PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas–Age. It’s never off the table as a point of debate and even charges of bias within credit unions. The desired demographic is younger. Most board members are too old. C-suite execs don’t respect younger professionals. Younger professionals refuse to “pay their dues.” But so much of that misses the point, say five people who shared unique perspectives on age here.
Those five individuals shared insights into generational differences, identifying new blood, the path to the CEO’s office, and even one humorous question to ask to test if a job applicant is open to change. The viewpoints were shared during an Underground Collision discussion hosted by Mitchell Stankovic and held in conjunction with the World Credit Union Conference. In the audience were a number of representatives from the World CU Young Professional (WYCUP) from around the world.
Here’s what each of the four people had to say:
What Older & Younger Employees Need to Be Doing
When Tyler Valentine was first named a credit union CEO he was just 25 years old. Not surprisingly, he hears from many younger credit union professionals who want to know what it takes to not just get ahead in their jobs but to also reach senior management. As Valentine made clear, that path may not be as smooth as some anticipate.
To succeed, he advises younger professionals to “work your ass off.”
“You want to be taken seriously? Show up and be serious,” advised Valentine, who is CEO of Laramie Plains FCU in Wyoming. “If you’re going to be in this industry, you need to have fun in what you do, you need to enjoy what you do, and that should be reflected in your work. Don’t get caught in the drama that occurs in organizations. Don’t be associated with that culture; it won’t benefit you in the long run. Your leaders see it, believe me.”
Valentine said that among his frustrations as a CEO is when people bring to him just their problems. Instead, he said they also need to bring along proposed solutions to those problems.
“You need to be really intentional in your work. What professional sense do you bring to your job?” he asked. “How do you want your leaders to see you? Remember your brand. Make sure to align how you want to be seen with how you are seen.”
Veteran Workers Not Off the Hook
Valentine didn’t just direct his thoughts to younger workers. He said older workers need to be careful with their own biases and attitudes.
“For those of you young at heart, you need to take (younger professionals) seriously,” Valentine said. “Saying things like ‘When I was your age…’ is demeaning. It implies they don’t bring value. Their value can be quickly undermined. To lead young people effectively is not the old way. It’s essential that they are coached. Actively coach them.”
Another issue veteran employees must confront is the notion of younger workers having to “pay their dues,” said Valentine.
“Maybe it took you 20 years, and now someone is where you were and it took them three years,” Valentine said. “I was a CEO at 25, and we have to work to dispel the notion we didn’t pay our dues. What happened to you isn’t going to get you to the kind of mobile, nimble organization needed to thrive in today’s digital age.”
3 Thoughts on Where to Focus, Legacies, & Creating Space
It’s no secret within credit unions that board turnover and especially aging board members who aren’t engaged is a difficult challenge. So when Stacey Walker talks about voluntarily leaving her board position so someone new can come aboard, it’s surprising for another reason: she’s still young (and she’s very young by CU board standards).
Sharing her viewpoint with the Underground Collision meeting here, Walker, a board member with XCEL FCU in New Jersey, framed her thoughts in terms of creating her own legacy.
“To me it’s a personal,” said Walker. “I’m at the crossroads myself. I was the young professional who joined my board years ago, and as I get older and age out I think what’s next. Who do I pull behind me? What’s my legacy?”
In response to her own question, Walker offered three thoughts:
- Focus on the Fire.“We have people who are on fire for their credit unions. They have a story that has united them, bonded them, to that credit union. I opened an account as a minor. Opening the account at my credit union is what bonded me to them. For others, their story starts later in life. Everyone has that moment when they say, ‘I’m in it and I want this credit union to win.’ These are the people who want to leave a legacy. In thinking about who to focus on, start with the people who are on fire.”
- Obstacles. “You may want to put your heart into the credit union movement, but there are some challenges, some barriers. I have to look and ask, ‘What are my blind spots?’ In credit unions, we focus on generations. When I joined it was Gen X, Gen X, Gen X. Then Millennials. Then Gen Z. Sometimes it’s not about generations but about where are you in your life and the value proposition you offer.”
- Create Space. “I noticed at my credit union, if we identified a person who was young, ready, willing to do the work, we didn’t have space on the board for them. All the positions were filled. I looked at this and thought I’ve done this for some time and I’m willing to step back. I said I want to make space That led to a lot of discussion, a lot of pushback, but also other volunteers on the board doing self-assessments. Ultimately, we did have some individuals who said, ‘This has been great, but I’m going to make space as well.’”
The Lesson in a Simple Fact: Puppies Pee on the Carpet
It’s simple, says Paul Norgrove: “Puppies pee on the carpet.” It’s an example to learn from that goes beyond just house-training a dog, he said.
