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Kearley Research: Credit Union’s Purpose

Installment #1: Does the employee’s role or asset size impact employee adoption of the credit union’s Purpose?

This past fall, one Kearley team member embarked on a research study as part of her graduate work at Texas Christian University (TCU). The research examined how credit unions communicate their Purpose internally and the impact of that communication on employee perceptions, adoption, and actioning of that Purpose – also known as the Credit Union Difference of People Helping People.

There is a growing focus in the business community on corporate Purpose. As research shows, the economic meltdown of 2008 and then the COVID Pandemic of 2020 caused the business and academic communities to reconsider the Purpose of business organizations. As a result, there is a growing sentiment calling for renewed organizational Purpose focused on creating value stakeholder, versus traditional corporate Purpose which is rooted in creating profits for shareholders.

Given that all credit unions share a common Purpose of “people helping people,” which is articulated and actioned in different ways, this quantitative study examined how credit unions communicate their Purpose internally and the impact of that communication on employee perceptions, adoption, and action of that Purpose.

This study evaluated how current, internal credit union communication impacts employee perceptions, adoption, and actioning of the credit union’s Purpose using a survey with answers weighted on 5-point scales.

Does the employee’s role in the organization impact their adoption of the credit union’s Purpose? And does asset size impact employee adoption of the credit union’s Purpose?

No. Employee role in the organization as well as asset size do not impact employee awareness, understanding, or actions related to the credit union’s Purpose.

To evaluate credit union employees’ adoption and actioning of Purpose, descriptive statistics were run. The mean scores for each question related to the dependent variables of awareness, understanding, adoption, advocacy, and innovation were between 4 and 5 out of a possible score of 5 on the Likert scale, indicating high scores for each variable. These scores show credit union employees have relatively high scores across the board for Purpose adoption and action. Additionally, there was not a statistically significant difference in the purpose adoption and action based on the employee’s role in the credit union or on the asset size of the credit union.

The respondents’ open-ended comments related to credit unions nationally and Purpose shared similar themes. Many expressed that “service for our members and not for profit” is well known by credit union employees, however, they also commented that the general public is not aware of the Purpose or the work credit unions are doing in their communities. Several comments even expressed interest in a nationwide awareness campaign to help educate non-members about the value and the Purpose of credit unions. This adds to understanding not only the high scores for the Purpose variables, but also the lower scores for advocacy for the credit union’s Purpose. In general, credit union employees have adopted and action their Purpose but are not able to advocate for that Purpose to the same extent.

Big or small, audit or accounting, it’s possible to have high awareness of Purpose and high scores for leading with Purpose inside the organization. There does not seem to be greater Purpose adoption in small or large organizations. Good news: everyone in your organization can be activated as a Purpose ambassador for the credit union.

Start with a strong foundation of formalized, written communication inside your organization that helps your employees truly understand the Purpose of the credit union. Offer talking tools, especially for your front-line teams – that help them bridge that understanding with advocacy. Finally, take the opportunity to talk more about the Credit Union Purpose in your meetings, and work to leverage that Purpose verbally at community events.

Your employees have strong, positive feelings about the credit union’s Purpose and the credit union’s ability to make a difference for their members. Find a way to unleash these brand ambassadors to help spread the word about your Purpose. This may seem obvious, but respondents feel more could be done to raise awareness with members and communities about the purpose of credit unions and the Credit Union Difference.

Elisa Rode, President and CEO of Kearley & Company, just completed her MS Degree from TCU in Strategic Communication. Her thesis focused on credit union employees and Purpose. Installments from her 56-page thesis will be distilled and posted here for any and all to share. This spring, you will be able to download the entire document from the library at Texas Christian University. GO FROGS.

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