The vice presidents of operations and enterprise risk at Grow Financial Credit Union switched jobs last year to become more well-rounded leaders.
The pair undertook on-the-job training to learn about people, processes, and policies at wholly different departments.
CU QUICK FACTS
Grow Financial Credit Union
HQ: Tampa, FL
Data as of 06.30.19
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 11.0%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: -0.5%
Grow Financial Credit Union ($2.7B, Tampa, FL) isn’t afraid to push its talent out of their comfort zone. In the past several years, the credit union has encouraged three rounds of executive job swaps that resulted in six executives living the work life of their peers and becoming better, more well-rounded leaders in the process.
The third, and most recent, swap started on July 1, 2018. That’s when Chase Clelland, vice president of operations, and Kent Paro, vice president of enterprise risk, assumed the role of the other. The swap didn’t go exactly as planned — extenuating circumstances cut the experiment short and made the swapped roles permanent — but both Clelland and Paro say the change of scenery was valuable and the duo continues to lean on each other for advice and guidance.
“The ending wasn’t quite what we expected, but the swap part of the story is good,” says Paro, who is now the credit union’s permanent vice president of operations.
Ripe To Swap
Neither Clelland nor Paro hail from a financial background. Clelland ran a security company in South Carolina before joining Grow Financial as vice president of operations in January 2013. Paro spent 31 years as a Navy Seal before joining the credit union as vice president of enterprise risk in June 2017.
“I was told upfront that I wasn’t hired for my financial knowledge,” Paro says. “I could learn the comings and goings. They wanted my leadership, which I had developed well in the Navy, and to apply those skills to the credit union world.”
For Clelland, too, the lack of experience in the world of financial services wasn’t a hinderance for hiring.
“I come from a sales and operations background,” Clelland says. “I didn’t have any financial industry experience or knowledge, but the president told me, ‘You’re our guy.’”
The pair’s relative freshness to the industry made them good candidates for a job swap. The complimentary nature of the two roles also made for a good fit.
In his role in operations, Clelland managed a couple hundred member-facing employees across the credit union’s nearly 30 brick-and-mortar locations, but he had little back-office experience. On the flip side, Paro managed some 20 risk professionals but lacked front-line experience.
“We were told the same thing: Overseeing the other side of things will make you more well-rounded,” Clelland says.
Additionally, risk and operations pair well because mitigating risk often starts in operations at the front line.
“We come to the table with an understanding of the two worlds and apply that to our work with each other and around the credit union,” Clelland says.
Setting Up The Swap
3 Rules To Swap Spots
A role reversal at Grow Financial Credit Union created opportunities for two vice presidents to develop as leaders and assume new positions within the organization. Here, the pair identify three best practices for other credit unions considering something similar.
Insist on open communication. The CEO, swappers, mid-level management, and everyone in-between must be on the same page about what the swap entails and what everyone will gain.
Value the opportunity. Approach it with eyes wide open, and understand it will make a better leader out of the swappers.
Appreciate the rank and file. Understand their role in the credit union and respect how important they are in keeping the wheel in rotation.
At the time of the swap, both Clelland and Paro had the same goal for the year-long re-assignment. They wanted to learn as much as possible about the other’s domain and return to their original role with a new perspective and new ideas.
“We were mindful the other was going to return, so we weren’t going to make major changes without consulting each other first,” Paro says. “It was a learning experience.”
Three weeks before go-live, Clelland and Paro told their respective departments, individually, about the swap before holding a joint meeting to officially, as Clelland says, “hand off the baton.”
Grow gave Clelland and Paro relative autonomy in shaping their learning. They both had weekly check-ins with the president during which they discussed learnings, questions, and areas of help, among other things. Otherwise, much of the switch involved on-the-job training. As a best practice, the pair recommend going into the arrangement open to new experiences and curious for knowledge.
“We stepped into the situation understanding that we didn’t know everything,” Paro says. “You need to listen to those who have been doing this a long time and have them help you make the best decisions.”
On the risk side, Clelland took self-paced OCEG certifications to train for the role, although he admits the same sort of formalized, one-for-one learning materials don’t exist for an operations role. Both Clelland and Paro relied on the expertise of associate vice presidents, and each other, to answer questions and help them navigate their new roles.
“We didn’t go to each other to ask permission,” Clelland says. “This was an opportunity to learn a new role, influence change by introducing a new point of view in a department, and add strengths to our experiences.”
However, buy-in from AVP leaders is key. Grow’s strong, well-tenured middle management provided consultation as well as corrected mistakes and offered coaching when necessary.
“If middle management isn’t strong, I wouldn’t recommend a swap,” Paro says. “You need a strong staff that can withstand whatever might happen.”
Learning From The Swap
So, what did happen when Clelland and Paro swapped roles?
First, they each learned enough about the other’s job that it was possible to make the swap permanent when circumstances arose. And Clelland says he more fully realized the value of risk, cybersecurity, fraud and their place on the front line.
“On the front-end, all this complexity can seem like a hinderance,” he says. “Being able to understand the risk you’re exposed to gives you a different perspective.”
For Paro, he learned there is a tangible difference in managing a larger team.
“With more people, there’s more to do,” he says. “There are different questions than when you are overseeing 20 ERM professionals.”
Clelland acknowledges the retail environment does move faster.
In the end, both leaders say the swap was valuable. But, would they be open to another swap with a different department? Paro says “yes.”
“It’s a good thing and shows how much trust leadership has in us,” the now vice president of operations says.
Clelland concurs with a “for sure.”
“Our credit union is stronger for it,” he says. “Our departments are more solid, our member experience is better, and our credit union continues to innovate to stay ahead of competitors in our marketplace.”