goBeyondProfit CEO Interviews: Heath Fountain, CEO of Colony Bank (Part 2)


Friday, December 15th, 2023

In part 2 of our interview with Colony Bank and its CEO Heath Fountain we explore intentional leadership practices that effectively communicate strategic priorities to a dispersed workforce. With 40+ offices across the state, Colony Bank implements these practices daily. 

Implementing Intentional Leadership Across a Dispersed Workforce

I feel like it’s important to be able to describe our culture down to a single page. We have a document we call the Colony Manifesto. It walks a team member, a customer, or a prospective team member through what we’re about at Colony, why we’re here, what we’re trying to achieve as an organization, how we behave collectively, what our culture is all about.

We also communicate our financial goals through that document. We communicate our strategic priorities each quarter. What are the three most important things for the quarter? And then we follow up next quarter. How did we do on those three strategic priorities? And what are our big three for the following quarter?

It’s really an important part of our culture, our communication, to talk to our team about what we’re doing and who we are as a company.

On that document, we also talk about how we support the communities that we serve. We talk about why financial literacy is important, how we give employment opportunities through our associate program, through our internship program. We talk about Colony Leadership Academy and the giving of our financial resources.

The Colony Manifesto is a thorough one-page front and back of who we are at Colony. I found that to be really useful to try to give somebody a head start on how we do things at Colony.

On daily basis, we implement cascading communication throughout the organization. It’s really important to us. You must be really focused on it and really think about your constituents and think about how you spread information across the company. You’ve got to do it in multiple ways. I’m known to say that somebody’s got to hear something eight times before they really hear it. And I’ve been told that I used to say it was seven times and I upped it. I don’t know. But you really had to be intentional.

We communicate in multiple ways, like emails, video, newsletters. We try to get two-way communication so we have quarterly forums where our team members can anonymously ask any question they want, and we’ll answer.

I always tell our team when I end a meeting, if there’s anything I can do to better serve them, please let me know. And some do. They tell me, “Hey, I think we’re not living up to what we should do.”

It’s hard, but it’s something you must do. You can’t ever stop. We’re very methodical about it, making sure that we really are thinking about who we’re communicating with and delivering the message in as many ways as we can.

When your team members feel engaged, when they understand not just that they’re told to do something, but why they’re doing what they’re being asked to do, I think they’re happier, they understand, they communicate better with our customers when they understand why they’re communicating a certain message with our customers.

Weathering a Banking Crisis

I had been through the 2008 to 2012 banking crisis where we had a lot of bank closures in Georgia. This most recent crisis happened really quick.

There’s just a lot of education that must be done about the financial industry and how our banking system works. I think back to our discussion on financial literacy. I told the team that my seventh-grade Economics teacher, Ms. Morrow, taught me that the bank didn’t have my money back in the vault for every dollar I had in the bank.

We have great relationships with our customers We just worked really hard, trying to be proactive, to get in front of it. If customers weren’t covered by the FDIC insurance limits, we would make sure they got covered. Our team did an awesome job of just calming nerves when people were a little unsure.

Zero customers came in and took their money out of the bank. We may have had a few that came in thinking that that’s what they want to do, but our team did a great job of just leveraging those relationships and making sure that those customers knew that everything was going to be okay.

Vision for the Future

What we want to do is be the best we can. We don’t say we want to get to a certain size, but we want to keep doing a better job of serving our communities, serving our customers, creating a return for our shareholders, really all our stakeholders. If we can just keep getting better, then we can keep doing it.

Where that takes us, I don’t know, but I think we’ll be serving more communities, we’ll be serving more customers, and we’ll have more team members five years from now than we do today.