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Yes, the economy has taken a dramatic nosedive. Yes, natural person credit unions are taking a big hit to their bottom line to help the corporate credit unions. Yes, all of this means your credit union needs to tighten its belt. But it doesn’t mean we put so much emphasis on the financial part of our businesses that we forget about the people who make the business run.I am speaking to you as a seasoned board member of a credit union with over $1 billion in assets, a business owner, and experienced human resources professional. During these challenging times we do have to work a little harder to maintain the viability of our credit unions. We want our credit unions to continue to develop and grow. The people who can do this for us include everyone from the board of directors, the CEO and executive management team to the front line employees.It is important that we continue to invest in these people, the people who will be there for us day in and day out serving our members and working toward the continued success of our credit unions.Employees, like members, will have questions regarding the financial stability of your credit union. It is not hard to miss all of the news about layoffs, mortgage foreclosures, the roller coaster cycle of the stock market and the continuing rise in the unemployment rate. Employees may be concerned about their own jobs and future. What can we do to abate these concerns?I believe strong leadership is the key to navigating your credit union through 2009 and beyond. The leaders at your credit union need to be confident decision makers. They also need to be effective, influential communicators and display flexibility and resilience.Communication is important to the success of any organization. As leaders, we need to be aware of what we are communicating, both verbally and nonverbally. We all may be anticipating a difficult year financially for our credit unions. Therefore, we may have made a decision to freeze salaries, limit the hiring of new employees, suspend or discontinue employee incentive plans, decrease employee benefits, or discontinue continuing education for our employees. These are hard decisions. What will determine whether the decision you made is a good one in the end is not only whether you kept the credit union viable financially, but whether you also maintained the influence and respect of your employees.How do you maintain influence and respect? The way to maintain influence and respect with employees is through effective communication. If you have had to make one or more of the difficult decisions that I described above, did you not only communicate to employees the action that was going to be taken but also explain the reasons for the action? Employees may not always agree with every decision that is made by management. This we know is a fact. However, what is most important is for them to understand why the action is needed. They still may not agree with your decision but they may be more likely to accept it.While it may seem that we are “taking things away” from employees at this time, there is one thing that can positively affect our employees and our bottom line and doesn’t cost us a thing. And, we all have the ability and means to provide it. It is recognition. We all want it and need it, some of us more than others. It is as simple as saying “thank you” or “You did a great job.” Recognition and gestures of appreciation can go a long way in today’s uncertain world.I also want to throw in a comment aimed directly at board members who may be reading this article. Yes, it is management’s job to make good decisions, effectively communicate with employees and recognize employees for successes. But it is also the job of the board of directors to do the same for the CEO. It is important to maintain effective communication and to recognize their effortsl. We don’t do this enough as board members and our CEOs need to know that we appreciate their hard work.We have little control over these challenging and ever-changing times that we are going through. But we do have control over who works for our credit unions, the messages that we send to our employees, and the recognition that we provide for successes. Remember, “thank you” or “good job” can go a long way.

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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