Business Strategies: ‘It’s the Hardest Challenges We Remember the Most’

Published on September 15, 2023

From 10 employees and three offices furnished with folding tables and chairs, Transportation Alliance Bank (TAB Bank) is celebrating its 25th anniversary in Q4 2023 as an online bank managing more than $1.3 billion in assets.

Interestingly, multiple of the bank’s current 350-plus employees have been present for most of the 25-year journey through humble beginnings, hardships, and the ultimate victories of market success.

But perhaps surprisingly, as we talked to those employees, the memories that stand out most are not the awards or stunning program and revenue successes. What they remember most are the humbling times and the most challenging hurdles they’ve overcome along the way.

According to multiple authorities, including Harvard Business Review, this is neither unusual nor unhealthy. Many of the world’s strongest organizations have forged their success on the skill of learning to fail quickly and to “fail intelligently” by fostering a culture that encourages and rewards the quick discovery of problems and the mindset of learning that sets things aright.

For example, its parent organization entered bankruptcy early in TAB Bank’s history. Later, after making giant strides in growth as a technology-forward organization built around support for the small businesses that couldn’t obtain lending from larger banks, TAB weathered a chapter in which a new customer system proved not ready enough and had to evolve on the fly quickly.

Angela Hunter, AVP of customer success at TAB, recalls the bank’s 2016 office remodel, difficult as it was, as one of her fondest workplace memories. She playfully recalls the office conditions as “the FEMA Camp,” in which entire teams crammed themselves into what eventually became a conference room, with senior and mid-level employees side by side.

Much later, in the face of the COVID lockdown, the bank was fortunate in that its online-only format could support its customers with little disruption. However, in its commitment to giving every customer an equal priority, regardless of size, the bank found itself stretched to its limits in administering PPP loans to its customers in order of application, no matter how small. As available funds were evaporating quickly in the hands of banks that favored the largest applicants/highest fees, TAB’s employees worked around the clock to ensure success for every customer. And they did, ultimately becoming one of the largest and most successful providers of PPP loans to the companies the program was designed to support.

In these cases, the bank used the nature of the difficult situations to reinforce a sense of teamwork and camaraderie to produce the successes the company (and its employees and customers) recall most fondly today.

Business expert Victor Assad, managing partner of Innovation One, describes the six steps he and his research partners identified as an ideal construct every business can use to learn and grow from challenges, as follows:

  1. Prioritize learning from failure, especially “intelligent failures” that push the frontier of knowledge.
  2. Encourage all employees to discuss failures openly.
  3. Believe that failing fast is the key to success.
  4. Focus on why failures occur instead of who is responsible and the effect of organizational rewards and punishments on learning and risk-taking.
  5. Strategize how to move forward from failures.
  6. Believe learning from failure is a source of competitive advantage.

More information on this principle is available from the research paper co-authored by C. Brooke Dobni, Ph.D., and research colleague Grant Alexander Wilson from their academic essay on organizational learning and its role in business success. However, whether you own a business striving to produce its first million dollars or is approaching multiple billion dollars, the ability to learn the most—and remember the most—from the hard challenges you encounter will be vital to your success, something the longtime employees of TAB Bank can fully attest.

Rick Bozzelli is a Contributor at Grit Daily and serves as President and CEO of TAB Bank.

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