Breaking the Mold: Using New Channels to Communicate Effectively

At PRI, we spend our days helping financial institutions look at every aspect of their businesses to determine where they can improve their processes, which leads to enhanced culture and employee engagement. There are many avenues of attack we can take that lead to improved efficiency and increased profitability, which is our ultimate goal. As we work with a variety of institutions across the country, we gather best practices, including what has worked and hasn’t worked on the journey to a more fit and successful organization. Sometimes this even means noticing attributes of an organization that don’t have a direct tie to profitability. Typically, our blogs share insights to improve efficiency and profitability, but we’ve decided that these other aspects need to be shared, too! In the current blog series, we have been sharing the wealth of information about things that other institutions are doing differently—breaking the mold, so to speak—so you can see what may work well in your FI.

What does a bank have in common with Wedding Crashers? We’re glad you asked! This week, we’re discussing communication changes with Jim Plagge, President and CEO, and Kate Wolfe, Chief Administration and Human Resources Officer, of Bank Iowa. What was born of necessity during the pandemic has become part of Bank Iowa’s highly effective communications strategy at a financial institution with 26 locations in 23 communities.

PRI consultant Brady Chianciola asked Plagge and Wolfe to talk more about the “This is How We Do It” spirit and origin of Bank Iowa’s “Friday videos.” They share how adding this new communication channel and infusing it with their own brand of humor (such as Wedding Crashers clips!) has positively impacted the FI and its employees.

How did the internal update videos get started?

Plagge: During COVID, we had at least half our team working remotely, and we wanted a way to communicate with everyone how we were taking care of our clients’ as well as our employees’ needs. We initially called them Friday videos and what began to keep people informed about COVID transitioned into talking about other things going on around the Bank. It helped return a sense of normalcy and kept people connected when we couldn’t be together in person. We received a very favorable response to the videos, so we kept them going. I still record them, not weekly anymore, but as needed, and they’ve become a great communication tool. We ask senior leaders to submit topics, and sometimes we have guest interviews. Team members can ask me questions on Instagram, and I address those topics on the video. Sometimes my answers are serious; sometimes they’re just silly and lighthearted.

Wolfe: We received positive feedback on Jim’s videos immediately, with our employees thanking us for telling them what was going on. We used the videos to communicate about our evolving HR protocols, benefits and guidelines around COVID, and we committed to being very transparent to help reduce uncertainty. They work well because of Jim’s authenticity, and his ability to speak directly to team members in an unscripted way. Our marketing director also artfully interjects humor where appropriate, which hopefully keeps people engaged and watching to the end of the message.

How often do these videos go out to the team?

Wolfe: During COVID, it was weekly, but now we’re on more of a monthly cadence. For big projects and roll outs, it’s important to communicate using a host of different mediums. One specific method doesn’t work for everyone, so we try to incorporate several channels and repeat the message often. A typical communications plan will include videos, spotlights in the newsletter, email communications and possibly an all-team event to announce a big project.

When PRI came into Bank Iowa to begin its profit improvement project, we were impressed by how ready and accepting of our presence your culture was. It was one of the best examples of project preparation we’ve seen. How did you use the videos to accomplish that? 

Plagge: We had already built trust among team members, but we knew the PRI project would raise some eyebrows and generate questions. We were very intentional about making sure they knew this was not about job loss but improving everything about the Bank’s processes. The message was that there’s a purpose to becoming more efficient, and to be successful, everyone’s got to be on the same page. We wanted to communicate very directly to take all the mystery out of what was going to happen.

Wolfe: We laid out a detailed and progressive communications plan that explained what the project was, how we were going to do it and how it fit into our purpose and values. Jim and I would talk about the message we wanted to convey that week, and he would follow up in his video with the same message. It takes about seven times for someone to hear the message you want them to hear, so we try to utilize all the channels we have available to us and repeat messages frequently and in different ways. The entire process took about 6 months.

Plagge: We know that more communication is better and that even more communication is not usually enough. We continue to communicate frequently around the PRI project recommendations because the hard work really began after PRI left. As we begin to implement change, we strive to keep employees updated on our successes as well as the challenges we face.

The Harvard Business Review article How Great Leaders Communicate points out that excellent communication breaks the mold of past leadership models.

“Communication is no longer considered a ‘soft skill’ among the world’s top business leaders. Leaders who reach the top do not simply pay lip service to the importance of effective communication. Instead, they study the art in all its forms — writing, speaking, presenting — and constantly strive to improve on those skills.” – Harvard Business Review

And communicating well, as Bank Iowa does, ensures that employees are more engaged, which is critical for a company’s success, especially when taking on a major profit improvement project that touches every aspect of the FI’s business. Congratulations on “Breaking the Mold” of typical communications, Bank Iowa! Your success shows.

Profit Resources specializes in identifying profitability improvement areas for financial institutions through revenue growth, cost control, streamlining processes, and effective use of technology. Contact us to learn more about our personalized approach to propel growth and improve profitability.

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