Crossing paths with everyone from the security guard to the CEO helps Lori Smith, senior vice president of human resources and training, gain the broad perspective she needs to serve employees at $2.5 billion asset Community First Credit Union in Jacksonville, Fla.
“You’re only as good as the people around you,” she says. “Every team member brings value, and they should be able to use their skills and abilities the same way I do.”
When workforce challenges arise, Smith aims to find out what employees are saying and then provide what they need to thrive.
Community First focuses on retaining current team members in a tight labor marketplace. The credit union is finishing a comprehensive compensation study to ensure it provides competitive salaries and expanded wellness benefits, and offers additional training for managers and employees.
Recent face-to-face listening sessions with executives focused on inflation’s impact on employees’ everyday lives.
“I walked out feeling drained after hearing what our employees are dealing with,” Smith says.
Following the sessions, Community First raised all salaries by 5%—on top of recent merit raises and bonuses—to help employees cope.
Employee recruiting is also changing. The onboarding process connects employees to benefits earlier and new hires are automatically enrolled in the 401(k) salary savings plan.
The recruiting team touches base frequently with between making an offer and the new hire’s start date to build rapport and make them feel welcomed. This introduction to the credit union’s culture discourages them from pursuing other offers or “ghosting” the credit union by accepting a job and then failing to show up.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a strategic imperative for Community First, which has engaged a DEI consultant and revamped its DEI council.
Smith emphasizes the need to fully commit to DEI by moving beyond racial differences to include a wide range of employee dynamics such as age, skills and abilities, marital status, and education.
“It’s about all our differences and how the strengths of our differences make us better,” she says.
Smith made the shift to human resources early in her 25-year career, gaining knowledge as she held positions on the West Coast, East Coast and Midwest. Her personal heroes include her first supervisor, who challenged her to search for answers, as well as former First Lady Michelle Obama for her grace and poise as she inspires women to aim high.
Smith applies their lessons by ignoring the “small stuff” as she uses the privilege of leadership to benefit Community First employees.
“You have to pick and choose where to use your time,” she says. “I think, ‘Where can I make the most impact? Where can I inspire and make something different happen to help our employees?’”