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The Core Competency of Culture


CUInsight.com | By Renée Sattiewhite, AACUC President/CEO

Core competencies define our business capabilities and distinguish us from competitors. They are hard to replicate, they provide member benefits and can be leveraged to expand profits.

When you think about core competencies, what comes to mind? Adaptability, critical thinking, or conflict resolution are a few of the main contenders. Whether they are embedded in the organization or inherent in the employee, core competencies can allow credit unions to remain successful for decades.

There are many skills that can give us a competitive business advantage. We can easily make the business case for things like managing performance, paying attention to communication, or building collaborative relationships.

But what about cultural competence?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), cultural competence is “the ability to understand, appreciate and interact with people from cultures or belief systems different from one’s own.”

I would bet that cultural competence is often overlooked when creating a credit union’s list of core competencies. I would argue that many credit union leaders do not see value in this type of psychological thinking and practice. I would conclude that cultural competence is the secret sauce to creating a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable credit union system.

When an individual has cultural competence, that person has a basic understanding of his/her culture, a willingness to learn about the cultural practices and worldview of others and a positive attitude toward cultural differences. That individual stands ready to accept and respect cultural differences.

As I’ve said before, America’s population is changing, and we must decide as a movement how we will change with it. If we are truly committed to change, it is important to identify the skills (or competencies) that credit union professionals need to foster diversity.

Cultural competency, especially in leadership, will help credit unions build trust. Not only is cultural competency linked to financial performance, but it also facilitates out-of-the box thinking and increases productivity. According to the Harvard Business Review, leaders must learn how to fully develop- and speak to- the talent of all its employees, not just the ones that look like them.

As credit unions search talent pools and assess internal strategies, it is important to consider the core competency of culture. If you do not know where to begin, then start within. One of the best ways to grow in cultural competence is to learn about other cultures. There are always new people to meet and new books to read.

Pay attention, listen, and show genuine interest in the people around you. That is not limited to the people you work with but includes the people you work for – your members. We live in an increasingly diverse country and your credit union members come from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Take the time to build valuable and diverse relationships with your employees and members.

The APA notes that the federal government views cultural competence as an “important means of helping to eliminate racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities.” And that tells me that we can use cultural competence in our effort to eliminate racism in the credit union movement through the Commitment to Change: Credit Unions Unite Against Racism initiative.

Let’s add cultural competency to our business model. It is the surefire way to work effectively across cultures in our credit unions and for the members we serve.


Published article available here.