Roderic Flowers is the senior vice president of human resources development for State Employees Credit Union of Maryland ($3.9B, Linthicum, MD), a position he has held since January 2019. Here, he answers Callahan’s leadership questions about his credit union’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Between the beginning of 2020 and now, how have your operations changed?
CU QUICK FACTS
State Employees Credit Union of Maryland
HQ: Linthicum, MD
Data as of 03.31.20
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 4.1%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 4.2%
Roderic Flowers: Like others, we’ve shifted to more remote work and distance learning. That’s been a big change for us, and we’ve worked to remain socially connected while socially distant. We were lucky we already had video teller capability in place, and business continuity has been a huge priority as an organization. Recently, we’ve turned some days into business continuity days, where we ask those who don’t need to be in the office not to come in to test remote ability. So, we felt prepared even if the social change was larger. It was a bit like having a spare car in the garage that you only use when you need it, and we needed it.
Despite the times, we’re finding a way to make things work.
What were some of the first leadership challenges you faced?
RF: As 2020 began, we were looking to redirect internal resources more toward the digital channels. We developed a one-page strategy sheet with seven major initiatives. We looked at our workforce and business model and decided we needed to reduce our workforce in one area to build in another. This was weeks before the pandemic forced shutdowns. When the shutdowns ultimately occurred, we went back to those few affected individuals to provide additional aid. This was something we didn’t anticipate, but we wanted to offer support where we could.
How has the pandemic changed the way you communicate with members and staff?
Roderic Flowers, SVP of Human Resources Development, State Employees Credit Union of Maryland
RF: We started by making sure everyone had the tools and resources to stay connected and knew where to find information on our website or intranet. Then, the leadership team met daily and sent regular corporate updates. From the HR side, we sent a “Be Well” update that focused on mental, physical, and emotional wellness. And, we worked to stay connected with our employees through video conferencing.
We also stayed connected with our members and our community, looking for those who were facing hardship or charitable causes that needed funding. We made sure they knew we could offer forbearances or deferments and donations to help those in need during this time.
How have you evolved as a leader?
RF: I’m old school. I prefer going into the office, but I realized I couldn’t go down with the ship. I had to adjust. I had to learn to manage and lead remotely, to have more texts, calls, and video chats to discuss business so we didn’t feel isolated. From an organizational perspective, we had to consider how do we reach out to our employees and let them know we’re still here for them even if we’re not with them all the time?
Then, I had to be flexible and let my team know they can take some time during the day to home school or do what they needed to do. Before the pandemic, we questioned if you were really working when you were working from home. Or, did you have to be online in meetings all day if you were working from home to show people you were working. We had to set boundaries for our team members in regard to meeting their deliverables and handling the other parts of their at-home life. It’s a balance. For me, it means not sending emails at 11 o’clock at night, even if I am working, so my team doesn’t think they have to reply.
You have to be prepared. You have to be ready. Then, you have to step out into public and make change by choosing right over easy.
What has surprised you most about your members and employees during this time?
RF: No one planned for this; no one could prepare for it. And although it affected all of us in some way, at the core, our employees have been all about service, service, service to our employees and one another. I was pleased to see how quickly we responded as an organization with a plan to provide services to our members. There were some hiccups, sure, but the work we’d done to prepare really paid off. We had the institutional muscle memory to get done what needed to get done.
Based on the operational changes you’ve made, what have you found is a better way of doing business than it was before?
RF: Video has helped us feel more connected and focused. You can see the other person and know a little bit more about what’s going on with them as the conversation is happening.
I also think that work and life are blending in an easier way. Before, if I was working from home, I’d go into my “office” because that was my safe space where I could get work done. After this, even I’m adjusted to working at home.
What will the future hold for your credit union?
RF: At our core, our mission of people helping people is who we are, regardless of the time and regardless of the circumstance. I see us doing more of that, especially during today’s uncertainty. That’s part of our DNA and will never change.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned from this experience that will better prepare you for similar situations in the future?
RF: Two things: Be prepared and choose right over easy. Those have helped us as an organization to see what we’re doing and what we need to do.
What one piece of advice do you have for other leaders?
RF: I go to a couple of quotes. After 9/11, the mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, advised others that in times of crisis, when other people are losing their head, you keep yours. People are looking to understand their emotions and the situation and trying to come up with a solution.
Then, Martin Luther King, Jr. said “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” That applies to leaders, too. You have to be prepared. You have to be ready. Then, you have to step out into public and make change by choosing right over easy.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
This article appeared originally in Credit Union Strategy & Performance. Read More Today.