At this week’s CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council conference, Jim Stengel, author of Grow, keynoted the opening session. “We are in the business of transformation and we must create stories that our customers will tell about us,” he challenged attendees. By the way, if you haven’t read his book, it is a must read for financial institution executives.

Stengel gave four principles for how to grow your credit union.

(1)   Great brands change people’s lives. According to Stengel, great brands do more than great products or services, they change people’s lives. “Credit unions can be the Northstar for the entire financial services industry,” Stengel said. Application point: think about how your credit union is changing people’s lives. Also, are you pushing your products and services or promoting your brand?

(2)   Great brands are led by artists who care. Stengel argues that CEOs leading successful businesses have high emotional quotients. He notes that artists create things and use the whole brain. He points to the CEOs of REI, American Express and Costco. He referenced a recent Fortune Magazine quote that said, “While you can sometimes teach a dreamer to be a strong business operator, you can rarely teach a businessman to dream.” Application point: Get your CEO, CFO and other top management to think in color and not black and white.

(3)   Culture is the only competitive advantage. Stengel and his associates did tons of research for his book (three years; reviewed 50,000 brands, conducted in-depth analysis of 50 companies). When examining those top 50 companies he noted their employees, “all talked about their culture.” While the researchers might have asked about products, financials, etc. almost every employee wanted to discuss their culture. Application point: You can’t compete on price or product. Every credit union has some type of culture; what is yours?

(4)   Coherence is critical. “The story of business is changing dramatically,” Stengel says. “The best brands are built on ideals and the brand’s inspirational reasons for being—why the brand exists.” Stengel emphasized the importance of keeping that brand coherent in every area. Application point: Make sure your credit union’s brand is coherent and that everyone in your credit union is on the same page.Stengel offered an “ideal tree” with three branches as tips for how to improve your credit union’s growth:

  • Discover what your ideal is (hint: it should be one of the five human values of joy, connect, explore, pride or impact).
  • Build your culture around your ideal (hint: we must learn to operationalize our ideals)
  • Communicate your ideal (hint: you must engage your employees and members).

“Taking these actions to grow is not a straight line and it is hard to do,” Stengel advises. “Brands with higher ideas tap into rich areas of our brains, which leads to higher preference and higher sales.”

Stengel is right: growing your credit union won’t happen by accident. To effectively grow your credit union you must grow your brand and your ideals.