As credit union and banking executives, we tend to live our lives in bubbles. We talk our own language (debt ratios, risk based lending, return on investment, margins, spreads, etc.). The reality is consumers don’t think this way. Nor do they care. As leaders we must get out of our bubbles and look at our financial institutions from consumers and employees’ viewpoints. Here are some bubbles we need to break:

(1) Get out of the executive bubble.

When was the last time you talked to a member or customer? Not in a political, glad-handing way but truly engaged them in a conversation (asking them what they like and don’t like about you)? We tend to sit in our ivory towers and think we know what consumers want. A great way to get out of the executive bubble is to spend some time on the front line. Maybe serve as a teller for a day. Perhaps answer the phones in a call center (that will probably give you more information than you care to have!). You can’t market to consumers unless you know them. And you can’t know them if you are in your own world.

(2) Get out of the marketing bubble.

Have you ever looked at your marketing from a critical eye? We all need accountability, including marketing. The reality is the marketing department is probably juggling so many projects they may not be spending time to analyzing their efforts or their pieces. A great way to get out of the marketing bubble is to conduct a marketing audit.

(3) Get out of your management bubble.

Managing people is hard; many times we’d rather complete a project than converse with one of our employees. As leaders, we have projects to complete. Yet sometimes in our project rush we lose sight of our own people. One of the best ways to break the management bubble is talk with your folks without an agenda. That’s right—manage without a list of tasks you want them to complete. One idea is to give every one of your employees 30 minutes of your time each week where they set the agenda. They can talk to you about anything they want (their career, their job, the financial numbers, something personal, etc.). We often talk about empowering employees; one way to do that is to let them control the agenda.

(4) Get out of the policy bubble.

It seems like as financial institutions we have a policy for everything: lending, H.R., audit, social media, etc. You name it and there is probably something in writing for it. Rather than look for ways NOT to do something (for example, make a loan) maybe we should look for ways to make it work. While policies are important, there should always be exceptions. We can become extremely rigid as financial institutions. The best policy you might have is pretty simple: our policy is to help people.

Bubbles protect us. Bubbles insulate us. Bubbles blind us. And ultimately, bubbles prevent us from growing.