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Interview On Leadership With Launi Skinner CEO of First West Credit Union

June 28, 2016

It was my distinct pleasure to be a keynote speaker for the annual First West Conference in Harrison Hot Springs this month. I work with many groups and what I noticed immediately about the vibe of this group was fun, open and team focused. They had a dinner and a ‘learn to dance’ event the night before I was to speak and they asked me to join them.

There I was enjoying how to learn to line dance and do the Charleston I discover that my dance partner is Launi Skinner the CEO. The level of participation by the leaders and the camaraderie and fun was amazing to experience and certainly not that common with many organizations.

I had the opportunity to follow up with Launi post event to interview her on leadership, change leadership and more. See excerpts of the interview below:

Cheryl: Launi thank you for joining me this morning for this Interview – first question:

Can you tell us about the success factor for First West and its unique strategic alliance model?

Launi: The model is one in which we provide a global brand while having partners that are local. This is not a new model it has been done in the US for quite some time but First West was first in the credit union industry to bring this model to the market. There are multiple success factors for us at First West. We follow LEAN, we focus on people, innovation and bring the best of resources for our partners to succeed in their local markets. We also hired people from other industries not just the financial industry as we saw this as a way to leverage innovation of ideas and experience.

Here is a link to what we believe at First West

Cheryl: What do you think is the biggest challenge for the credit union industry overall as we head towards 2020?

Launi: Major change and innovation with fintechs (online financial solutions companies) and the major banks have capitol advantage over credit unions. Where credit unions have the advantage is that we are agile and first to market with many things such as ATM’s, pictures of checks etc. There will continue to be major disruption in the financial industry things like the recent Bretix and global volatility is going to continue to challenge all financial institutions. We need to be agile and ready to adapt to the ongoing disruptions.

Cheryl : At your recent conference there was a debrief on a project that was rolled out as a game based on the Amazing Race can you tell us more about how that theme added to the success of the project roll out?

Launi: That project was called EPIC and was a success as a result of about five previous projects where we recognized that to introduce any major change such as new technology we needed to run a change management strategy alongside the technology roll out. The roll out of EPIC was successful in that we did not have any customer fall out or complaints and 80 to 90% of our employees were engaged and happy with the process as a result of the change management approach that we took. At Starbucks change was the norm in the culture as it was a relatively younger company and the average tenure of an employee was a single digit, whereas in the financial industry it is not uncommon for most people to have been on the job for double digits. This is great AND whenever we roll out a change we MUST have a change management approach to ensure that we look after the people aspect of the change.

Cheryl: How has your past experience with Starbucks impacted your leadership at First West?

Launi: Great question! I have tremendous gratitude for the leadership I learned at Starbucks for fifteen years. The culture at Starbucks was one of acceptance of the diversity of leadership styles and there was opportunity to succeed. That was where I learned about servant leadership. Starbucks culture was one of driving to be the best and a common purpose of changing global culture, which we were all aligned with. That vision and never resting was an energizing dynamic. There is a continual focus on driving to succeed, helping people, partners, customers to all be a part of the constant growth and innovation.

Cheryl:  As a leader what is your philosophy on leadership and what is needed for leadership development to prepare for the future of work?

Launi: My philosophy is three fold leaders need to be candid, caring and courageous. I encourage my leaders to embody these three things. At Starbucks we were encouraged to be authentic and honest while being caring. As a leader this allows for growth and respect among the culture. It’s not always easy to be courageous especially in a culture where there may have been some patterns around being safe or being politically correct. My position is that if you are coming from a caring place you can be candid in a way that is powerful and impactful. Having the courage to do this is something I support all of my leaders to do. I see myself as a servant leader and taking care of others results in them wanting to take care of what they do and each other.

It was a true pleasure to interview Launi and from her answers you can see that she embodies the attributes of a future of work change leader. I went to the First West site to read a blog post by Launi on her leadership approach and this statement from the First West site encompasses Launi’s leadership:

“The purpose of my role is to coming to work every day and make everyone else’s job easier, not the other way around,” she says. “If you put people first, give them the space to develop and the tools to grow, then they will do right by the company and the people that report to them.”

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