To move ahead, it’s good to know which way to go. $1.4 billion United Federal Credit Union has built guideposts—rooted in a list of executive leadership qualities—that will help direct individual executives up the succession ladder to where they can best lead the CU to success.
The 116,000-member CU has spent more than a year thoroughly researching and developing a list of leadership competencies for its president/CEO, CUES member Gary Easterling, CCE, and, subsequently, its executive leadership. The competencies are based on leadership surveys, competency research, 360-degree feedback, and staff and community focus group input.
As a result, Easterling now has a list of 13 core competencies that can guide him and his successor(s). (Read more about the process of developing the 13 competencies in “A CEO’s Dozen” from our August 2011 issue.)
“We created a CEO compass of sorts, that defines the competencies for leading a $4 billion credit union, our future $4 billion credit union … to not only guide the board as to competencies the CEO needs to improve and/or needs to develop for future leadership of this credit union, but also to guide us in the CEO evaluation and succession planning process,” explains Cindy Swigert, chief human resources officer for the St. Joseph, Mich.-based credit union and its 450 full-time equivalent employees.
The CU did not stop its competency modeling at the CEO level. “We saw the value of having the common language of a systemic competency model for succession, and then we quickly realized its value for all aspects of executive hiring and development,” says Swigert, who Easterling charged with “drilling down the idea of the competency model into the entire organization.”
“We set out to develop competencies for every executive leadership—and eventually we hope every leadership—position at the credit union … so we could provide our executives with a tool that helps them see the skills required of their position, or desired position, and thus develop the ‘true north’ to guide them in their professional development and in our succession goals and needs,” she says.
“We wanted to map our leadership team’s job descriptions with these traits in line, so that senior management, potential successors, and future leaders can look at them and know what they need to have in order to do well, to be a successor, and to successfully lead us where we want to go,” Easterling adds.
The competencies are being interwoven into the credit union’s entire executive development
program, including job descriptions, recruitment, personal professional development plans, evaluations and succession planning.
A Common Language
Incorporating the common language of competencies into the entire leadership development system is critical on many levels, notes Easterling. “By aligning the competencies within the organization and pressing the development into the organizational chart, we align culture, we develop our people, and we become a more agile company as we grow.”
The credit union has based much of its effort on the research and competency development strategies outlined in The Leadership Machine by Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger, co-founders of Lominger International, now a part of Korn/Ferry’s Leadership and Talent Consulting practice in Minneapolis. Jeff Swartz, Ph.D., is Korn/Ferry’s senior consultant for the United FCU project.
“We are helping the organization broaden this common language of [leadership] competencies—within the context of the organization’s strategy—to describe success across the entire organization,” Swartz explains. This is because competencies drive the majority of job success, and knowing key competencies and measuring them well “makes the credit union’s talent management systems work better,” from recruiting and evaluation to development and succession. It also provides “the tools the organization uses in its leadership development processes.”
The leadership competencies in United FCU’s framework are based upon Korn/Ferry-Lominger’s more than 30 years of research into the competencies of successful leadership. To identify the most relevant competencies, United FCU did tailored industry research and in-depth research within United FCU, plus gathered executive input, and 360-degree feedback for each executive position.
“The common skills that lead to effective leadership are known; they have been repeatedly researched and studied by us,” Swartz explains. The basic skill sets of successful leaders, as summarized in The Leadership Machine, include:
- strategic skills, such as making complex decisions effectively and efficiently, driving to create new and different solutions, and understanding of the business;
- operating skills, such as being organized, delegating well, developing direct reports and others, managing work processes, and keeping on point;
- courage, such as having command and conflict management skills, and having the ability to make tough people-related decisions;
- energy and drive, such as being action-oriented and driving for results;
- organizational positioning skills, such as being politically/organizationally savvy, communicating effectively, having career ambitions and managing up; and
- personal and interpersonal skills, such as relating well to and caring about others, managing diverse relationships well, inspiring others, acting with honor, being open and receptive, being flexible, and understanding and demonstrating a work and life balance.