Making a Difference During Times of Change


Shawn Premer, Chief Human Resources Officer at Consumers Credit Union on the Money, I'm Home podcast.


Lynne Jarman-Johnson and Shawn Premer of Consumers Credit Union discuss how focusing on data and facts, connections and daily check-ins makes a difference in times of great change.



00:06 Lynne Jarman-Johnson: Money I’m Home. Welcome on in, I’m Lynne Jarman-Johnson with Consumers Credit Union, and we are here for you from finance to fitness, and also, we’re here for you because it is COVID-19. We’re staying home, we’re staying safe, and joining us today is Shawn Premer. Shawn, you are the Chief HR Officer with Consumers Credit Union. What an honor that I get to talk to you today. When all of a sudden everything started happening and the news came out that, “Oh, we might be shutting down.” What happens when you put on your HR hat?

00:39 Shawn Premer: You never sleep. I’ll start there. So, we have to start digging in, going day-by-day, figuring out how to manage, how to be a resource to, not only our employees, but to our leadership team. And so, it’s really about arming yourself with as much information and data as you possibly can to keep people informed and calm, and then make decisions with data rather than emotion, right, because when you make emotional decisions, they don’t always tend to be the right ones.

01:16 LJJ: What did happen when you realized you had to change drastically the way that the teams that are working with Consumers had changed the way they worked?

01:25 SP: Yeah, the good news … Good news, bad news. The bad news is, is that we had to change how we do work, but the good news is that I’m well connected with what’s going on in HR across the country. So, even though when all of this kind of started, I was on vacation in Washington D.C., I was able to begin benchmarking with what was happening across the country to help us get ready for the decisions that we would need to make. So, we started preparing what it looks like when we need to have people working from home. What does it look like if we get shut down? And that’s really what it started with, and then what will it look like turns into, “Okay, now it’s go time.” And, I am just so proud of working for an organization that has an amazing team of leaders and people willing to jump in and just get the job done, that within a matter of two and a half weeks, we now have 70% of our employees working remote. But, we’re still open for business, and we’re still serving members, and we’re still busy. So that’s really exciting, but you can’t do that if you haven’t taken the time to set up infrastructure, to set up outlines of how you’re going to do it. So, we just got a great team here.

02:40 LJJ: So when all of a sudden you’re told, “Hey, you’re going to work from home,” and you also are serving individuals who are going through their own life changes that are so drastic for many of them, how do you keep that emotion from playing such a big role in serving members? It has to be a very difficult transition, not only for them personally, but also then on the professional side.

03:11 SP: For sure. Best and most important thing that any organization can do, and I’m blessed that we did it here, is arm yourself with as much information and data to be able to give good, solid answers to employees and members, that takes out as much emotion as possible. So, if you can share with them facts and figures … Cause if you can remember three weeks ago, there was a lot of information being circulated that just simply wasn’t true. So, when you factor that in with emotion and information and hearsay, people begin to panic, and that’s why at the beginning of this, it was kind of a panic situation. And what I’m really proud of is the fact that our team came together and started to step away from the panic and focus on the facts. And once you started focusing on facts and taking strategic measures to help the organization run, employees felt much more at peace. So, we went through a couple of weeks of high stress where people were just stressed about serving the member because they’re going to get sick, or the members coming in sicker … all of these different things that cause stress. And once you’re able to say, “Listen, this is how we can avoid that.”

04:33 SP: “This is how you can stay safe and still serve the member. And, here’s our plan for getting you to where we’re serving less members in person, but we’re serving them in another way,” peace began. And I think we’re now in our new normal, and employees are feeling much more confident. We’re communicating with them every single week on exactly what’s happening in the organization. We’re sharing our balance sheet with them so that they know we’re financially sound. And, I think you can’t over-communicate. So, we communicate a lot, we’re using our intranet, we’re using email, we’re using phone calls, we’re using WebEx, all of these ways, and you can’t communicate too much. So, I think that’s really important.

