Crisis Leadership Skills Prepare Your Credit Union

In a crisis, leadership becomes less about position and title, and more about actions, character, and results.

In 2020, everyone is being tested. How is your credit union weathering the storm? Crisis leadership at your credit union requires communication.

So often, leadership is talked about in terms of the future. Together, great leaders work with their followers on a vision for the future. Their work centers on attaining that vision and moving closer to it through daily, quarterly, or yearly tasks and goals. Visionary leaders are described as charismatic and their ideas are seen as transformational. They inspire, motivate, empower, and encourage. All good, right?

In a crisis, visions call fall apart. When uncertainty and challenges abound, leadership is not necessarily about forging ahead with some grand plan, but simply holding down the fort. In fact, the Harvard Business Review shares, “Holding is a more obscure and seldom celebrated facet of leadership than vision, but no less important.” After all, it is harder to shake down a house that has a sturdy foundation.

“When a leader’s appeal rests on a vision alone, leadership is not whole. And the limitations of such visionary leadership become painfully obvious in times of crisis, uncertainty, or radical change. Take the coronavirus pandemic. No one had anything like it in their ‘Vision 2020.’ Crises always test visions, and most don’t survive. Because when there’s a fire in a factory, a sudden drop in revenues, a natural disaster, we don’t need a call to action. We are already motivated to move, but we often flail. What we need is a type of holding, so that we can move purposefully.”

Harvard Business Review: The Psychology Behind Effective Crisis Leadership

With the right crisis leadership skills, your credit union leadership effectively pivot to communicate strength and resilience, no matter what challenges arise.

Crisis Leadership Starts with Crisis Communications

Does your family have a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan? In the event of an emergency or natural disaster, you and the other members of your household become a special team. Together, you know what to do should the worst happen—such as planning a meetup spot outside your home in case of a fire—and how to take care of one another. It’s something that sounds easy enough. Yet, if you’ve ever been in a personal crisis or disaster yourself, you know how hard it can be to manage.

One of the most important first steps in navigating a crisis is identifying what is happening and how you will respond. That’s why crisis communications are so important. When the coronavirus pandemic began affecting organizations in all industries and sectors, many adjusted messaging—and many continue to adjust messaging. In good times and in bad, the right words make a difference.

Just like your family should have a disaster preparedness plan, your organization should, too. Although no one wants the worst to happen, being prepared can make the unexpected easier to navigate. It’s easy to get overwhelmed; a crisis communications checklist, as shared in Epic Marketing Consultants’ tutorial on effective communication in a crisis, means you will be prepared.

This is not the same plan you would go to when faced with a public relations crisis. Remember, in a true, wide-spread crisis, your credit union members are navigating many challenges at once. Many questions are being asked, by many different people. Every stakeholder needs (and wants) to be in-the-know. This means your marketing and communications team must be prepared to handle any situation that could arise.

Crisis leadership means communicating before, during, and after any situation.

Be Clear (in Messaging and Leadership)

Credit unions know how to step up. As financial and community institutions, credit unions look out for their members—in difficult economic situations and day to day. So, it was natural to see credit unions across the country offering financial hardship programs and help to their members as the coronavirus pandemic grew. Together, credit unions and their members can weather any storm. First, credit union leadership must understand the forecast to properly respond to the crisis.

At this point, you know it is important to speak up. But what do you say? And how do you say it? Again, this is where an effective crisis communications plan comes into play, and smart credit union leaders will know to have one in their back pockets.

Additionally, most crises and challenges are not over in a day. They are part of drawn-out or evolving situations. Whether navigating a pandemic—and the various closings and openings, and openings and closings—or the cleanup and rebuilding that comes after a fire or hurricane, messaging must keep up. The newsletter your credit union sent in March likely contained outdated information by June. The Facebook post from last week may even be outdated!

What Message to Share with Members

While a clear announcement on your credit union website is helpful, it is not enough. Be nimble and stay current by following these tips:

  • Focus on your people. As you step up to meet your members’ needs, consider what challenges they may be facing and how you can respond. Would it help to waive certain fees or offer extra financial counseling? Extraordinary times call for extraordinary service.
  • Focus on your mission. In a crisis, distraction comes easy. Crisis leadership for your credit union means staying the course. Your credit union can adapt, but it is not the time to dramatically change your mission. A grounding attitude can help keep everyone looking forward.
  • Focus on a moving target. It is easy to say, “Let’s just focus on getting through this together.” However, that is not the whole story. Crisis leadership for your credit union means recognizing that the finish line will always be moving. Especially now, as news breaks and situations continue to change, know you might have to frequently adapt—and often provide updates.
What Message to Share with Employees

As your credit union focuses on providing for members, employees are the ones stepping up. Branches may be closing or changing hours. Employees may find themselves working from home or at odd hours. Everyone is doing tasks that were not part of their original job description. It’s important for credit union leadership to recognize and support the incredible jobs their employees are doing to help manage a crisis.

With everyone under pressure, one of the easiest ways to alleviate some stress is by creating clear communications. Don’t forget to speak to all of your audiences. That means it is just as important to effectively communicate to employees as it is to communicate to clients in a crisis. They want to know what leadership is doing to support their interests and wellbeing. And, in being upfront about a situation, it can help remove some mystery, so that people can focus on the work.

While credit union leadership can accomplish a lot by staying the course, there are opportunities to be creative. Challenging times also call for inventive solutions. In May, the Cooperative Credit Union Association (CCUA) shared that credit unions and banks received extra time to file call reports, or the regulatory report that must be filed by banks in the U.S. on a quarterly basis with the FDIC. Flexibility is necessary in a crisis. For example, here it meant staff had the time needed to focus on helping members.

Leaders Don’t Stay Silent

In times of crisis, the worst thing a leader can do is be silent. With credit union members and employees worried about short-term and long-term issues, and concerned about financial and physical health, your CU community is likely tense. Leading with consistent, and consistently updated, communications takes (some of) the anxiety out of the air.

But wait—good leaders know opportunities sometimes hide inside challenges. As your credit union focuses on its mission of providing for its people, find strength in the steadfast commitment of your leadership and community focus of your organization. Traditional and digital communication channels can work together to ensure your credit union leadership is effectively guiding your community through this crisis, and preparing for whatever may come tomorrow.

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