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FirstBank keeps things personal with their Cornerstone partnership

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Banking & Financial Services



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FirstBank of Tennessee pride themselves on their personal touch. Founded in 1906, this small-town Scotts Hill, TN institution has since expanded into major city centers like Memphis andNashville, Knoxville and Birmingham. Along the way, FirstBank has remained focused on creating a sense of community with their customer base. In a world of mega-banks and corporate conglomerates, their emphasis on the local and personalized sets them apart.

As branches have grown from their original location, so has their headcount. There are now close to 1,500 FirstBank associates— and leadership wanted to ensure all of them receive the same attention and individualized focus as any of their customers. To stay competitive, FirstBank realized they would need to create a training system and talent pipeline to stand out as a great place to work.

The company realized there was a need to update its talent management system, training processes and succession planning. Just as importantly, they knew they needed to do so in away that didn’t conflict with the bank’s friendly, non-corporate atmosphere. After partnering with Cornerstone, they managed to bring their organization into the future without losing any of the homespun and hospitable charm that makes their bank stand out in the first place.

  • Main Challenge: Updating training opportunities, performance tracking and succession planning while retaining brand identity

  • Solution: Cornerstone Learn,Cornerstone Connect, Cornerstone Performance; Succession CCA-Leadership &Management

  • Results: A 82% increase in internal promotions and widespread buy-in from both team members and managers

The challenge of making change

Even though FirstBank has been around for over a century, its most stratospheric growth has been recent. They’ve grown from $2.5 billion in assets to over $12 billion. They’ve opened branches throughout Tennessee, as well as in Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia.

“I was hired in 2014 to restart the training department,” she says. “We knew it would be a gradual process so we started thinking about what we could do that would be most easily adopted without putting people’s hackles up.”

She knew FirstBank’s associates would have little interest in cookie-cutter, corporate solutions. The bank’s associates and leadership cherished their localized model and didn’t want to take a one-size-fits-all approach. That’s not how Finn works, either.

“I have always preferred to influence rather than manage,”she says.
Still, the need for change was evident. As the bank expanded, attracting and retaining top talent became even more necessary. An upgraded training and growth pipeline was a must. And that’s when Finn found Cornerstone.

Embracing the new with an eye on the tried-and-true

Finn felt confident in Cornerstone’s potential from the start, but she knew the rest of FirstBank’s people could prove a harder sell.

She saw how products like Cornerstone Learn, Cornerstone Performance and Cornerstone Succession held the keys to a scalable talent development and management system. But she had to figure out how to introduce the programs without worrying team members that FirstBank was just becoming another “big bank.” She figured the best way forward was just to take one small step at a time.

“We've been working, baby step by baby step, toward implementing various pieces,” Finn says. “A lot of it has revolved around our Cornerstone system and how we have been implementing different modules to get to a pretty robust talent development system.”

First up, Finn brought a badge-centered reward program online. Universal profiles foreach associate also proved helpful in increasing visibility. All of this has made FirstBank even more familial and hospitable than it was before. She knew her people were dissatisfied with the traditional performance review process, so she then started to fuel a transition on that front. She used Cornerstone Performance to power Performance Conversations so that management could demonstrate their interest in associates as individuals with unique skills, talents and aspirations.

By changing the focus from the previous year’s performance to a discussion of current goals, both associates and managers found Cornerstone helped them have more open, honest and productive conversations.

Starting much-needed conversations

Using Cornerstone to power these sorts of performance conversations was just what Finn needed to get widespread buy-in.

“We probably got the biggest lift from that because everyone disliked the rating system,” she recalls. “It felt like they were looking in the rearview mirror when they needed to be looking ahead and planning for the future.”

Finn knew this was just the beginning, but she still wanted to ease her team into the new learning environment as effortlessly as possible. She and her colleagues spent the first two years with Cornerstone, building trust and improving communication between managers and associates.

Once team members and their managers had spent two years seeing how Cornerstone could integrate with — and even expand upon — FirstBank’s homespun ethos, Finn knew she could begin the next phase: creating an efficient and effective pipeline for employee growth and succession planning.

Learning to grow

Top leadership at FirstBank prioritizes being a great place to work. American Banker has recognized them as such for four years in a row, and they’re seven-time recipients of TheTennessean’s Best Banks to Work For award. Finn knew that, to keep it that way, every team member needed to see that they had room to learn and grow at the company.

Cornerstone’s products help her team create formal development plans for each of their star players. FirstBank encourages anyone listed as Top Talent, a Current Star or aFuture Star receives personalized training materials, activities and resources to get them closer to achieving their career goals.

“We’ve given people permission to talk about the future,” Finn says. “We've given people the ability to say this is how I want to grow, and that it's okay. Their manager is not going to hold it against them because their aspiration is something other than what they're doing today.”

This has been a win-win for both individual team members and FirstBank as a whole. Now, they have a built-in ability to incentivize employee growth and skill acquisition. When top-performers see a path forward, they’re eager to take it. And they have, too — since implementing Cornerstone’s offerings, FirstBank has seen a 82% increase in internal promotions!

This has been a win-win for both individual team members and FirstBank as a whole. Now, they have a built-in ability to incentivize employee growth and skill acquisition. When top-performers see a path forward, they’re eager to take it. And they have, too — since implementing Cornerstone’s offerings, FirstBank has seen a 82% increase in internal promotions!

Improving the compliance process

Alongside these tailored and personalized plans for growth, there’s still plenty of housekeeping to be done. Compliance training and other courses are a must for staff, no matter where they are in their development journeys.

“As a bank, we're highly regulated,” Finn says. “We have a tremendous amount of compliance training that has to be done. So that's where we started with implementing learning. We recognized there was so much within the Cornerstone Anytime Library that could allow people to explore on their own.It's been a carrot and a helpful hint, as opposed to requiring a lot of mandatory extra training in addition to what we're already doing for compliance.”

Finn and her colleagues have found that Cornerstone ContentAnytime’s vast library of learning resources can meet the needs of their people who want to grow and develop.

“As I read performance conversations and a manager will say, ‘My person really needs help with time management skills,’” she says as one example, “and then I'll respond, ‘Here are a couple of options for micro-learning courses to help with time management.’”

Laying the groundwork for succession

Perhaps most importantly, Finn and her team have used Cornerstone Succession to personalize paths forward for all of their bankers.

Rather than focus only on succession plans for the top few levels of management, they’ve cascaded the process down to the first level of individual contributors. As a result, the bank is seeing incredible results.

“We've watched our internal promotion numbers just skyrocket,”Finn says. “I also get phone calls and emails from associates now that say,"Hey, can I just talk to you about some stuff? I'm new in my career."

The partnership between Cornerstone has also helped deepen the ties between FirstBank and the communities they serve. Now that managers can see a clear path forward for anyone entering their organization, they’re always on the lookout for new additions to the team.

“As part of our succession plan training, we encourage managers to network within their communities,” says Finn, “and be on the lookout for people who are giving great service when they’re eating out or shopping. They could be great candidates for entry-level positions with FirstBank!”

Generating a surplus of employee success

Despite initial trepidation from FirstBank’s associates, the partnership with Cornerstone has proven to expand upon all the aspects of what made the local bank great in the first place. The products have empowered conversations, encouraged individualized growth and improved every learning angle. Rather than running up a deficit on their people’s trust, FirstBank’s partnership with Cornerstone has created compounding interest in how they can grow.

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