NAFCU Journal January February 2022

38 THE NAFCU JOURNAL January–February 2022 LESSONS LEARNED By Dixie Abramian MANAGEMENT INSIGHT The world is more unpredictable than ever before. The term VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) became real for me during the pandemic. Extrapolating from the experiences of the past to predict the future is no longer an option. We must react to what is in front of us and new mindsets, new designs and new habits must be formed. When these uncertain conditions exist and define our new normal, the best way to navigate is to quickly evaluate opportunities created and use this to act, learn and build our way forward. I remember interviewing for Firefighters First Federal Credit Union on June 1, 1992 for a teller position. For decades, we had a five year business plan and budget, and got pretty close in our projections. Change was slow and measured, adding a product and service here and there, technology adoption was gradual and our employees and members had time to adapt. The last 18+ months has dramatically changed everything. We have had to reevaluate every aspect of our business, instantaneously, and with unbelievable ambiguity. Upon reflection, here are a few of the things we have learned. We have learned to work remotely. Prior to March 2020, I was questioning telecommuting, and working fully remote was not something I could even entertain. I did not believe we could be productive and/or be able to maintain our culture. Boy, was I wrong. We just deployed approximately 50% (over 92 employees), to permanent full time remote. Prior to the pandemic, we thought we would have filled the remaining space within our 83,000 square foot headquarters building within five years. In October, we put our building up for sale. We have learned to hire and train remote employees. We are now hiring many of our positions outside of the state of CA. This strategy is helping us find great talent and soon will allow us to expand our operating hours due to the varying time zones and consequently better serve our members who are nationwide. We have learned that a longer term business plan and budget are not necessary. Our 2020 and 2021 plan and budget went out the window within months of being finalized. As a result, we have begun a cultural journey to become a more agile and nimble organization. This includes setting board expectations, to selecting initiatives, to managing budgets and even member expectations. We have learned that we are more inefficient than we knew. The pandemic shined a light on our internal operations. While we have automated many aspects of our operations for years, as we began to deploy our employees we realized how much reliance we still have on paper. Many internal/foundational projects have been initiated as a result. We learned we have a lot to learn about leading remote teams. In 2022, our focus will be on developing new leadership muscles to maintain our cultural values and enhance employee engagement. Recently, we also put together leadership development training programs and have begun to re-skill and up-skill our employees in order to meet the new demands of our members. Every organization is different—from the board who sets our vision, our strategies, our leadership, our employees and our members. No one approach is right. Every credit union has to determine what will be best for all their stakeholders and build what they believe to be the best path forward. All I know is that being nimble and being open to change—with everything—will be a big part of our future. Dixie Abramian is CEO of Firefighters First Credit Union in Los Angeles, CA.