Dawn Bartell, chief operating officer, Community First Federal Credit Union.

Advocate for employees

Show staff they matter and identify their strengths, says Dawn Bartell.

June 28, 2022

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Advocate for Employees

Advocating for Community First Federal Credit Union employees is at the heart of Dawn Bartell’s job.

“I like to inspire people and want them to look for ways they can inspire someone else,” says Bartell, chief operating officer at the $91 million asset credit union in Lakeview, Mich. “To be an advocate for employees is showing them that they matter; that each person has talents, strengths, and weakness; and that we work for them.”

Bartell was named the 2022 Professional of the Year for the CUNA HR & Organizational Development Council at its annual conference in April.

Through frequent one-on-one meetings with the credit union’s 59 employees, Bartell keeps tabs on how each employee is growing professionally and how their needs are changing. While these meetings are time intensive, they allow Bartell to create what she views as individual contracts made up of benefits and jobs that fit each employee and benefit the organization. 

‘Let them know that you are right there—either in front of them, beside them, or behind them—saying, ‘You can do it.’
Dawn Bartell

“We all change, our culture changes, and our challenges of life change,” Bartell says. “I like to know what fits staff’s needs now, along with what fits the credit union.” 

To meet professional growth needs, the credit union created the Community First Emerging Leadership course and has developed mentorship and young professional programs.

Bartell offers two pieces of advice for human resources leaders who want to advocate for employees and develop plans to meet their changing needs:

  1. Think outside the box when creating benefit packages. “Just because one person has it, it doesn’t mean it’s a good benefit for the next person.”
  2. Ask questions. “Everyone has value,” she says. “Find out what’s missing for them and then go ahead and put together the equation that works best for them.”

“The best thing you can do is be an advocate for your employees and promote excellence within them,” Bartell says. “Let them know that you are right there—either in front of them, beside them, or behind them—saying, ‘You can do it.’”