How Company Culture Can Empower a Team to Move Mountains

“One thing I believe to the fullest is that if you think and achieve as a team, the individual accolades will take care of themselves. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” That quote from Michael Jordan has been on my mind lately as I reflect on lessons we’re all learning during the COVID-19 crisis. Jordan’s observation about teams certainly applies to our recent experiences at Capital Bank. Responding to this crisis has been a powerful reminder that a community of committed people can achieve incredible things when they come together around a common set of values.

We’ve been serving the greater DMV community since 1999, and we’ve seen our region’s economy grow to reflect a diverse mix of small-to-medium businesses with a variety of financial needs. The coronavirus hit these companies like a tsunami. Then, the Paycheck Protection Program hit banks like a second tidal wave, as businesses frantically sought help while they were trying to unravel PPP’s complicated application process. But in just two months, Capital Bank processed the equivalent of two years’ worth of loan applications, which helped uplift 37,000 employees from companies all around the DMV region during the crisis.

PPP required rapid action. Before the Small Business Administration (SBA) had even developed all the rules, for example, we had to dive in and figure out how to structure processes that would work for loan applicants and for us. We had to leverage our in-house technology to set up a platform that enabled business owners to upload all the SBA-required documentation. Capital Bank employees from all parts of the company were giving up their nights and weekends to help get it all done. Our entire team rose to the occasion, and I know many other business owners saw their people go above and beyond as well.

There was a lot at stake. As Greenwich Associates recently reported, “more than one in five small businesses and one in seven middle market companies indicate they are likely to switch banks” due to performance issues during the COVID-19 crisis. In fact, nearly half of the loan applicants we assisted had not been Capital Bank customers prior to the crisis. Our willingness to develop new solutions, make the process as easy as possible for applicants, and stick with our personalized approach to serving business owners, set us apart from many larger institutions. 

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Tailoring Solutions for Each Customer

One of the reasons we were able to pull together and move mountains was, we’re an entrepreneurial organization that specializes in serving entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurial thinking is embedded in our core values and drives our company culture. When you’re an entrepreneur, you recognize that each customer is unique, with real problems that you can help solve. A real entrepreneur isn’t focused on mass production, he’s looking at how to solve problems, one customer at a time.

That’s especially true in a service business like ours, where we’re not stamping out widgets, but rather passionately creating custom solutions for each individual customer. We know what it means to be an underdog, to put your whole business on the line in service to customers and to a core idea that your business stands for something special. Inventing a new and better way of doing business, of meeting a market need, that’s what entrepreneurs do.

Navigating Challenges with a Personal Approach

We’ve always made building a unique and personal relationship with each customer our number-one focus, but this PPP process took that to a whole new level. Small business owners and larger company CEOs who came to us for help had the weight of their employees and their families on their shoulders. You could hear the strain in their voice. They were desperately trying to save jobs, to figure out a way to stay in business for the next month, and the month after that, so families wouldn’t go hungry.

PPP was as confusing for banks as it was for the employers it was aimed at helping. Before the Small Business Administration (SBA) had even finalized its rules, we had to jump in with both feet to help employers navigate the loan application process. To say that we did what we always do — provide personalized service, communicate frequently, adapt to changing circumstances — doesn’t do justice to all of our people here at Capital Bank. I was humbled and gratified to watch how our team responded during the crisis.

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Engaging Employees to Achieve the Unthinkable

Study after study in business has found that high employee engagement boosts performance. And a poll by Gallup showed that employee engagement is at a 20-year high. Gallup defined engaged employees as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”

But all that research barely begins to describe the “engagement” our employees showed day after day to adjust their approach, in real time, as the SBA was finalizing their rules. We had to serve our customers and get them through the process, which involved some guesswork, while the process kept changing.

Our people tapped into their inner Michael Jordan. It was the famous triangle offense, where no one player dominated but all worked to move the ball where it needed to be, played out daily— not only within Capital Bank but more broadly at thousands of businesses in thousands of communities.

Not everyone masters teamwork and creating an all-for-one culture that’s focused on solving problems. But for entrepreneurs, for companies like yours and mine, engaged employees pulling in the same direction as a team make all the difference when you’re facing a big challenge and have to move mountains. 

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