Over two days in August 1988, the United Building Society had $180million of its depositors’ funds withdrawn! Customers had heard rumours that United was in trouble and they rushed to take out their money before the anticipated collapse occurred. Bankers call this a “run on funds”. Short of outright collapse it is the worst scenario to befall any financial institution. At its height around $10million was being withdrawn every 30 minutes!

It was, and still is, common practice for larger organisations to have a Crisis Management Plan in which major risks are assessed and mitigating strategies identified and promulgated throughout the organisation. United had no such plan. Although it had become market-driven in response to Roger Douglas’s rapid deregulation of the finance sector, its history was that of a “mutual” and accordingly its management and staff operated in a sharing, caring and cooperative culture.

So despite the huge queues at every branch throughout the country, frontline tellers acted sensitively and expeditiously with customers as they withdrew their funds. Most wanted cash not cheques and this meant a lot more work per transaction for tellers, supported nobly by truck after truck of Armourguard bringing the cash in. Staff continued working well into the evening, with many branches not closing until 10pm compared with the normal 5pm. Even United’s competitor Countrywide had their staff bring tea, coffee and cakes to show their empathetic support!

What’s all this got to do with the CHS you ask?

Although it may not be immediately apparent to members the Society is facing a long emergency! We are losing members due to old age or infirmity and they are not being replaced at a fast enough rate by younger members so our membership base is steadily eroding. cont inside

The Board is well aware of this potentially devastating trend and is developing strategies to address it. Clearly standing still and doing nothing is not an option! We recognise that change is imperative and that a very real risk is that actions taken to attract a younger cohort of members may easily alienate existing members, so it behoves us to identify and share our Core Values that will underpin all our actions and behaviours – these are our commitments, ones we will not compromise on.

Learning and sharing. We commit to sharing
knowledge, information and ideas

Trust and integrity. We commit to maintaining high ethical standards

Interaction and fun. We seek to maximise interactive
and fun activities

Creativity and innovation. We are committed to
finding new and better ways of doing things

These values cannot be imposed. The Board and staff can demonstrate them in their respective roles. Indeed it is essential to do so. It’s called “walking the talk”. Nothing is guaranteed to confine a set of ideas to the dustbin of history more quickly than “lip service” from those who enunciate them!

We therefore invite members to also adopt these values in their involvement, great or small, in CHS affairs. This means for example accepting that we will need to trial new activities and moreover that some of these will fail. In the corporate world it has long been acknowledged that “experimentation” is the lifeblood of creativity and innovation. It’s also been said that whilst management focuses on “doing things right”, leadership focuses on “doing the right things”. It’s of no use at all striving to produce widgets more efficiently if the world doesn’t want or need more widgets.

All of us at the CHS must recognise the huge challenges to our survival and the need to embrace change with boldness, vision and vigour! Some initiatives will inevitably fail but they should do so on their own merits or lack of rather than any “Statler &; Waldorf” brickbats from within.

We also need to recognise that in endeavouring to meet the needs of diverse groups as our primary survival strategy we need to become an “ambidextrous organisation” which is defined as: ‘an organization’s ability to be efficient in its management of today’s business and also adaptable for coping with tomorrow’s changing demand’. Just as being ambidextrous means being able to use both the left and right hand equally, organizational ambidexterity requires the organizations to use both exploration and exploitation techniques to be successful.

Tony Kunowski