Putting People First: How to Win During a Crisis

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This thought leadership piece from Canadian Western Bank (CWB Financial) provides insight into how businesses can put employees first to instill confidence, focus and resiliency during a crisis.

As businesses refocus and manage uncertainty through the COVID-19 pandemic, one piece of advice applies to every industry: put people first to instill confidence, focus and resiliency. Here’s how Canadian Western Bank (CWB) puts it into action.

Proactively engage

“We had to mobilize our people immediately – we knew an unprecedented shutdown was coming,” recalls Stephen Murphy, Executive Vice President of Banking at CWB.

“Our clients needed immediate help to mitigate the uncertainty, so our team made thousands of personal phone calls to understand each financial situation. It was the right thing to do, even though we didn’t have full details on how to act on what we learned.”  

“We made payment arrangements for approximately 20% of our clients,” he continues. “Once government sponsored lending programs became available, we identified our eligible clients and reached out to educate and offer help.  

This proactive approach is CWB’s ethos in action.

“We’re inspired by the hustle and resilience of business owners, so we look to be a strategic business partner that helps them through some of their most challenging times,” adds Kelly Blackett, Executive Vice President of Human Resources and Corporate Communications at CWB.

Care for internal teams

Behind the scenes, leadership worked hard to ensure employees felt the same level of proactive engagement.

“Our primary value is people first,” says Kelly. “Our top priority is to protect the psychological and physical health and safety of our people and our clients. With that in place, the decisions become pretty easy.”

Moving quickly, Kelly credits quick and consistent crisis communications and constant feedback loops to keep employees and leadership informed. Over 85% of CWB employees began work from home. Technology infrastructure was strengthened. Ten extra days off were given to employees for family care. Most importantly, employees were assured of no layoffs.

To speed up decision-making, 13 highly skilled individuals left their core jobs to create a response team. “Their recommendations were escalated to the executive level, basically setting us up to make decisions within 24 hours,” Kelly explains.

“People first” underpinned each result. “There’s so much you can’t control, but the better we take care of our people, the better they’ll take care of our clients,” she expresses.

What does a new normal look like?

While there’s debate about what comes next, CWB remains optimistic in their outlook.

“I think we’ve permanently changed to some degree, and everyone will have a different comfort level about personal interactions,” Stephen states. ““That said, our service will always be more personalized and high-touch than other banks. Expect us to become more tech-enabled as we look to stand apart and build out growth momentum.”  

Kelly offers a final takeaway: look for ways to build trust. “This is an incredible opportunity for an organization to build their leadership brand and foster employee loyalty. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers. What your teams want from you is a mix of optimism, honesty and vulnerability.  Most importantly, show that you care for them as individuals.”

To learn more, watch the full webinar from CWB Financial here.