Here we are. Just past the mid-point of 2020.
2020, the year of perfect vision. What we have gotten thus far seems like anything but perfect vision. The year began with several tragic events, then the global pandemic exploded in February and March resulting in illness, death, and a worldwide shutdown. While “social-distancing” lessened the impact of the virus, it created new challenges to work or school from home and greatly damaged the economy. Particularly hard hit were retail small businesses and restaurants – our neighbors and community partners. Now, after several jurisdictions have eased restrictions, the spread of the virus has significantly increased, leading to concerns about the recovery, from health and economic points of view.
During the pandemic, the tragic murders of three African Americans, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks by police officers, spawned national and international protests to end systemic discrimination. At times, some of the protests turned violent. A tremendous number of businesses, trade groups and government jurisdictions have made public statements denouncing racism and discrimination while urging change. Additionally, many businesses and governments recognized Juneteenth as a holiday.
Given the events of the year thus far, it is easy to wish to skip the rest of the year and jump to 2021.
But, just maybe, 2020 may be the year of perfect vision. The trials experienced this year shine a light on what is important. Both the pandemic and the call to eliminate racism and discrimination share a common focus – people. Maybe that is the perfect vision – people.
Isn’t that an advantage for credit unions? Aren’t we “People Helping People”?
There have been several outstanding articles on how credit unions should get back to business post pandemic. Most have concentrated on the delivery of service. However, there has not been enough discussion of how credit unions should operate during this period of social unrest and needed change.
I certainly do not have the answers. In fact, there is no one answer that will work for everyone. Each credit union must determine the course of action that is best suited for its internal members (staff), external members and community.
While not having the answers, I do have recommendations on how leaders and teams can develop their solutions.
First, and foremost, leaders must concentrate and focus their attention and care on their internal members. Both the pandemic and the calls to undo 400 years of racism in this country impact each individual differently. Each team member will have different thoughts and feelings about COVID-19 and the need to eliminate racism. Some may be reluctant to share their opinions. Credit union executives must recognize the need to understand their internal members emotional, philosophical, and physical conditions.
Further, it is critical to comprehend that it is not sufficient to merely issue a public statement condemning racism and discrimination, recognize the significance of Juneteenth or contribute to groups striving to make a change. Leaders and businesses must take action to make honest and impactful changes.
Leaders/managers need to have open and honest discussions with their team members on how they, individually and collectively as their employer, can assist with the team member’s concerns regarding COVID-19 or racism. Working together, the changes needed in the workplace to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and unity can be identified. Also, health related changes must be pinpointed to protect the workforce, their families and the credit union’s external members.
In addition to the internal examination, an external review is required. Credit unions must be more involved with their members and communities to identify ways for the credit union to improve and be part of the solutions needed locally.
Overall, credit unions are normally very diverse places of employment. However, does that diversity extend through all levels of the organizational structure? Does the composition of the Board of Directors reflect and represent the demographics of the credit union? Field of membership? Community? In 2012 a Filene study stated the typical credit union board member was a 61‐year‐old white male. Based upon my observations, this has not changed much. What about the diversity of the senior management team? Middle managers? Action steps must be created that will ensure the credit union is a place of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
A judicious review of the credit union is needed. Are the educational opportunities provided equal for all team members? Does a review of policies and past performance ensure learning equity exists for all? Are there clear and defined career paths to ensure that lessons learned translate to advancement opportunities for all?
Does a review of the salary structure ensure compensation is appropriate for the requirements and expectations of the various positions? Are there any concerning trends in the actual salaries compared to the compensation plan? Executives must ensure equality exists in the execution of the salary plan, regardless of personal demographics.
Learn what is needed in the workplace to create a sense of safety and security for the team. To minimize exposure to the virus, can split shifts be accomplished? What are the new, daily cleaning and sterilization protocols being employed? What functions can be accomplished remotely? What support do team members need in today’s changing world?
Apply what is learned through the listening sessions to make changes. Remember, there are very few solutions that will address everyone’s problem/issue. People are unique individuals and require customized resolutions.
The credit union cannot fake its way through the pandemic or push to end social injustices. A consultant cannot be hired to provide the needed solutions. Simply donating to groups who tackle social injustices without being involved will not help the credit union improve. Appointed ad hoc committees or focus groups cannot identify solutions without leadership’s participation.
If someone is not wholly committed to learning and improving, then they are out. Leaders must be involved with their teams and with their communities to create solutions. They must be immersed in the learning and engagement processes to gain new perspectives on the conditions of the world. From there, they can lead their internal members and communities to a better tomorrow.
Let us make 2020 the year that credit unions truly shine and show the world the power of “People Helping People”.