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Eric: What was the mindset like for you, as a leader, knowing that you had such a great year planned and things were happening and then all of a sudden the world turned upside down?
Jason: Well, it sure did. Thanks for those memories. I think at the time, there wasn’t time available to stop and think about that. Things changed so rapidly. At Arizona Federal, the first thing we thought was, “How do we get employees safe?” We’ve got branch locations, so how do we make branches safe? What do we do with lobbies?
…Our focus at that time was ‘let’s just get everybody safe’ and then we will regroup.
Eric: You guys came up with a plan that included something called Northstars, where you were actually able to label what your immediate goals were.
Jason: Yeah, we got everybody home. We got everybody safe. We got our branches figured out over the course of a few days, and then it became how do we regroup, reassemble and move on? Our CEO came up with what we described as four north stars. We said, we are going to guide our directions over the next undefined time period. Let’s create safety for our employees – safety for their health and for their employment. Let’s make good decisions there. Let’s protect the institution. Let’s make good choices. Let’s not get overly aggressive or ambitious moving forward. Let’s just be safe. We are going to make financial concessions for certain members because we could tell right off the bat some members would be more affected than others.
And then ultimately, we are going to take financial hits. So, let’s just have that conversation as a senior team and with our board right off the bat, and say “already we can tell when recession happens and people can’t pay their loans, we are going to take some hits.” Let’s just declare it now. Let’s not have anybody under undue stress or pressure, up at night trying to figure out how to make the numbers work. We are going to take hits this year.
Eric: What was some of the feedback you got? I know there were challenges with dealing with some of the larger organizations, larger banks and those who didn’t have a relationship with a local bank. And here you come along, and you said you’re starting to have those conversations with people, and they are getting funds at the end of the day. I’m sure those stories are very rewarding on your side.
Jason: They absolutely were. We were hearing from people, and I don’t blame them, business owners putting those applications in multiple places just looking for help. And what it really came down to is when they would reach out to us they would say, “I just want to talk to a person. I want to tell my story to somebody who it will impact.” And what we were able to do for our members is have a real person who picked up the phone and explained at that time as fast as things were going on.
We didn’t have all the answers, but we were at least going to touch base. We were going to let them know we care. And as soon as we had all the information we needed to move forward, we were going to get it. There were countless stories of local businesses who were down to their last $1000 – weren’t going to make payroll without that PPP loan – and in a couple of cases we funded the night before payroll needed to hit the following day and kept hundreds of employees employed throughout the Valley.
Eric: All business owners, business leaders have heard this term before, “being agile.” Being able to pivot quickly and of course that’s been a common theme this year. How, as a leader, were you able to get everybody on board with what we’re going to do? How are you able to maintain that agility with a staff that size?
Jason: …We emphasize communication quite a bit. So right off the bat, we were communicating, talking about those Northstars. Our CEO sends out a weekly ‘perspective email’ just shares “okay, here are my thoughts on our organization’s performance, but also what’s going on in the world and how it might impact us.
From an agility standpoint, because we have had from the year before with the acquisition opportunity, asked a lot of different things from a lot of different people, we had practiced being agile. So, when we came into this year and this event, we were able to put a call out through our leadership team to say, “Who’s got time? Who’s got resources? Who’s got something you can re-prioritize and redirect? We had people from all different areas, suddenly fielding calls and learning what a commercial loan was and asking payroll related questions, and helping people calculate forms.
Eric: How have things shifted within the perspective of the company? Are company meetings different?
Jason: I don’t know that we needed to declare it, but it just became apparent to a number of us that we just need to become a lot more human through this whole experience. That means when we are on calls, we are checking in with everybody. It’s not just “hey, how are you? I know you’ve got young kids. I know you’ve got school uncertainty. What do you need different right now? What can I provide for you?”
…I think we’ve all embraced that. We need to be parents first. We need to be humans first. And because we’ve allowed that and trusted everybody with that, I think we have a more highly engaged team than we’ve probably ever had.
Eric: Give me a little more on your internal video podcast with guests from the organization.
Jason: Every two weeks, we make a new episode. We bring employees out. We talk about something very topical. Our last one was about PPP for example and reiterate to everybody some of the stories and some of the numbers and where we are now with the forgiveness process. And then we invest a lot of time in just having fun. I challenged two of our employees the other day to a Saved By the Bell trivia challenge. I was really impressed by some of my teammates’ knowledge of Saved By the Bell.
Eric: What’s your mindset going into the end of 2020 as opposed to March or the beginning of the year?
Jason: It’s exhaustive. It’s exhilarating. I wouldn’t want to go through all this again because operating at that level of engagement is exhausting. But where I get exhilarated is, this whole experience has exposed who is really on board and the different talents people are bringing out.
What energizes me is looking back at everything we’ve done given all the unknowns and look at who is contributing and not asking anything in return. As I look forward, that type of activity will keep me going through all the unknowns.