05:13 LJJ: With your roles, you wear many hats, and they all are servant-leader hats. They’re the kind that are helping others succeed in their organization, whether that’s through Southwest Michigan First, and on the board, you’re also working with MISHRM, which that helps Michigan HR professionals. What have you found to be the most, either head-scratching question, or just …  What knowledge have you imparted that you really realized, “Wow, this does make a difference when we all work together to communicate on this type of plan?”

05:50 SP: Yeah, it’s interesting ’cause now is the time where HR professionals really can shine in their organizations if they haven’t been given that opportunity to do so before. So, what I try to do is connect HR professionals or even CEOs with information and resources that they can use in their own business, because everybody’s approaching a different situation. So today, I was on a call with 11 business leaders. One of them had to lay off 25 employees, one of them had to reduce work hours from employees, one of them is still hiring because they’re so busy, and so you’ve got all of these different businesses that are in different situations and need different resources. So, the best resource that I can be is a connector of helping business leaders and HR professionals get connected to the resources that can help them. So, I serve on the board of Senior Services of Southwest Michigan. They are an essential service, but yet they struggle because they’re non-profit.

06:49 SP: So what resources are out there, like the small business lending or some other things to the CARES Act, the FMLA assistance, all of those things to getting them connected with those resources because unfortunately, they may have to furlough employees during this time. Or the business that’s hiring, how can we get businesses that are hiring connected with the businesses who have had to lay people off, and let’s see if we can get people working. So, it’s really trying to connect organizations and people together.

07:18 LJJ: When you look at that role and you talk about people, the different balls that are juggled in the air, especially when there is such drastic change … How are you connecting with the individuals that are perhaps on your team? Or, how can others connect? Because maybe they’re not even thinking about it, but it’s lonely, remote working … it can be.

07:41 SP: Yeah, so what I love, that we’re doing here at Consumers, and I would recommend this for any company, is that you check in with your employees regularly. So, I’ve got the HR team here. We’re connecting with three to five of our employees each and every day, starting with people that we know live alone, so they’re very isolated right now. They’re working from home, they don’t have a family, maybe they don’t even have a pet, and they’re just home alone all the time. So, just checking in with them, saying, “Hey, how are you doing? What are you facing? Do you need someone to talk to?” So, we’re going through that process today. And so far, I think we’ve hit about a third of our employees, so we’re doing pretty well getting through the list, but ultimately, you can’t connect too much. And so, we’re using our intranet in a fun way where it’s like, “Hey, show us … Well, who’s sitting next to you while you’re at work, and maybe it’s a Roomba. Somebody posted they’re sitting next to their Roomba the other day, Lynne Jarman-Johnson.

08:45 SP: But one of the things I put out just shortly before this call is, “Hey, we can’t take the vacation right now, but let’s go on a five-minute mental vacation and share a place that you think is beautiful and that you love.” So, how can we stay connected and just keep people having conversations with each other, even if it’s not face-to-face?

09:03 LJJ: You mentioned the importance of information and fear, and there’s a lot of fear about what happens when we go back to work. I’ve all of a sudden come into this way of working and … Do you think people are fearing what might happen? Will there be drastic changes in some companies?

09:24 SP: Yeah, I think there might be. It’s really difficult to say. All of these government programs under the CARES Act and the act to keep paychecks whole … all of those things are meant to allow people to hit the ground running once they come back to work. The other piece is some people really enjoy working isolated, working remote. So, how do you manage them back into the workforce? And I think what we’re learning here is while people like working remote, you need a little …You need interaction and collaboration, so I think a few years back, we had Yahoo!, The big example is Yahoo!, had almost 100% workforce that was remote. And they weren’t having engagement, there was no engagement. So, they pulled them all back in and everybody was like, “Oh, I can’t believe they would do that.”

