Fear. Uncertainty. A growing sense of panic every time you scroll through social media or watch the news. Even with interest rates essentially at zero percent, the stock market (and 401(k) balances) continue to tumble. Chatter among friends and co-workers is filled with questions like: Should I get married? Can I afford to pay my rent? Will I get sick? Will I have a job tomorrow?
Does any of this sound familiar?
As scary as things seem right now due to the impact of the coronavirus, it’s essential to remember that we’ve lived through eerily familiar economic horror stories many times before. Most recently, in 2008, when we weathered the financial crisis that resulted from the collapse of the US real estate market.
Now, more than ten years later, we can agree that it’s never fun to go through a downturn, but each of us is stronger because of the tough times we’ve endured. So, here we are, facing yet another crisis—one with a multitude of unknown variables. With all the uncertainty swirling around, what can you do differently this time to come out stronger when the current crisis ends?
For starters, don’t let fear be your guiding light. Yes, I know that’s easier said than done. We’re dealing with a scenario that probably never made your list of worst-case scenarios. But at this point, we have to play the hand we’ve been dealt. So, let’s get down to it. Here are a couple of actions you can take to help your team endure this time and make sure your credit union comes roaring back as soon as possible:
- Embrace Transparency
Understand that your team is afraid. You can help alleviate their fear by openly sharing the situations that your credit union is facing. The day after I sent the YMC team home to begin working remotely, I penned a letter to each team member sharing where we were as a team. I shared that I lost my first agency in the financial crisis of 2008, and I learned a lot. I owned my role in the demise of that business and outlined the steps I’ve taken to ensure those mistakes don’t happen again. I shared how we’ve taken intentional steps to prepare for an event like this. Most importantly, I was honest about my fear. I didn’t make promises I couldn’t keep, and I reassured each team member that, even in a worst-case scenario, we’re prepared.
An open-book management approach will empower and bond your team as you tackle the challenge of this time together. If you can share the current reality, make sure everyone is on the same page, and establish clear plans to weather the storm, your team will step up to the plate to help.
I should also mention that it’s critical to recognize that you don’t have all of the answers. Open yourself to accept ideas and creative suggestions from your team. Not tapping into the wisdom of your people means potentially missing out on great ideas and the opportunity to develop solutions together.
When you have the courage to share the ugly truth and be completely transparent, people don’t run; they are more than happy to help, and they want to find ways to contribute.
- Get Ready for the Upturn
Even the most pessimistic person has to admit that there will be an upturn. Even while you’re managing the day-to-day fires that arise, you need to be doing what you can to prepare for the future. As bad and as uncertain as things look today, remind yourself that it’s actually harder to prepare to take advantage of an upturn than it is to prepare for a downturn!
Despite the overwhelming negatives, downturns give you opportunities to fix things inside your organization, issues or inefficiencies that you can’t afford to address when the economy is booming (think remote working and fintech). While it might seem counterintuitive, the current down market effectively provides a kind of short-term relief. It’s giving us a chance to catch up, to invest in our people and facilities, and to prepare ourselves to capitalize on the economic uptick that is expected to hit in late-2020, early-2021.
Today, as we deal with the realities of our situation—quarantines, shorter workweeks, or the worst case for many, unemployment—you, as a leader, should be thinking creatively about how to invest in your people. If they have to be at home, they can be learning about financial literacy or gaining other new skills to prepare for the “new normal.” When they come back, they will have even more to contribute to the team. And though all of this may sound self-serving, making these investments now will prepare you to serve your members better—and potentially hire back those who have lost their jobs—when the tough times come to an end.
Things are painful right now—I feel it, too. The health and safety of our team, our friends, and our families is our highest priority—and rightfully so. Take time to cycle through your emotions, but don’t let fear take over and rule your decision-making process. Embrace transparency and practice financial discipline. Then, focus on guiding your credit union through the next few decades by embracing the “new normal” and meeting the needs of your members on the other side of this current challenge.