Maintaining a positive culture through a pandemic (and a merger)

Most of us would agree that 2020 has been a year like no other.  Over the last decade, we’ve seen amazing advances in technology that keep us connected 24/7 (if we want to be) and heightened expectations for access to information.

While new technologies put many employers on the path toward offering more flexible/remote working arrangements for some jobs, once COVID-19 entered our world, we’ve seen an astounding acceleration of the mindset shift around what jobs could be performed virtually.

Similar to the experience of other companies, the threat of COVID-19 required First Horizon Bank to transition to remote working arrangements where possible. At the same time, however, we were finalizing our merger with IberiaBank, so it was daunting to think about what it would take to combine two cultures while having so many associates (employees) working from home.

A shift to remote work coupled with a merger could easily cause a lot of anxiety and frustration, but what we’ve learned about our team’s ability to adapt has been inspiring. We’ve actually been able to maintain high levels of productivity and morale, which I attribute to First Horizon’s intentional effort to build a healthy culture that transcends work location. As part of our identity, we branded our culture “Firstpower” some 28 years ago and have leveraged it as a guiding star for what it means to work for First Horizon.

Through our Firstpower culture, we reinforce our commitment to creating a positive work experience. That commitment is demonstrated in our efforts to understand associates’ challenges and to respond with appropriate resources. Their feedback is paramount to us having a work-life balance in the culture we desire.

To help us get that feedback, below are some prime examples of “continuous contact” mechanisms we have been using throughout the pandemic beyond our regular communication channels that also show we care:

  • InteGREAT!: A merger-specific newsletter to keep associates updated and informed about the progress of the merger and related support resources
  • Better Together calls: Monthly calls to discuss the emotional impact of a merger and give tips on how to deal with change
  • Culture survey/interviews: A questionnaire to identify similarities and differences between the two cultures with questions centered around the feel of the companies
  • Pulse surveys: Quick electronic questions to gauge how associates are faring in the new work environment, their feelings and their concerns around pain points. Findings have shown that the bank has upheld a relatively high associate satisfaction score of 80 percent
  • Associate Resource Councils: Groups that consist of associates from all departments, tenures and positions that provide continual feedback on culture, wellness, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and general company wellbeing
  • Wellness First resources: Offerings to manage health and well-being, including workshops on work-life balance and other resources that provide support for increased stress and tension resulting from COVID-19
  • Associate value survey: An annual survey with a 30-year history that asks associates about their beliefs, attitudes and how they feel about the workplace
  • DEI dialogues: Companywide conversations on diversity, equity, and inclusion that enable associates to safely engage and understand how to be supportive

Through all of these channels and more, we’ve learned that we are doing the right things to make our associates’ voices heard, and perhaps more importantly, that they know we are listening to them and providing them with resources that make a difference. This approach starts with the executive team and permeates throughout the organization.

While in-person interactions have been limited during the pandemic, we’ve learned to leverage new technologies to stay connected.  And as part of our effort to help associates take care of themselves during work-from-home, we’re offering them access to an app- and web-based communication and engagement platform for wellness and healthcare services.

At First Horizon, we are always trying our best to build and sustain our culture. Like other companies, we have some really great managers who fully exemplify our culture and some that need additional coaching, development and engagement in their effort to be supportive. Our aim is to honor our history as a bank that cares about its people. Just as we are caring for our associates, they are caring for our customers.

John Daniel is executive vice president and chief human resources officer at First Horizon Bank.

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