10:16 SP: But what they had to learn was, “What’s the optimal amount to work from home to be engaged?” And what we learn is that 20%-30% really is optimal. You can be super productive if you’re working from home 20%-30% of the time, but then beyond that you can become disengaged. Now, we do have employees here that are super engaged and work remote 100% of the time. So, it can work, but for most people, that’s not the ideal working environment. So, it’ll be transitioning that back, and maybe allowing remote work when you didn’t before, part of the time, or maybe if the person is really engaged working remote 100% of the time, maybe they get to do it 85% of the time. So, I think it’s going to be finding balance and making sure that you can keep your employees engaged once they come back.

11:02 LJJ: So how are you personally balancing working remote? I know that you have the opportunity to be able to see some of our employees who are working at The Groves, which is our corporate headquarters. How is your balance going? I know you’re cooking; you’re baking.

11:19 SP: Yeah, I did once on Sunday, and mostly because I just wanted something sweet and we didn’t have anything sweet in the house, so I had to make it. For me, it’s very difficult to separate work from home when I’m working remote. That’s me personally. So, I’m not a big work-from-home person. I’ll do it occasionally if I have a contractor coming over or a weird appointment schedule or something like that, but it’s not my first choice. So right now, I’m home, we’re taking turns as an executive team coming to The Groves. Fortunately, I’m here today, which is a happy day for me. But, it’s very difficult for me to separate it. So, like yesterday I worked from 8 o’clock in the morning ’til almost 9:30 last night, almost non-stop … took a break for dinner. It’s hard for me to turn work off because it’s just there, so that’s part of my role right now, is to really be on top of it all.

12:15 LJJ: If you had one thing that you would like to say to other HR professionals or CEOs, people who are thinking about the changes that they have to make, possibly in the next week or so, maybe even sooner than that, what’s your thoughts on helping them make a decision, again, based not on emotion?

12:35 SP: Get connected with your resources. So, in our markets, we have Southwest Michigan First, we have The Right Place, and they are doing a fantastic job. Just before this call, I was on a webinar with Right Place talking about resources, Lakeshore Advantage. So, every economic development in our markets are doing a great job of getting resources available. If you are not connected to those resources now, make sure you get connected to those resources. They’re all in on their websites … use those. SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management is so well connected to COVID-19 at the national level, and they’re actually advising the president on things we need to be aware of as employers. So, if you’re connected with your local economic development and what’s happening in your state, and you’re connected with SHRM National, so you’re monitoring what’s happening at the national level, you have this ability to be armed with as much knowledge and resources as you need.

13:37 SP: Count on your HR people right now. So, if you have an HR person, count on them. They can do the job, and they can get connected to resources. And HR people, use this as your time to shine. I know it’s stressful, I know it’s tiring, but it’ll pass, and now is your chance to really make a huge impact in your organizations.

13:56 LJJ: Well, I can tell you that based on a personal level and on watching our teams in the transition, what your team has done, Shawn, has been a delight in the sense of communication, transparency, and just easing any fears that are out there. So thank you so much on a personal note, but also professionally, if anybody does need information or you have questions for Shawn, you are such a great wealth of knowledge for people that I really appreciate the fact that you’re on today.

14:30 SP: Oh, it’s my pleasure, and I do have an amazing team. So, I do want to give a shout-out to our HR and training team who even acted as IT, helping people get workstations set up in their homes and offices and whatnot. So, I am not a one-woman-show here, so we’ve got an amazing team, and I’m super proud to work with all of them.

14:48 LJJ: Absolutely, as am I. Well, Shawn Premer … And Shawn is our Chief HR Officer here at Consumers Credit Union. She does wear a lot of hats, but she’s always willing to listen, and if you have some questions, just send them our way, and we’ll make sure we’ll get them to you. So, Shawn, thanks so much. You have a great day today.

15:04 SP: Thanks. You too, Lynne.

15:07 LJJ: Money, I’m Home. Consumers Credit Union from finance to fitness. Join us next week, and if you have a guest that you would like to hear from, just let us know, we’d be glad to talk with them. I’m Lynne Jarman-Johnson with Consumers Credit Union.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Meegan Fritsma says:

    Love the message and helpful reminders about resources like SHRM that are doing so much to help.

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.
Get awesome new content delivered straight to your inbox.