Stories are powerful sense-making devices leaders can use to draw others into the point they’re making. How are you using them to boost your culture?
As I have shared from time to time with my readers and followers, I really enjoy writing. It’s said that writers write about what they know; I write about what I’m experiencing daily as a lending executive. I have a passion for lending, and I have a passion for helping my peers in the credit union movement. An emerging passion of mine is leadership, and I have been inspired to write more on that topic as well.
A recent nugget of leadership wisdom that spoke to me was from someone I discovered on Twitter, David Novak. I started following David because I’ve been a golf nut for 45 years, and he’s an accomplished player and a member of a historic golf club on Long Island. However, golf is not the inspiration for this article. Most of David’s social presence is focused on leadership, based on his time as CEO of YUM! brands. Coincidentally, our new manager of executive administration here at Ent Credit Union had the pleasure of getting to know and work with David at her former company. He is clearly passionate about all aspects of leadership.
On a recent morning, I awoke to a tweet from David that said: “Leaders are always on the outlook for stories because we remember them. They are a powerful sense-making device that draws others into the point you make. A speech without a story elicits no emotion and often drives little action.” This spoke to me because I’m a storyteller. I tell so many stories that my closest employees may be tired of a lot of my old ones! So, I’m constantly looking for new ones.
A Story About Casey
David’s tweet was perfectly timed for two reasons. First, my consumer lending group was planning to celebrate the 20th work anniversary of Casey Perkins, Ent CU’s VP/consumer lending and a CUES member like me. I hired Casey two decades ago to be our collections manager. At the time, I was impressed not only with Casey’s background in collections, but his experience on the other side of the business, making and underwriting loans. It can be a difficult transition to make; I’ve had multiple people over the last 30 years try to do it, and one might say such collectors-turned-lenders are often haunted by the ghosts of delinquent borrowers. But Casey was able to do it well.
During consumer lending’s monthly meeting, Casey was going to be recognized, and I wanted to say a few words, but what exactly would I say? Casey has been a director and now VP/consumer lending since 2013, after serving us well for 10 years overseeing collections. Probably 90% of our staff onsite for the meeting weren’t around from 2009-2011. Inspired by David Novak, I realized I needed to tell a story that would be both important to our culture in lending at Ent and focused on Casey’s commitment to members.
During the meeting, we celebrated an amazing year for lending in 2022, which featured production and growth that 12 months ago, I frankly didn’t think was possible. Yet our culture doesn’t revolve around our numbers. It revolves around our members. 2009 to 2011 saw the Great Recession when a million or more homeowners experienced severe financial distress. Unemployment peaked at more than 10%. There were numerous “bad” stories about big banks and servicers unable or unwilling to provide timely assistance to homeowners. People were wrongly foreclosed on.
I decided to tell a story of the weekly ritual Casey and I went through for the better part of four years that exemplifies our culture of lending that revolves around our members. Casey would pile up a group of mortgage loan files, roll up his sleeves and carry them down to my office. It was his version of having a gym at the office; some of those files were huge!
Instead of sitting on requests for deferments and loan modifications for months like many of the big lenders were doing, Casey and I sat down and reviewed every request that came in. Once an employee talked with a member and documented the request, our staff would get an updated credit file, check property values and outstanding liens, and document other Ent CU account information. Casey and I personally decided what assistance we would offer, often within a week of the member’s request and virtually 100% of the time within two weeks. In fact, we had our own loan modification program almost a full year before the federal government plans came out. This dates back to early 2008 before the financial crisis and the failure of Lehman Brothers.
As I told this story, I was really sharing this message with the group: “This is who your leader is.”
Recognizing Casey’s commitment to our members and telling this lending story was essential because change is constant. Ent CU as an organization is now almost four times the size it was in 2009. While we have amazing longevity amongst our staff, we’ve grown so much that only a small group of employees remember Casey’s trips down the hall, carrying mortgage files, a clear sign of his commitment to members and our lending culture.
Passing It On
Storytellers need to develop the next generation of storytellers; that’s one way to ensure culture not only survives over time, but also thrives. There are only so many employees motivated by achieving a new record for loan volume. You also need a group of employees who are motivated by what we stand for, our commitment to service excellence and doing the right thing for our members.
Oh, by the way, there was a second reason why I thought David Novak’s tweet was perfectly timed: I needed some inspiration. I’m now on my sixth year of writing this monthly article on lending. I’ve also consistently written past articles for CUES and other professional associations for the better part of two decades. My best guess is I’ve written, and had published, more than 150 articles. I have so many great people that work for me, I’m not as close to the “action” as I used to be; thus, I’ve found myself running short of material. David gave me the inspiration to tell as many stories as I can throughout the year that can help you with lending and leadership. 2023 is shaping up to be a great year!
Oh and by the way, if you’d be interested in telling your lending story in the form of a guest column … and perhaps over time writing this column on regular basis, please email me firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out my previous column on this opportunity.
Bill Vogeney is chief revenue officer and self-professed lending geek for $9.8 billion Ent Credit Union, Colorado Springs. He’s also @vogeygolf on Twitter and real_cameron_collectors on Instagram #golf #scottycameronputters #titleist #gcsaa #golfgeek.