In her efforts to leave the world a little bit better, Melodie Godfrey, executive vice president/COO at Oak Ridge, Tenn.-based ORNL Federal Credit Union, has discovered the power of slowing down, thinking globally and executing locally.
“My greatest challenge is definitely not to get ahead of the organization or myself,” said the latest Women to Watch honoree. “We deal with exponentially more opportunities, change and connectivity on a daily basis than we have in the past, making finding the right pace and rhythm for an organization a real balancing act.”
Despite childhood dreams of being a veterinarian, Godfrey found a career in banking that led to discovering a niche that has been a perfect match for her dreams and passions.
“When I think about it, I’ve always wanted to be a business owner and impact the growth and success of that business while helping people and making a difference,” Godfrey said. “Over time, I realized that is what the credit union industry provides for so many. And what’s great, is that you don’t have to be a senior level leader to be a business owner at a credit union. I encourage every employee to own his or her slice of this business. Everyone, across every business line, has something of value to offer and is a critical part of their credit union’s success.”
A true proponent of engagement, open communication and collaboration, Godfrey has been leading the charge at the more than $1.4 billion credit union to remove departmental silos, fostering instead an environment of promise makers and promise keepers.
“We’ve been working on this transformation of core ownership across every level for a little more than two years, uniting the credit union as a whole under the single shared vision of delivering on a promise to members, the communities we serve and internally to each other as well. In every case, it takes teamwork to ensure that promises made are promises kept.”
It’s a concept that applies to the industry as a whole, she said.
“Whether you are focused on personal growth, the development of a team, the enhancement of an organization or the advancement of a movement, we have to get past the small ideas and unite on the big ones,” Godfrey said. “We need to think globally by looking outside our industry and collaboratively coming together and investing in the credit union movement. We must find the local essence that will differentiate and resonate within the communities we serve by executing locally.”
To Godfrey, true innovation is based on identifying and acting on insights into the consumer experience to deliver a solution that either resolves issues large or small, or has the potential to provide a new way to move the industry forward.
“When you think of it that way, then we can look deeper into the consumers' journey and consider how will we meet them on that journey, anticipating where they are headed and getting ahead of their needs,” Godfrey said. “Staying current and relevant means challenging our own internal norms to innovate. Questions we ask here all the time are how can we enhance and deliver value. As a consumer myself, I know if I’m not receiving value, however I define it, whether monetary, emotional or service driven, then I’ll simply go somewhere else.”
Given that credit unions only hold 6% of financial assets, the need for more collaboration across the industry as a whole has never been greater, she said.
“It doesn’t matter if our individual brand is strong; if the overall movement’s is not, then that essentially weakens our brand. So why not unite to get the 94% share of assets we don’t have,” Godfrey said. “I know that if credit unions strategically united and leveraged their talent, we could be a force for seismic change in how financial services are delivered and maybe even the business model itself.”
Credit unions also can’t underestimate the importance of being that employer of choice that attracts and retains top talent on staff and to serve on its boards.
“It goes back to engagement and fostering an environment where everyone has a valuable place in the organization and is encouraged to step up and speak out,” Godfrey said. “Employees want to feel that they matter and what they do makes a difference. It’s time to ask is our business model delivering the talent we want and need to have? If the answer is no, are we also wiling to reevaluate it and do something different?”
She acknowledged the development of talent is a two-way street, and it isn’t enough to just make the opportunities available if the employees or potential staffers themselves don’t have that internal drive to constantly raise the learning bar.
“I think that as a leader we have to create an environment that encourages others to move out of their comfort zone regardless of the outcome. If you believe in something, articulate and create a realistic plan on how to get there. It can help the fear of change to subside,” Godfrey said. “The best leaders have an ability to recognize and foster the potential of their team, leverage their strengths to the best advantage for the individual and the business and stay out of their way. Trust and let them do. If you never try you never have the chance to fail or succeed. It’s always better to make a really tough decision and keep going and learning, than paralyze the organization, industry or yourself by not making one.”
As someone with natural curiosity, Godfrey said every day presents an opportunity to learn something new, and after some two and a half years at ORNL, she said has become a better leader than when she joined.
She added women leaders should never miss an opportunity to act and authentically lead from wherever they sit at the table.
“Get engaged and contribute any way you can,” Godfrey said. “We have to be willing to share. We can’t improve as individuals or group if we’re not willing to share what we’re passionate about. So let’s all make some noise and nudge momentum.”