Living in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land, Texas, I have felt my physical and mental energy consumed by natural events. Writing a business-related column is not the first thing on my mind. As I write this, I can hear National Guard helicopters taking off from the airport near my home.

And yet, natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey often reveal a bank’s ability to lend a hand to its community in need, and to keep employees engaged and motivated for the initiatives that matter most.

Hurricane Harvey has become the most devastating flood event in U.S. history. It is hard to comprehend what we are seeing, even as we stand in the middle of it.

Harvey flooding recovery
A massive event like the flooding in Texas focuses more attention on the good deeds of the people and companies in the affected cities. Vying to offer the most support to communities is the best form of competition you will ever see. Bloomberg News

My home has escaped flooding, and we have electricity. For this, we are grateful but also feel a little guilty. Like other homes in the neighborhood, we have hosted an evacuee family. At the moment, some have been able to return to their homes, some are waiting for rivers to peak and not yet sure if their homes will be livable, and others are already resigned to the fact they will be starting over from scratch.

I have long advised banking leaders to strive to build and run companies of which their employees are proud to be a part. Times like this, when communities are most in need, are perhaps the best opportunity to make good on that aim.

During this time, you wake up early to check on friends and family in the area. You check local news to see if there are those in need close enough to you to get to on drivable roads.

Every church I can think of for miles around has become a collection center for donations to help flood victims, and all are buzzing with activity.

The ability to go back to work and return to some form of normalcy is something hundreds of thousands of citizens in the coastal cities of Texas are yearning right now.

Bankers have joined other members of their communities as important lifelines to vulnerable citizens. In times of trauma and stress, citizens rely on their financial services providers to be available, accessible and a stable presence.

In the midst of all of this, one of the bedrocks of my beliefs about what motivates people is being reinforced: The human desire for reciprocal relationships is hardwired in us and strong. This has implications for how to motivate your employees and keep them engaged.

Some may hear “reciprocity” and think of it in a callous way. It sounds like people are only good to each other because they expect something in return. That could not be less true.

People are motivated to help others because there are few things that make a human feel more human than when he or she gives selflessly. In the recovery efforts underway since Harvey made landfall, most of the thousands of men and women stopping everything they are doing to help others seem to be embarrassed by even being thanked for it.

“We’re just doing what we’re supposed to do” is the common refrain.

Of note, according to the last census, Houston and Fort Bend County are the most ethnically diverse major city and county in the United States. Huge numbers of an amazingly diverse and heterogeneous population do not instantly drop everything and head to others’ aid (often total strangers) because of outside encouragement.

They instantly respond because humans want to help others. Concomitantly, those whom we see helping others in need become people we wish to associate with and emulate.

There are people and businesses that will come out of these trying times as heroes and beloved community assets. No amount of marketing, branding, sports stadium naming, etc. can reach the people of a community in as primal a manner as visible, actual good deeds.

There are businesses such as grocery chains, furniture stores, restaurants and retailers that have been amazing and inspirational with their generosity and herculean efforts to serve and help their communities.

A massive event like the floods in Texas — which has been reported worldwide — focuses more eyes on the good deeds of the people and companies in the affected cities and beyond. Banks and other corporations competing to offer the most support to communities is the best form of competition you will ever see.

Several national and regional banks have announced impressive financial donations, as well as very compassionate grace periods and waiving of fees to affected customers. I have no doubt many of the community banks are doing the same, just a little out of the spotlight by comparison.

Working with hundreds of banks over the past two decades, I can usually ascertain quickly which have people who are sincerely proud to be with their company. I also notice that these companies’ best people tend to stay with them for many years.

When employees know that the institution they work for values helping people in need, it increases and strengthens employee engagement. Strive to lead companies that your people trust will step up to help the community when it matters most.

Dave Martin

Dave Martin

Dave Martin is the founder of the retail bank performance company bankmechanics.

BankThink submission guidelines

BankThink is American Banker's platform for informed opinion about the ideas, trends and events reshaping financial services. View our detailed submission criteria and instructions.