Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Power of One-ness.

One . .  . 
is a number that leads to infinity.
is a lonely number, or so the song says.  
is a winning number.

One . . .  

can be an individual or a collective.
person makes a difference. 
person decides.  
person stands up for another. 
is powerful.  

I am fascinated with the power and the responsibility of one. I believe in the power and responsibility of one person's ability to impact a situation, a company, a family, a community, a world. I believe in the power and the responsibility of the collective of ones who decide to make a change, and then relentlessly forge ahead. I believe in the power and responsibility of one vision, so much so that I have dedicated my work to helping organization's of all sizes and types find that vision and express it so others can see it too.

One-ness is a vision for collective strength and success.  A vision to engage and inspire. To connect and create something together that could never be created in isolation. Some people call this "co-operation."

The credit union system for me is the best example of collective strength and vision, or one-ness that I have experienced in my work-time. Working with the credit union system, where the principles of working together for a common good, democratic decision making and autonomy (another word for freedom from ownership by government) created a standard that I have come to expect and hold myself and others too. Co-operatives are based on a set of principles and values that are unique and separate from other organizations that are not of the co-operative nature. Learn more about cooperatives . . .

I joined the Credit Union system as the Manager of Planning in 2002, making the move from a Federal government crown, where I was conducting competitive research. I had developed a matrix of financial institutions across Canada, including profitability, current strategies, and future strategies (sleeping giants). I pulled information from annual reports, shareholder speeches and the Canadian Banker's Association. At the time, financial institutions were adopting new technologies, changing the customer service model, implementing relationship management and spreading their impact through value chain integration.  (President's Choice was breaking new ground integrating banking with groceries).

When it came to the credit union system, however, it was a more difficult picture to put together.  Number one, there were literally hundreds of credit unions. Number two, there was no clear point of contact for "the system" that I was aware of at the time.

But looking at the numbers for the top credit unions in the country, in 1996, I could see this was a force to be reckoned with.  A classic sleeping giant. I wondered what made it successful. Why and how did the system continue to evolve and grow?

So when the opportunity came to work for the system, I was ecstatic and gladly made the leap to learn what it was that made this system tick. In doing so, however, I learned what makes me tick as well. 

On my first day of work, I remember mapping out the elements of strategy so that I could draw the picture back to the big idea. I wrote "one" on my white board. What if, I thought, the credit union system could be "one". It would dominate the banking industry. A classic outsider's view, I later learned.

The system is a  collective of one, that is committed to a commonly shared set of principles and values.  Each credit union is a credit union unto itself, governed by the principles of autonomy, democracy, and working together for the good of its community and members and the values of the pioneers who forged this land out of mud, rock and tenacity.

Each credit union represents a collective strength that stands firmly on a foundation of principles and values that are time honored and never discretionary.

Though it was foreign to me at first, I began to understand the passion that lives and breathes in the credit union system and why it continues to be successful. It had imprinted itself upon my psyche. My values and the system values had become one. I came to expect that honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others was and is a necessary part of work. I came to expect that working for purpose meant working for a greater good, something bigger than "me."

I came to appreciate the culture of co-operation, of democratic decision making, giving back and making a difference economically and socially.  These elements together create a finger print that is unique and competitively strong that can be possibly replicated, but never duplicated without the spirit and commitment to co-operative principles, as I was to later learn.

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