What’s In A Name: Director Of Total Rewards

A new director at United FCU brings a transparent, holistic approach to benefits and compensation to the Michigan cooperative.

United Federal Credit Union ($3.3B, St. Joseph, MI) has created a new position director of total rewards to attract and retain the talent the cooperative needs to serve its 178,000 members across a network of 37 branches in six states.

The first person to hold that position is Kellie Dolezan. Dolezan joined the Michigan-based credit union in March 2018 as compensation and benefits manager; as of January, she’s now responsible for providing strategic and operational leadership to an HR team that is adding a holistic approach to its traditional roles.

Why did United FCU create the role of director of total rewards?

Kellie Dolezan: United believes in taking a holistic approach to how we attract and retain employees. In addition to salary and health benefits, we know employees have different needs during their career, including overall wellness, recognition, and compensation. The term total rewards reflects this broader perspective, which empowers us to expand benefits as part of a full and meaningful employee experience.

Was this role created specifically for you?

KD: The role was created as an evolution of where we were headed strategically, not specifically for me. However, I’m looking forward to using my experience and insights in the compensation space to further define United’s total rewards approach to employee care.

Download the full job description for United FCU’s director of total rewards. This description and many more, along with strategic and tactical documents of many other types, are available in the Callahan Policy Exchange.

What challenges and opportunities does this role address?

KD: To attract and retain top talent, it’s important we have a total rewards package that meets the needs of our diverse workforce and aligns with company culture and strategic initiatives. It’s a competitive job market, so we’re committed to staying on top of market trends and listening to employee needs to remain an employer of choice.

United has a history of having a robust rewards package, but we wanted to go beyond simply adding quantity to the program and add quality. Over the past year, we’ve increased transparency with employees so they fully understand how they are paid, benefits offered, and all aspects of their employment experience.

How have you presented the total rewards concept to your workforce?

KD: As a starting point, we introduced a compensation philosophy to the credit union early last year. It identifies the key objectives of the total rewards program, including external competitiveness, internal equity, employee recognition, flexibility, budgetary alignment, and transparency. This was not only the first step in delivering on the transparency promise, but it also helped explain the why behind our approach.

The HR team also completed an extensive benchmarking study to confirm areas where we were performing well and identify opportunities for program refinement. We shared this information with employees during our open enrollment period in November and reinforced the total rewards philosophy.

I’m excited to continue having an open conversation with our employees and with industry leaders so the credit union can be proactive in meeting the needs of Team United and remaining an employer of choice.

Who do you report to? Who reports to you?

KD: I report to the senior vice president of human resources. Reporting directly to me are the benefits and wellness administrator and the payroll and HRIS analyst.

What makes you a great fit for this job?

KD: I have a 5,000-foot view of the organization and can offer strategic guidance and support. Being successful in human resources means understanding the business, thinking strategically and outside the box, and using data to make decisions all while complying with a variety of regulations.

I’m a detail-oriented and analytical person by nature. I like using data-driven insights to help make decisions and then communicate that information in a way that’s easily understandable for others.

Having previous hands-on experience at a credit union as a rotational intern and teller as well as in education as an adjunct instructor helped me better understand the financial industry and gave me experience in seeing the big picture. The experience and connections I’ve made while working in all areas of HR in multiple industries has helped me lead and support other functional areas. It gave me an appreciation for how the components of the total rewards philosophy supports an organization and its employees.

I’m also able to effectively work with business leaders to achieve strategic initiatives while understanding the market, regulations, and the importance of having engaged employees, who are critical to our success.

What’s your daily routine?

KD: The great thing about working in human resources is that no two days are exactly the same. I try to start the day by catching up on communications, including email and legal updates. I also check in with my team to see how they are doing and talk through any immediate items that need attention. The rest of the day I spend on strategy and employee support, such as assisting on United’s corporate goals, delivering employee communication, evaluating our plan design, and providing support and guidance to employees.

What are your areas of responsibility?

KD: I provide strategic and operational leadership to the human resources team in the areas of payroll, national compensation, and employee welfare benefit programs including health, retirement, and wellness.

The What’s In A Name series is one of several Callahan Collections available at CreditUnions.com. Check out this collection, then browse the collections available for disaster recovery, member feedback, community impact, sustainability, deposits, analytics, and more.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed strategies and tactics at UFCU? What has been your role in that response?

KD: Like many organizations, the pandemic has forced us to rethink how we operate on a daily basis to ensure our members and employees are taken care of. We have grown as an organization and have successfully served our members and supported employees without missing a beat.

The pandemic opened the opportunity for collaboration with both front-line and back-office teams. Communication played a major role in making sure employees’ ideas and concerns were heard, meaningful updates were delivered in a timely fashion, and the HR challenges surrounding COVID turned into big wins for United.

For example, we reminded employees about online medical visits available to them, EAP services, COVID benefit coverage information, and COVID testing sites in their area. We’re now researching vaccine incentives and planning for the months ahead.

Around employee benefits specifically, we relied on the strong foundation we’ve built over the past several years and made slight modifications. Early on, we wanted employees to focus on staying healthy and taking care of their family. One of the first updates we made was to provide additional PTO to employees for COVID-related reasons. With the help of our IT team, we also quickly adapted to a remote work environment.

The agility of remote work has given us the opportunity to consider candidates outside of our regional footprints. We’re learning more about various state regulations and reviewing benefits and compensation details to ensure they are attractive to remote workers as well.

It’s important to us that employees feel supported and have their needs met no matter their role at United or stage of their career.

Check out these best practices at UFCU:

  • How To Build A Better Budget One Month At A Time

  • How COVID-19 Forced A Shift In Technology Production

How do you track success in your job?

KD: It’s seeing employees understand their pay and benefits and are able to use them in a way that’s meaningful and beneficial. It’s exciting to me when you hear feedback from an employee on how they appreciate the various ways United supports them and how they’re grateful for a specific benefit.

For example, we introduced a parental leave policy last year, which allowed a new father to stay home with his wife and new baby. They were so appreciative for that time, and they took the effort to reach out and let us know.


United Federal Credit Union
Data as of 12.31.20

HQ: St. Joseph, MI
MEMBERS: 177,913
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: -4.0%
ROA: 0.80%

Also, being a data person, I study the reasons someone is attracted to United as well as the reasons they might choose to leave the credit union. To me, we’re successful as an organization if employees know they’re being fairly compensated for the hard work and effort they put into their job.

We never want someone to feel as though their needs for pay and benefits are not being met. On the flip side, we want our total rewards program to be one of the many reasons employees are attracted to us.

How do you stay current with topics that fall under your role?

KD: To stay on top of current market trends, it’s critical to read and research topics. I maintain annual memberships to World at Work and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and receive daily articles and newsletters that contain legal updates.

I also participate in and receive industry-related compensation and benefit surveys that we use to analyze our place in the market and identify up-and-coming best practices.

Staying connected in the community and with HR leaders at other organizations is also critical. It’s great to build on those relationships to discover new ideas, find out what others are doing, and work toward the overall betterment of workplaces in the communities we serve.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Job titles say as much about the organization as they do the person. Have you seen a title you’d like to know more about? Let senior writer Marc Rapport know at mrapport@creditunions.com or (202) 223-3920, ext. 504.


March 1, 2021

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