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While leadership is more important than ever during uncertain times, don’t overthink it, Jayne Hitman advises.
“Keep it simple and focus on your people,” says Hitman, national relationship manager for CUNA Creating Member Loyalty (CML), a comprehensive development program focused on increasing employee engagement and the member experience. “Be transparent about what’s going on—and that means the good, the bad and the ugly. The more people know, the more they can get behind the solution.”
The effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) have made both employees and members anxious, and every day brings new uncertainties, Hitman says. Easing anxieties requires leaders to keep communication “intentional and focused.”
Meetings are a great example, she says. “Put regular meetings with employees on the calendar so people know they’re coming up. That’s being intentional and consistent with your time.”
Personal conversations are important as well, says Paul Robert, CEO of FI Strategies.
“This is a critical time for having one-on-one conversations with your employees,” he says. “I think about that every time I see a sign that says, ‘Thank you essential workers.’ Those signs are great, but it’s important to say ‘thank you’ and show empathy to your own workers who sacrifice every day.”
Adds Hitman: “Find out how they’re doing emotionally. Find out how their spouse is doing. Make a connection with your employees.”
One simple value to share is appreciation. “Make it part of your day,” Hitman says.
The same goes for celebration. “Look for opportunities to celebrate,” she says. “It’s more important now than ever.”
‘The greatest gift we can give members is our time.’
Similarly, Robert notes that while keeping a safe distance from each other might be a priority, collaboration is crucial. “Physically we're moving apart, but emotionally and psychologically we need to work together,” he says.
Hitman says employees are using Zoom and other tools “to create solutions that they never would have had an opportunity to develop without the pandemic.”
She says it’s important employees feel they are doing worthwhile work. “If people can connect to the vision of the organization, they have a much better chance to meet the commitment their jobs require.”
Lori Horstman, vice president of member experience at Altra Federal Credit Union, Onalaska, Wis., says one of the biggest commitments credit union employees can make to their jobs during the pandemic is showing compassion for the day-to-day challenges members face.
“If there’s one skill to focus on at this time it’s listening and responding with empathy,” she says. “If we can master that skill, it will help our members understand that we’re here for them. We want to make our members feel good about choosing the credit union.”
Horstman says members need someone to listen to them. “The greatest gift we can give members is our time,” she says. “Just by showing that we understand the challenges they face, we can provide them with some peace of mind to get through the day.”
Robert says he is a fan of the quote, “In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity,” often attributed to Albert Einstein.
“You’ll see clearly in the future which credit unions keyed in on ‘crisis’ and which keyed in on ‘opportunity,’” he says. “Those that are keyed in on ‘opportunity’ will find new and better ways to do many things. They're not worried about how they've always done it.”
Hitman and Robert will appear regularly on the CUNA News Podcast in a new series on fostering a service excellence culture. FI Strategies is a strategic partner for CML.