“The thing we need to do more of as a movement is find our replacement early,” advised Norgrove. “Allow them to make mistakes in safe environments, and give them responsibilities.”
Norgrove, who is CEO of Police Credit Union in Birmingham in the U.K., said bringing in new talent requires the creation of culture from the top down.
“It’s not lip service, it’s not tokenism,” he said. “Early on, we talked about what we wanted to create from a cultural perspective. We have one of the youngest management teams in the U.K. We belong to a fintech organization, even though we’re not a fintech. We need to evolve. What got us to where we were stopped working in 2014, and we were going backward as an organization. As a board we have a principles value proposition that everyone sees, and this year we want our members to see it.
“It’s time to walk the talk,” he continued. “There are lots of WYCUPers here, but it’s time to start giving opportunities to other people. There is no harm in looking in the mirror and saying, ‘It’s somebody else’s turn.’”
Does That New Hire Embrace Change? A One-Word Test
One CU manager has a single question for job prospects she said can often tell her all she needs to know about their willingness to embrace change. And it has nothing to do with age.
As Eleonora Zgonjanin Petrovikj, general manager of FULM Savings House in Skopje, Macedonia, made clear, just because someone is older doesn’t mean they aren’t curious, energetic learners, and just because someone is young it doesn’t mean they won’t reject change.
Petrovikj shared with an international audience attending an Underground Collision session her experiences in convincing its board six years ago of the need to pivot and embrace electronic services and social media. Members were demanding it, or worse, not joining at all for due to the absence of e-services. Petrovikj said 33% of the citizens in her town of 20,000 are under 35, and “they don’t care if we are small ($6 million in assets) and technology is expensive.”
“We have on our board young people and we have people who are older. It doesn’t matter. It matters if you are a person who accepts change, or a person who doesn’t accept change,” Petrovikj said. “One of our board members is 67 and six years ago and he was coming every day after work to (work on IT-related issues). And we have one younger person who just gave up when he saw ‘system error.’ If you would like to accept the future, change is the new normal.”
Admitting she didn’t know if it was legal in all the countries represented in the room, Petrovikj said she has a question when interviewing job candidates to test just how much they embrace change.
“They want to know how many days of holiday they will receive. I say according to the law it’s 20 days (plus additional days for years of service). I ask, ‘What do you do for your holiday?’ I am not impressed if they go to the same place every year. If they cannot change where they go on holiday, how can they make the changes needed at the credit union?”
Just Another Cog in the Line, or Breaker of Rules?
Randy Karnes was 35 years old when he entered into negotiations to become the CEO of the Michigan-based data processing CUSO CU*Answers.
“The first thing I asked for was a contract and a signing bonus. They said, ‘what do you mean?’ Since that time, that was 25 years ago, those signing bonuses have continued,” said Karnes, whose list of demands wasn’t finished. “I said I never want to have a performance review. Oh, by the way, I would like to have my merit increase in my contract and I would like to predict my earnings for the next five years.”
Karnes got the job, and he’s now planning to retire in 2022. In his view, age really isn’t relevant to careers.
“You may be thinking how do I get to be a leader. You need to think, how do I compete until I’m age 80,” said Karnes. “I want you to look inward. Many of you are on a track. How many of you believe you are the CEO of your self-employed business? (A few hands were raised.) The first rule at CU*Answers is every person will be respected as if self-employed; they run their own business. As you run your business and sell your services there is a totally different concept there. How many of you will not accept being anything less than a CEO? (A few more hands were raised). We have 300 people at CU*Answers. I tell people I want to work with those who are not afraid to apply for my job.”
“If you want to be transforming you have to be willing to break every rule you’ve heard at this conference and heard here and there,” advised Karnes, speaking to many of the younger people on hand in particular. “Many of you are being taught to be a cog in line for leadership; study the techniques and tactics to jump all the way to the front on the very first day. It’s not hard to want that—it’s hard to learn the skills to do it.
Two Other Observations
Karnes offered a pair of other observations, as well:
- “Technology is not disruptive. Disruption is the use of a tool to disrupt. Lots of technology companies get disrupted. Disruptive companies leave things behind. Chase the things where they are leaving behind the very principles that started the whole thing. If you’re disruptive you go into those spaces and you refocus the company on what they are leaving behind and how they have gotten off path. You have to very much be a disruptor in your heart. You have to transform yourself. See what transforms yourself and study how to change.”
- “Remember this–you’re a cooperative. A cooperative makes a unique partnership with a consumer. It says you can be the consumer and you can be the owner. It’s the foundation of building things with consumer capital and making things happen in a constant win-win. That constant win-win has to be for you, too. Have the audacity to go to the front of the line to lead to your potential.”