Aberdeen Strategies

May 28, 2013

How Reinforcing a Corporate Culture Drives Reputation

Guest blogger Rick Swagler, EVP External Affairs, Regions Financial Corp.

“Great story!”

I got that two-word message from our CFO one Monday morning. He was commenting on an article in a national business magazine about one of our bank’s customers. This customer, a century-old manufacturer, became a victim of its parent company’s bankruptcy. That set of facts isn’t exactly a recipe for great media coverage. But this was a turnaround story, and at its heart is the story of how establishing and nurturing a strong corporate culture can drive positive media – without calling a single reporter. 

After a transformative merger in 2006, our bank, Regions Financial Corp., created a new set of corporate values aimed at mirroring the values of the employees from each of the two merging institutions. Over the past six years, we’ve reinforced those values by celebrating the employees who live them and telling their stories. The values aren’t complicated. Among them are “focus on your customer” and “do what is right,” but we’ve tried to show what those ideals look like in practice – and to reward those who live them.

I’m convinced that our efforts at reinforcing our culture were responsible at least in part for that national media mention. When the reporter asked how the company stayed afloat, their CFO said it was because the bank stuck with them. Of course, he also talked about working long hours and cutting expenses, but he gave us some of the credit for their success, and he did it repeatedly.

It’s a great illustration of our goal of creating shared value with our customers: they benefit, we benefit, our community benefits. You can’t do that if the relationship is solely transactional. When this customer saw trouble on the horizon, they let us know. Their CFO warned us they could run into trouble eight months in advance. That’s not a conversation you have with a vendor; that’s something you talk over with a financial advisor, which is what we had become. Not just a lender but a trusted advisor.

We worked with them to restructure the loan and help them succeed. As a result, they’ve expanded from a couple dozen employees to nearly 200. They win, we win, and the community has more people working.

Could we have pitched a story about how we helped a customer? Sure. Would it have been as positive as having the subject of the story offer it up independently? Not even close. That’s the power of culture and how it influences reputation. With a strong culture, all of your employees are telling your story through their actions. Sometimes it leads to a customer telling her friend about a great experience in our bank. Sometimes it leads to a CFO telling a national reporter.

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