Hurricane Reflections: If You Want to Grow, You’ll Need to Change.

As I write this, I’m sitting in New Orleans near the banks of the Mississippi River, banks that Hurricane Barry recently threatened to overflow. Fortunately, the Big Easy didn’t experience a catastrophic storm surge, but the rising waters did cause me to reflect on a statement that a board chair made as we kicked off a planning session several years ago.

“You cannot step in the same river twice.”

He was paraphrasing an idea originally put forth by a Greek philosopher back in 544 B.C. The full proverb states, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

At the time of our conversation, the board chair’s credit union was struggling with complacency. His statement served as a kick in the pants that led to some difficult, but necessary, conversations about the factors that were keeping them from growth. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the first time I had encountered a board and leadership team hopelessly wondering how to grow their credit union. As I looked around the conference room, I could see all the signs. They were in survival mode.

As our meeting began, the board chair spoke up and said, “This planning session will decide our future. We’re going to find a way to grow and give it our all, or we’re going to end up having to merge.” As the leader of the strategic planning session, I realized the stakes were incredibly high. No pressure, right?

An hour into the planning session, I saw why they were stuck. There were several promising opportunities in front of them, but deciding to pursue any of them would require massive changes. It would force them to rethink the way they had been doing things for the last decade. Even the smallest change would make them venture outside of their comfort zone to try something new.

The leadership team’s response spoke volumes. “But we can’t.”

We had clearly reached an impasse. I offered a refund for my services. Despite the board’s interest in hearing more, the leadership team didn’t want to discuss the changes needed to get unstuck. My advice to them was simple and straightforward. “If you won’t make these changes, your only choice is a merger, and there’s no need to continue wasting your time in this planning session.” The board and leadership team exchanged some candid words, and it was clear they knew this was their last opportunity to do something. Waiting until the next year’s planning session would be too late.

“I’m out of my comfort zone. I’m nervous. I don’t know what to do.” The problem wasn’t an unwillingness to change after all. It was fear of the unknown. And even though the team was obviously passionate about ensuring their credit union’s survival and success, that fear kept the process from moving forward. Once they started discussing ideas and gaining some perspective, the fear was still there; but it subsided as the day rolled on.

By the time lunch was over, we were ready to create an action plan for the goals discussed in the morning. There was a new attitude in the room. The CEO started the session by admitting he was a few years from retirement, and all of this change made him nervous. However, he reiterated what the board chair had said earlier that morning, “We can’t step in the same river twice, no matter how hard we try. The water is changed, and we as people have changed. That goes for our credit union too.”

The CEO fessed up to the fact that the relationship with their SEG wasn’t what it used to be, and the credit union wasn’t going to prosper if they were completely dependent on the SEG. After that, they talked about various opportunities that had come to them over the past year—other groups who desired financial education and the services that the credit union offered. “We don’t have to merge,” the CEO stated. “We have to repurpose this credit union for the next generation of people who need the same kind of help we had a few decades ago.”

Fast forward three years. As I sit here waiting out Hurricane Barry, I’m reviewing this credit union’s Q2 2019 call report and the numbers speak for themselves. Double-digit loan growth. Strong membership growth. A community charter serving low-income folks in the suburbs of their big city. A working succession plan with finalists already chosen. This credit union has a clear focus on finding the right leadership for its next chapter. Deciding to change wasn’t easy, but the small risk is paying off with some big rewards.

What decisions are you facing right now? You can see the potential for growth, and you want your credit union to realize that potential. However, there are some tough choices to be made if you’re going to achieve your goals. They might be staffing issues, indifference from your SEG, lack of marketing results, or a myriad of other things keeping you from reaching your full potential. Whatever your challenges may be, your team will need to engage in some challenging conversations. Leading credit unions like yours through those difficult conversations is my passion.

Do you want to grow but can’t find the right strategy? Do you feel frustrated and overwhelmed? After more than a decade of leading dozens of financial institutions through positive changes, we have developed a unique strategic process that brings clarity, removes fear, and leads to unprecedented growth—all while helping you avoid expensive, unsuccessful marketing mistakes.

If that sounds like strategic growth planning you can get excited about, email me and let’s talk.

From strat plans to rebrands, YMC President and CEO, Bo, is passionate about helping financial institutions come up with a winning formula. If you’re ready to go beyond the SWOT, you can email him at

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