Consulted Out of Relevance


Preserving the Soul of the Credit Union

At breakfast recently, I mentioned to a mentor that we had hired a consultant to help our credit union improve staff cross sales by improving the service that we provide to our members. This was not the first time we had hired this consultant to come in and perform this work, but at the time I thought it was the right thing to do to improve the performance of the credit union.

With my mentor’s help I came to the realization that what I originally thought was an example of my ability to lead was actually a perfect example of my ability to schedule meetings, write checks, and organize groups of people around the idea that my credit union needed to look better in my bi-annual Raddon report.

I was a party planner for employees that didn’t want to come to the party. I was hiring consultants that would help me look more like those Raddon high-performing credit unions. It was a sobering moment that forced me to reexamine my leadership and the work I was saddling my employees with for the next twelve quarters.

My level of intentionality to engage both our staff and members, guiding the consultants’ work, and sustaining the achievements of staff after the consultants are done is our job alone as leaders. When I do not do this work well, I release the work of creating to the consultant, the soul of my organization is removed, and my relevancy to members is null.

The work of creation should never be passed off to a consultant. It is our job as leaders to provide the vision for what our creation is going to look like before, during, and after the consultants do their work. Our work is to guide, direct, and mold their work to see it become what we have envisioned all along.

The work of creation should never be passed off to a consultant.

While consultants may assist us by increasing profits through the enhancement of our employees’ skills, the work of guiding the credit union to stay true to the members that use it is our job as leaders. We need to be constantly checking ourselves to make sure we are not handing this responsibility off to someone else.

When to use a consultant

Question: When is the use of a tradesman or consultant advisable?

Answer: When the work of the tradesman and consultant will accomplish one or all the following:

    • Completes a specific task faster than what the leader could do alone.
    • Completes a specific task better than the leader.
    • When the investment in the consultant frees the leader up to focus on the bigger vision of the project being worked on.

When else? When you need a third-party certification. Know the difference between regulatory certifications and CYA certifications. Make sure you “have” to and you are not just abdicating to some other person’s opinion. You get paid to have opinions and your rate is better.

When you are looking for intellectual transfer. Think about an idea as an asset to be leveraged. Day one I am the customer of the vendor’s idea. Day two I am a partner on the idea for my gain with the vendor. Day three, I am an owner of the idea and on my own. Consultants push ideas into the stream of your organization’s consciousness – make sure you are the person who drives the organization to learn and act. Avoid remedial investments for ideas that you should have gotten down in less than one pass.

Question: When is the use of a tradesman or consultant unacceptable?

Answer: When the work of the tradesman or consultant is being obtained to absolve the leader of his or her responsibility of creation.

Question: When is the hiring of a consultant or tradesman frivolous?

Answer: When the hiring of the tradesman or consultant is being done to fill the gaps poor leadership is creating.

Question: What is the role of the leader when hiring a consultant or tradesman?

Answer: To guide, direct, and focus the effort of the tradesman or consultant to achieve the vision of the leader.

Traps to Avoid with Consultants

Build experts, don’t overpay for them

You are always “outsourcing” whether you hire a team member or a third-party (consultant). Do the work and understand the comparison—rate, term, and exit. Make sure you strive for “full employment with your team;” their work and careers come first—engaging, learning, and up-tasking to the next big thing for the credit union. Build experts, don’t overpay for them.

User manuals are not business plans

Have a strategy before you have tools. User manuals for tools are not business plans or strategy guides. Go into business low tech and earn as you go – prove your market and be intellectually sincere. Do not trap your organization into a focus (upfront expenses, minimums, and fixed assets). External expenses should not be the motivations to see something through – count on yourself and your drive for that.

Work harder instead of defaulting to change

Do not change to change or reorganize to “just do something.” This kind of thinking shows that you have too many people thinking about the processes instead of involved in the processes. Make sure you have documented goals and consensus on what is winning before you act. Defaulting to change and lateral moves instead of just working harder is not a winning approach – management boredom that leads to spending is the easiest way to lose.

Avoid best practice envy

Avoid competition for the sake of competition—you will become your competition. If you enter the wrong race against the wrong players you will find yourself out of position and out of money. Avoid “best practice envy,” especially if the practices do not fit your customer-owners.

Buy value, not fear

Study your vendors’ sales tactics like you worked there, instead of here. Remember, vendors, especially consultants, are taught the tricks of the trade to motivate sellers almost more than they are the value of their products to their customers. Buy value, not fear, not because of self-doubt, not because you want to be part of the “in crowd,” and not because you have to, before you know you HAVE to.


  • John Beauchamp#1

    September 20, 2019

    Robert I thought this was a great article. As VP of Imaging Solutions at CU*Answers I do Imaging Solutions consulting for many credit unions and I couldn’t agree more! Your “When to use a consultant” Q & A was especially good and on point I thought. Thanks for contributing and sharing!

  • chip Filson#2

    September 20, 2019

    This is an article loaded with common sense and the voice of experience. Well done.


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