part-time, contingent labor, Walsh said. “In a way you’re competing, not with other companies, but for people’s mental attention to come work for you,” he explained. For example, many people today can work from virtually anywhere, and some prefer to log into work from a coffee shop. “Companies are challenged to create an environment where people enjoy spending their time,” Walsh said.

4. Use data to hack your culture. In today’s virtual world, it’s easier than ever to gather information about how a company’s best people work. “And you can use data to change people’s behavior,” Walsh said. As an example, he cited a company that used digital lanyards to track employees’ social interactions. The company learned that the software programmers who gathered in larger groups for lunch were more productive. As a result, the company installed larger tables in its lunchroom.

Walsh urged attendees to challenge one of their organization’s project management teams to take a different approach to tackling a project or task and keep a journal of its experiences. Credit unions should then determine if they could roll out the approach to the rest of the organization.

“Identify your most productive, innovative, networked employees,” Walsh said. “Are they the kinds of people who follow the rules in the employee handbook or are they usually the first people to break the rules?”