Karen Maxfield

Bring a ‘human element’ to HR

Karen Maxfield named 2021 Professional of the Year for the CUNA HR & Organizational Development Council.

April 28, 2021

At various points in her career, Karen Maxfield has sold cellphones, stripped tobacco, and worked in hotel hospitality. But it was a temporary work assignment that led to her finding a home in human resources (HR) at Commonwealth Credit Union in Frankfort, Ky.

Maxfield took a temporary job as an administrative assistant to the president at the $1.7 billion asset credit union 27 years ago. She assisted other leaders with projects, developed relationships, and took on a full-time position as a personnel assistant when her temporary assignment ended.

“I guess you could say I was in the right place at the right time,” she says.

Maxfield, chief human resources officer at Commonwealth Credit Union, was named the 2021 Professional of the Year for the CUNA HR & Organizational Development Council.

Solving problems, bringing people together, and watching employees develop and find their home at the credit union is part of what Maxfield enjoys about HR. Not only do the employees benefit—the members do as well.

“I like bringing the human element to the organization,” she says. “I enjoy watching our team members grow and develop and being able to share in their career journey with them. I enjoy helping people find a workplace that becomes home to them.”

‘Stay connected and let people see you are a person separate from your professional HR side.’
Karen Maxfield

To bring that human element to HR, Maxfield says HR professionals must bridge the gap and serve as a connection between the HR department and employees. 

“Be relatable,” she says. “So many people are intimidated by HR professionals. They know you as the HR person and not a human being. Stay connected and let people see that you are a person separate from your professional HR side.”

Maxfield and the HR staff at Commonwealth did just that during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, balancing the needs of members with those of team members while adhering to safety regulations and guidelines.

The team shifted recruiting, onboarding, and training and development to a virtual environment. But it also recognized that maintaining the credit union’s culture was crucial in an environment where half of the staff worked remotely. 

The team sent various care packages to employees and shared video messages to make staff feel connected even though they were working in different locations. 

“We had to be very creative, find new ways to engage with our staff, and keep everyone safe,” Maxfield says.