Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Don't let distractions cause you to lose focus on member service.

November 10, 2010

I remember when my father started to pursue his dream of having a great baseball player in the family.

The first lesson involved pitching and catching. “Keep your eye on the ball,” he stressed.

As we moved to the batting phase of the game, he’d reinforce the message: “Keep your eye on the ball.”

Later, when he realized he didn’t have a major league prospect on his hands, he taught me to play golf. Again, I learned: If you don’t keep your eye on the ball until the club makes contact, really bad things happen. I also learned that it’s really hard to do this.

Keeping your eye on the ball is valuable advice that transcends sports. Bad things tend to happen when we fail to stay focused on the important things and become distracted by all the noise and clutter. When we take our eye off the ball, we lose sight of our mission and purpose.

For credit union managers and directors, keeping your eye on the ball is much more than a game. It involves managing your credit union in a safe and sound manner while maximizing value and service to your members. That’s easier said than done.

If your board and management team stay focused on that goal, your entire credit union will stay aligned with its mission of member service.

I once examined, and later audited, credit unions. And I remember that whenever managers and directors spent most of their time talking about data processing problems, their focus on member service was temporarily lost.

It’s easy to take your eye off the ball in light of regulatory changes, staffing problems, delinquencies, and weak earnings. It’s difficult to stay focused on member service.

I once overheard a credit union employee say, “I could actually get some work done if these blankety-blank members would ever leave me alone!” Ouch.

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t recommend ignoring urgent operating issues. They all need prompt attention, but it’s important to approach them with the underlying goal of providing the best value to your members.

As a credit union leader, you can’t ignore the distractions, nor can you relegate your primary mission to a secondary task.

The challenge is to delegate responsibility for handling distractions while maintaining your focus on member service. Let your capable staff deal with the distractions. Clearly define your desired results and expected completion dates, and provide resources and training to enable success.

When it comes to training, don’t reinvent the wheel. There are many excellent training programs and tools to help you with regulatory compliance, human resource issues, and other facets of credit union management (visit

Make sure your credit union’s primary functional units—lending, member services, and transactional activities—are able to focus on serving members. Make sure they’re not constantly running around putting out fires.

Your members expect your credit union to focus on their needs, not on back-office issues.

Your members joined your credit union because they want to be owners, not merely customers. They have high service expectations of your credit union—and rightly so.

In golf, many factors affect the quality of your shot—club choice, stance, grip, and swing plane.

But regardless of all those factors and the amount of coaching you receive, you won’t succeed if you don’t keep your eye on the ball.

JOHN FRANKLIN is executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Credit Union National Association in Madison, Wis. Contact him at 608-231-4266.