A Seat at the Table: Insights from America’s Credit Union’s HR and Organizational Development Conference

By: Cynthia Campbell, MBA, MEd, CUDE, Chief Operating Officer

In April 2024, HR professionals came to Tampa, Florida, to learn and network at America’s Credit Union’s HR and Organizational Development conference. It was my first time attending an HR conference, let alone speaking at one. I did not “grow up” in HR; it adopted me later in my career, and I am so happy it did. For the last four years, I have overseen the HR function at a nationwide non-profit with staff in seventeen states. Being intimately involved in the recruitment, selection, compensation, retention, development, and training during the pandemic and the great resignation was my training ground. Meeting others who had survived these issues and thrived despite them was inspiring. Talking about “what is next” in HR with people on the cutting edge was intriguing. I was sitting at the feet of the greats, and I was a sponge. As someone new to this conference, I wanted to share the insights I walked away with.

The Heart of HR

I learned that many, like me, did not seek a Human Resource role, but rather the role found them. When I dug deeper into those conversations, I found that many people found their way to the HR roles they have because of their passion for people. At the heart of HR is a genuine passion for supporting and empowering individuals to reach their full potential and driving positive organizational change. So, HR leaders have been pulled from departments like operations and training because they are people-centric. 

We are in the people business, making our people our most significant asset (and often a larger expense, too), so focusing on our staff makes good business sense. That is why I also found it interesting that HR does not always have a seat at the table where the highest-level strategic conversations take place. Some credit unions were progressive and had Chief People Officers who were drivers of strategy, and others had Managers, Directors, or VPs of HR. Still, too many were not at the executive table, where the strategy was being set.

The Evolution of HR

I wondered why and dug down a bit further in my conversations and learned that Human Resources only emerged as a distinct organizational function in the 1950s and initially focused on administrative tasks such as payroll, benefits administration, and compliance with labor laws. Eventually, the rise of labor unions and collective bargaining agreements shaped HR’s role in labor relations and workforce management. The passage of landmark legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 led to an increased focus on diversity, equal opportunity, and affirmative action within HR. These changes to the law caused the expansion of HR functions to include recruitment, selection, and training, reflecting a growing recognition of the importance of talent management in organizational success. By the 80’s and 90’s, we see HRIS (Human Resource Information Systems) and computerized payroll systems, streamlining administrative tasks and enabling data-driven decision-making. By the 2000s, globalization and technological advances required a more strategic approach to HR to attract, retain, and develop a diverse talent pool in a competitive global marketplace. There has been a steady evolution of HR from a transactional to a strategic partner, with an increased focus on aligning HR initiatives with organizational goals and driving business outcomes. Perhaps the history also had something to do with why the overwhelming majority of attendees were female; I do not know, but the history of women in the workplace seems to follow a similar arc, from administrative to technological and through the same periods and legislation. 

As leaders in the credit union movement, we should ask ourselves, which decade is our HR department living in? 

If your HR department is still only transactional (payroll, benefits, compliance, hiring, firing) and social (party and event planning) but not transformational in developing the organization’s future, you need to include the true value of your HR Team. It seems America’s Credit Unions understood this conundrum and offered many sessions focused on the value the HR team can bring to the organization and the elevation of the HR professional as a strategic partner. I was soaking it all up! 

What happens when HR does not have a seat at the executive table (AKA living in the current decade)?

It creates a significant gap in strategic decision-making and organizational effectiveness. Here are some that can happen as a result:

Missed Insights and Perspectives: 

HR professionals bring a unique perspective, grounded in their understanding of organizational culture, employee dynamics, and talent management. Without their input, strategic discussions may lack crucial insights into how proposed initiatives will impact the workforce and organizational culture.

Risk of Reactive Decision-Making: 

HR professionals are often at the forefront of identifying emerging trends and challenges in the workforce, such as shifts in employee engagement, retention, or compliance issues. Without their input, organizations may be blindsided by these issues, leading to reactive rather than proactive decision-making.

Impact on Employee Experience: 

HR plays a pivotal role in shaping the employee experience, from recruitment to offboarding. Without a seat at the table, decisions may inadvertently undermine employee morale, engagement, and well-being, ultimately impacting organizational performance.

Alignment with Organizational Goals: 

HR bridges organizational strategy and execution, ensuring that human capital initiatives are aligned with broader business objectives. When HR is excluded from strategic discussions, there’s a risk of disconnect between HR practices and organizational goals, leading to inefficiencies and missed growth opportunities.

Legal and Compliance Risks: 

HR professionals ensure compliance with labor laws, regulations, and ethical standards. Without their input, organizations may inadvertently expose themselves to legal risks, such as discrimination claims, wage and hour violations, or workplace safety issues.

Limited Capacity for Innovation: 

HR professionals are often catalysts for organizational change and innovation, driving initiatives related to diversity, equity, inclusion, talent development, and performance management. When they’re excluded from strategic conversations, organizations may miss opportunities to foster a culture of innovation and adaptability.

By ensuring that HR has a seat at the table, credit unions can tap into the full spectrum of expertise and insights needed to drive sustainable growth, foster a positive organizational culture, and effectively navigate the complexities of today’s multigenerational workforce.

I enjoyed teaching my session, “Redefining Employee Well-Being: Beyond Bubble Baths and EAPs,” where we focused on creating a culture of well-being versus approaching well-being as a stand-alone program. However, my favorite part was networking and having meaningful conversations with HR professionals doing the work, day in and day out. It was so valuable to be able to “pick their brains” over issues like remote work, employee engagement, and compensation. I made new credit union friends I could call on during the year to discuss challenges and strategies. I want to thank Cindy Parker, Director of Council Events for America’s Credit Unions, and Jamie Gower, VP of HR at WESTconsin CU, for making my first speaking engagement and experience with the HR and Organizational Development Council wonderfully memorable. So many lessons are immediately applicable, and new friendships have started. The ROI of this conference is easy to see. 

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