One of my favorite films is Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. I can almost quote the entire movie, start to finish, word-for-word. It works its way into my life in weird ways. For example: our current public health crisis has me using a thermometer daily just to make sure I’m not feverish. “Not a smidge of temperature!”, I’ll proclaim after every normal result, reminiscent of young Zuzu after she recovers from her Christmas Eve cold.
Every holiday season, my wife and I will watch it again on television. I insist on watching it when it airs live, rather than on DVD or on-demand. The three-hour run time with commercials gives it an epic feel and conjures nostalgia for watching it growing up with my Dad. We recently added an appropriate beverage tradition to complement our viewing. Mulled wine: heavy on the cinnamon and light on the clove! Clarence would be proud.
You’d think that knowing a movie inside and out would lessen the emotional impact of repeated viewing, but there are still some parts that get to me every time. One powerful scene is when George Bailey and his newlywed bride, Mary, are just about to leave on a globetrotting honeymoon, fulfilling George’s lifelong dream of traveling the world. Their plans are dashed by a Great Depression era bank run. George and Mary use their honeymoon savings to keep the Bailey Building and Loan afloat, while Mr. Potter, the wealthiest man in town, buys up everything else.
This scene is especially poignant when taken in the context of our current reality. Now, there’s a cliché takeaway here that is nonetheless true: you can survive in business during challenging times either by being huge, like Mr. Potter, or scrappy, like the Baileys. But there was something else about the Bailey Building & Loan that allowed it to thrive for decades even while Potter’s wealth and influence grew larger and larger: the Bailey family practiced empathy, and put people first.
Several years ago, I was Senior Manager of Business Intelligence for a regional credit union. Credit unions sometimes resemble the Bailey Building & Loan, but as a $750 million financial institution, ours certainly had a different feel. We were in the midst of a core banking system conversion—an 18-month, seven-figure-budget initiative that would upgrade our technology and allow us to operate more efficiently. Given the scope and gravity of the project, I participated in weekly meetings with other key leaders throughout the project. Towards the end of one such meeting, our CFO, who coincidentally was also named George, rose to speak. But it wasn’t to talk about progress towards one of our many milestones or report a key decision related to the project.
George told us about a recent encounter he’d had with a gentleman who’d been a member of our credit union for a few years. Before he came to us he’d had a run of bad luck, which included losing his job and suffering some damage to his credit. His situation was so dire that most banks wouldn’t even allow him to open a checking account, let alone secure financing. Our credit union established a banking relationship with him, eventually underwrote a personal loan to rebuild his credit, and helped him get back on his feet financially. George was pleased to share that this man was now starting his own business, and that he was so grateful to our institution for giving him a chance when nobody else would.
Our CFO was making a point about how initiatives aimed at efficiency, like our conversion project, free up our resources allowing us to better serve our members. He didn’t talk about the impact on our profit margins or asset size, although that’s undeniably a major benefit. His focus was on the people. “This is why we do this,” he concluded his story. “This is the type of good we can put into our community with projects like this.”
Now I’m a numbers guy, and like any good CFO, so was George. Despite this, my fondest memory from what would end up being a very successful conversion project wasn’t the 200-some custom reports my team rewrote, or the centralized data warehouse we built, or the unique data validation approach we created that allowed us to exceed our vendor’s benchmarks by a factor of five. It was the true story of how we served a single person, and how our collective efforts could serve many more.
As we face a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever to be mindful of our messaging. People are worried, and for myriad legitimate reasons: from fear of the virus itself, to worries about personal finances, to the inherent stresses of self-isolation and social distancing, to the macro effects of bringing the economy to a halt. The same sales messages that flooded our inbox a few months ago come off as insensitive and tone-deaf when we see them today. None of us want to be “sold” right now. We especially don’t want to hear about how a time of shutdown is a GREAT time to re-evaluate vendors for whatever service you provide.
So what to do in a time like this? Focus on people, and do so in a way that contributes to the greater good. In times of crisis, quality people are called to serve.
One thing we’ve decided to do at Trilix is to avail our team for complimentary advising at a time that’s convenient for you. You can learn more about our areas of expertise and book time with us here. It’s not a sales call or a services pitch, but rather a resource that you can take advantage of at a time when a lot of us are in need of a little help.
Each and every one of us has a unique set of gifts to contribute to the world. I encourage you to find ways you can use those gifts to serve others. But most importantly, be authentic and altruistic with your approach.
George Bailey didn’t perform good deeds for the sake of public relations, or to grow the brand of the Bailey Building & Loan. He served his community because it was the right thing to do. And when George needed help, he didn’t even have to ask; the people he touched repaid him in spades. As Harry Bailey toasts in the climactic scene, “To my big brother George: the richest man in town!”
The Potter-sized corporations of today have the resources to wait out this storm. For the rest of us, a Bailey-like empathy will be remembered when sunny days return.
Chat with our experts to move forward and gain clarity on your business challenges during these challenging times. Click here to learn more and book your free consultation!
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