Nurturing partnerships in a pandemic

As part of our thought leadership series, we give our staff, partners, members and their community the chance to share their thoughts and predictions on topics that they’re passionate about. Adrian heads up our team of Relationship Officers here at Bank First. You’ll normally find them on the road, catching up with you in staff rooms or at hospitals. They play an essential role in how we work with the education and healthcare communities by meeting face-to-face to truly understand what you need and how we can support you. Being limited with travel during the pandemic, Adrian gives his insights into the challenge of maintaining great relationships with our partners virtually.

Written by Adrian Wilson, Business Development Manager, Bank First

I know it is incredibly cliché and probably as frustrating as hearing the 2020 word of the year ‘pivot’ (well it should have been, but according to Merriam-Webster it was ‘Pandemic’); we’re in a time of unprecedented change! Just the other day, whilst waiting for my ‘barista’ latte from our latest inspired online splurge, I wondered whether mornings in the Wilson household were ever quite so chaotic? 

Every school/workday, we’re managing the chaos of the 9am meetings - the MS Teams meeting for a department update, as well as the class WebEx meetings for our year 1, year 4 and year 6 students, because, despite doing this for many, many months now, apparently it is still an unexpected event… every…morning! 

Naturally, taking advantage of his parents pre-occupation is also a 4-year-old who has to be subtly, and very carefully, redressed after his own attempt – like a movie where you need to decide whether you cut the red or the white wire. Changing a t-shirt so it’s the right way around on a 4-year-old can be just as dramatic, especially when we’re trying to portray a ‘normal’ household in our virtual meetings.

Of course, this scenario is different for many of us, but on reflection, whilst there may be some structural nuisances from the virus that might change the way we experience things, it seems that our behaviours are not quite so fallible – as if getting 4 boys out of the house for school was any less chaotic without a global pandemic.

We’re used to doing it in person; in fact we thrive on it.

Working from home, and in a role that predominately involves face to face relationships; COVID has proved to be a steep learning curve. We have had to think on our feet, learn and fail fast, and we haven’t always got it right. Working in Partnership Development, the heart of what we get to do is create relationships through engagement, understanding and purpose. We’re used to doing it in person; in fact we thrive on it. It’s been harder to do on a screen face-to-face and over the phone, and at times we’ve struggled to get it right. It has taken a while to adapt, but as we have – we’ve been able to engage more!

Adrian thought leadership

Indeed, successfully navigating these challenges from home has required more flexibility and openness than we’d normally be comfortable with – a fair few of you have likely met my kids or heard them scream. We’ve had to communicate differently, engage frequently and, above all, maintain positive relationships with business partners, customers and staff. Our workplace visitations and partnership agreements which focused on supporting events, awards and professional development were in place before the lockdowns hit; and these were curated to obtain mutually beneficial outcomes in the flesh. However, the very notion of heading out to a workplace, a conference or a special event still feels almost as distant today, as it did 18 months ago.
So, the opportunities to reach out a sanitised hand to fist bump and engage in conversation has been less about ensuring you smile nicely and demonstrate you’re not a threat and more about the ability to make a phone call or create an engaging email message that generates enough curiosity to have someone click on a link, and start a conversation about banking! (Easy right?!) 

Therein lies part of the problem. In a pandemic that affects us all, the onslaught of emails, phone calls and direct marketing have exponentially increased. Getting cut through, engagement and an audience have become more of a lottery. This has put a spotlight on our roles, not because we’re not able to get out there, but because strong partnerships and strong relationships are even more critical to success than before. 

The ability to invite a business partner, to share how we are coping and adapting to the pandemic has given us insights, learnings and understanding. Working together, the nature of our support becomes an open conversation about how we can better support and engage with our customers. It has given us the opportunity to try new things! Whilst these might be different, what is not, is that we are sharing the same goals and values with our partners – and that is a must.

Communicating and collaborating through changing times has kept each other informed of varying circumstances and created proactive solutions. A major conference might have been cancelled (and virtual conferences aren’t right for us), but an opportunity to support a staff wellbeing initiative that enables support of our customers and demonstrates our appreciation of the extraordinary work they do, has taken its place. 

The authenticity of connecting with our partners, of sharing our values and
purpose, has accelerated and deepened our relationships further.

We get it. Work is not normal now. People are working hard, some organisations are operating with reduced staff and priorities have shifted. The authenticity of connecting with our partners, of sharing our values and purpose, has accelerated and deepened our relationships further.

Being a good business partner means keeping the lines of communication open, supporting each other and negotiating terms that work for all parties – there is no one size fits all. ‘We're in the same storm’, and supporting each other in different ways enables us to continue the conversation with our customers and potential customers by letting change happen. By these means, we’ve reached more and sometimes different people than we might have face-to-face. We’ve meant more by supporting local causes and for the sake of necessity, we’ve learnt ways of communicating that better align with the needs of our customers. 

Much like the individuals and families waiting out the crisis at home and dreaming what we’ll do first when normality returns, we can capitalise on this different experience the virus has thrust upon us by consolidating the best of what we have learnt with our existing partnerships, experimenting in the present and taking care to plan for the future.

A future, where we can reach out a sanitised open hand for a hearty handshake or dare I say, even a warm friendly embrace! After all, we’ve probably shared an air fryer recipe, given each other positive encouragement for daily exercise and wellbeing activities, met each other’s family and inspired a desire for baking, gardening or something else we normally wouldn’t try!