Last March, just as the world was shutting down due to COVID-19, I was deep in interview mode, talking with U.S. Bank about what would eventually become my current role: President of Private Wealth Management. Starting on March 17, which was such an uncertain and unsettling time, I had a series of 17 interviews—all over video. It was surreal to talk to so many people without shaking someone’s hand or seeing their body language, and for U.S. Bank, it was uncharted waters too – the organization had always prioritized in-person vetting of new candidates.
But during several video chats with my soon-to-be boss, we both realized we were connecting on a much different level—deeper than if we had met in person. We had long, meaningful conversations that had nothing to do with our work or the job. We were really connecting on a personal level and there were some important lessons that I took away from that experience that I brought with me into my new role.
To start with, I was methodical about setting up weekly virtual one-on-ones with all of the senior leaders on my new team, and I arranged 19 virtual happy hours with 725 employees all over the country. The first 10 minutes of each happy hour were about business; the rest was devoted to getting to know each other. We played games. We talked about our favorite movies, our go-to karaoke songs (mine’s “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC). We talked about things you’d never discuss in a boardroom. Making the best of the terrible situation that was unfolding at that time, we were able to forge connections as a team, in much the same way my new boss and I were able to, and though the platforms we were using were virtual, the relationships we were building were very real and built on respect and enjoyment of each other’s company.
As I was building these bonds with my team, I was doing the same with our clients—families, individuals and small-business owners. We hosted virtual events for clients and prospects to bring a little joy to an unpleasant time – wine and beer tastings, live performances with Broadway stars and more. Regardless of the “event,” the concept was the same: leading from the heart, forging personal relationships.
Hard as it is to believe, 15 months into my job I have yet to meet a single employee or client in person. Do I miss it? Absolutely. Was I nervous about how clients and colleagues would react to a rapid switch to virtual connections? You bet. But what I’ve found is something that I know will stick with me well after the pandemic is in all of our collective rearview mirrors: meeting co-workers and clients in their living rooms or backyards over Zoom, with dogs and kids in the background, talking about more than business, hearing about their concerns, questions, challenges and triumphs, brings an authenticity and intimacy to the work that we do that usually takes years to build.
As we return to the office—whatever that will look like – I believe that is one of the biggest lessons we can take with us, and that it makes very good sense to continue to leverage technology to forge connections alongside the in-person approaches we’re all so eager to get back to.
In fact, in a few weeks’ time, I’ll embark on what I’m affectionately calling the “Lawlor World Tour” (I may even print T-shirts). I plan to visit all 41 of our markets by the end of the year. I can’t wait to meet everyone in person, but I go into this tour knowing that I’ve already forged so many meaningful connections with the people I’ll be sitting down with. I just hope they have all been practicing their singing, since there will be nothing virtual about our karaoke sessions.
Beth Lawlor is President, U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management.