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O Bee Credit Union in Lacey, Wash., is a 45-minute drive from the Kirkland, Wash., nursing home that was the initial epicenter of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
That proximity made the severity of the situation obvious early on, says James Collins, president/CEO of the $333 million asset credit union. “We figured that it was going to be a huge deal when some of the travel bans and the social distancing started to occur, and we made internal changes to assist both employees and members visiting us,” he says. “The restrictions began to be stricter, and it became obvious to safely do business that we were going to have to radically change our model.”
O Bee implemented a five-level response plan, and the crisis meant not only putting that plan into practice, but also moving to the highest level of the plan quickly. “We ended up closing our lobbies, using drive-thrus, expanding electronic services, reducing tons of fees, and doing everything we could to encourage electronic transactions,” Collins says.
The credit union’s proximity to the initial outbreak made it one of the first in the country to take these steps. But the unprecedented situation also provoked feelings of uncertainty and fear.
“Everybody is scared, and that goes for members, staff, and board members,” says Collins. “We try to encourage them, to say, ‘We’re with you.’”
The importance of demonstrating leadership in a constantly changing situation has become starkly apparent during the pandemic. For Collins, the biggest lesson was learning to stay a step ahead of current conditions so O Bee could move swifter for members and staff when needed.
“You have to be thinking not of where you are or where you’re going to be next week, but where you are going to be next month,” he says. “Make sure people understand that you have a plan. When we told our membership and employees early on what we were looking for and what would happen at the next alert level, things got better.”
Crises often reveal effective leaders, says Donna Tona, a certified trauma specialist and vice president of logistics and client experience at Werkz Inc.
“The right leaders come to the forefront during times of crisis,” Tona says. “With COVID-19, that hour has now come for many leaders.”
Thoughtful communication is key to inspiring confidence in team members during a challenging time. But it’s not a traditional communication plan, she says.
“It’s an acknowledgement plan,” Tona says. “Emphasize what you want your listeners to take in, especially if the situation is volatile and unpredictable.”
She outlines several tips for putting an acknowledgement plan to work:
Credit union leaders nationwide have put their crisis response skills to work in ways consistent with Tona’s recommendations.
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