Pandemic offers lessons, encouragement in adapting to a new normal
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This piece on adapting UMB’s business model for today’s realities was featured in the Kansas City Business Journal‡.
Since March, I’ve been able to step back and analyze where we — and other companies — have the opportunity to make proactive shifts to positively impact our associates, customers and business operations during this challenging time. While there are many, a few that stand out to me include adjusting our workforce, adapting our service and business development models, and shifting our culture to meet today’s reality.
Adjusting our workforce
In mid-March, as many Americans started working from home, most companies had to reevaluate their workforce. This included how their finance department operated, how essential in-office employees would continue to work and how those who needed to work remotely could do so. During this time, many companies found inefficiencies in operations and ways to improve what was long-considered normal operating procedures.
I’ll be honest, before the Covid-19 pandemic, I wasn’t a big believer in working from home. In banking, so much of our success is based on the relationships we build with our customers, prospects, communities and with each other. I struggled with the idea that any of this could be done from home, even with the technology that exists today.
However, during the past four months, my long-held beliefs about working from home have shifted. Granted, part of this shift was mandatory as we worked to keep our employees and customers safe at home and physically distancing. But the other part has been a true change in mindset as I see our associates making the most out of our “new normal” and continuing to build relationships — and our pipeline — throughout this challenging time.
Not only did our business continuity team seamlessly carry out the plans we hoped we would never need to use, but our associates also stepped up and really embraced what needed to be done. This included associates who remained on the front lines as essential workers, as well as those working from home. I’ve been impressed, humbled and energized as I’ve seen how our teams pulled together for each other and our customers.
Some specific measures we took as a company to adapt included evaluating how we staffed branches, how our call centers were operating, how we served clients who needed Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding and how we continued to maintain and build relationships without leaving home.
While these changes in workforce are different for every organization, there are key questions many may benefit from considering, including:
- How much of my workforce is “essential” to being in the office?
- How can we adapt our associates and their duties to today’s workforce needs? Do we need to shift roles, add responsibilities, consolidate open positions?
- Are we doing everything we can to give associates what they need to succeed, personally and professionally?
Adapting our approach
For us, one of the biggest challenges is building new relationships and our pipeline without face-to-face meetings. That is something every company is still figuring out. We have done well with our existing clients, but how do we continue to grow? At UMB, we have found success creatively thinking outside the box by hosting expert virtual webinars for clients, online happy hours, relationship-building virtual events like food tastings and educational seminars, and creating new sales strategies for our loan officers.
We, along with many other companies, also are evaluating operational improvements and efficiencies that benefit customers, too. From technology upgrades and artificial intelligence to product enhancements and flexible service models, now is the time to evaluate (and, when possible, implement) solutions that will meet our customers where they are and make this part of their lives easier.
Business growth and evolution require companies and business owners to be diligent about how they manage and adapt day-to-day operations to ensure customers have what they need, when they need it. And they must be willing to proactively adjust versus being forced to do so.
However, one item that will always remain is the need for excellent service and communication. More than anything, these two characteristics will set people and businesses apart in the coming months. Those that double down on these areas will be the ones that not only survive, but thrive.
Shifting our culture
Gone are the days of grabbing a quick lunch with co-workers or catching up in the hallway for 15 minutes between meetings. In today’s new working world, we must be intentional about creating a culture that connects our associates to each other and to our organization.
For UMB, this means surveying our associates to find out what our people need, having ongoing companywide Town Halls and hosting regularly scheduled team meetings and weekly one-on-ones with each other. It means over-communicating and providing the mental, physical and emotional resources needed to get through this time, for however long it may last. It means making sure teams are connected and know there are support systems in place. It means checking in and making sure we are all well. It means we are people first.
Bottom line: relationships matter
Relationships are the reason we do business with companies, the reason we work where we do and the reason we keep trying to be better people. I think the biggest lesson I have learned during the past few months is that I have to be intentional in creating and continuing relationships with colleagues and clients. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s harder than it’s ever been. But we have to keep doing it. We have to make the effort, and we have to be persistent. If anything is going to get us through the coming months and year ahead, it is the relationships we foster now and the ones we create moving forward.
As I write this and reflect back, I’d like to offer one more personal learning: We have all discovered how adaptable and malleable we are, how quickly we can adjust in the face of adversity, and how fiercely we come together to help each other in times of need. For that, and so much more, I am grateful.
UMB continues to serve it’s customers across the nation during the pandemic by adapting operations and delivering value through solutions and relationships.
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