Culture = Rules of Engagement

It seems companies either overcomplicate or ignore their Culture. The reality is, your company’s Culture can, and should be, a way you can differentiate yourself from your competition, especially in the financial services world. Think of Culture as a pathway to creating a “competition of one.” A “competition of one” means you have no other companies like you. For example, financial services is an extensive business sector consisting of banks, credit unions, investment companies, brokerages, insurance companies, hedge funds, etc. The next category is banks and credit unions. At last count, there are over 74,000 bank branches and ~11,000 credit union branches in the US. That is a LOT of competition. So, how can one credit union stand out as unique in this crowded space? Unless your credit union has innovated a new product or service, these two elements are table stakes and have become nothing more than commodities. Therefore, it is unlikely a credit union will ever differentiate itself from the competition with its product suite, fees, or rates. It is even doubtful that your brand – your logo and color pallet – will ever attain the omnipresence of Target or Bank of America’s logos. Likewise, your branch locations, online, and mobile apps will not differentiate your credit union; you will never be any easier to do business with for most consumers than the other 85,000 branches across the US. So, the only way to create a “competition of one” in this crowded landscape is how you engage the consumer and your community. Becoming different is where Culture comes it. Through Culture, a credit union can design the “rules of engagement.” Rules will govern how every employee treats the member, their business partners, their vendors, the community, and each other. These behavioral rules or “rules of engagement,” when designed with purpose, measured for compliance, and become anchors to performance evaluations, can make your credit union stand out against the competition. But, creating a culture that differentiates your credit union will not happen by accident. Becoming different, a credit union will need to complete a deep dive into how to leverage the mission, purpose, and values in all conversations and engagements. First, it will require leadership to reevaluate leading, coaching, and mentoring employees. Second, it will require understanding how behaviors, practices, hiring, and promoting align with the mission, purpose, and values. Third, it will require learning how compensation rewards these behaviors. Finally, it will require a Cultural Transformation that spans the entire organization. If a credit union wants to use its Culture to differentiate itself from the competition, a cultural transformation will require it to take this journey on with strategic discipline. It won’t happen overnight, but with a well-thought-out plan and aligned projects, a Cultural Transformation can happen in two to three years. So, the question is, do you want your credit union to continue looking, acting, and behaving like everyone else, or do you want to become unique and become your own competition, a “competition of one.”


Rich Jones is the Founder/Principal of Leading2Leadership LLC. Before starting his strategic planning agency, he spent over 20 years in leadership roles in the financial services sector. Before becoming an executive in the financial services sector, Rich was an entrepreneur, building and selling two businesses and working for early-stage start-up companies in executive roles in marketing, business development, and seeking investment partners. With more than three decades of experience, he brings innovative thought to companies and executives. Rich published “Leading2Leadership, a Situational Primer to Leadership Excellence.” The book is available on and was designed to be used as a book study for leadership development programs; it breaks leadership skills into manageable situations for discussion and reflection. Rich works with credit unions, CUSOs, and vendors, designing digital, data, culture, marketing, and branding transformation strategies. In 2014, Chosen as a Credit Union Rock Star by CU Magazine, and in 2018, Rich received the Lifetime Achievement Award from CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council. A Marine and graduate of Colorado State University, Jones shares his expertise at

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