Kenneth Torreyson, senior vice president of human resources at Wachovia Corp., knows that there is more to employees than their job descriptions.

Over the past year, the banking company based in Winston-Salem, N.C., has eliminated nearly 1,000 jobs through acquisitions and consolidations. Nevertheless, less than 100 employees have been laid off.

Some banks are finding a new source of managerial talent: the people they already have working for them. By asking employees to take stock of their own skills, often banks find needed workers - and avoid yet more layoffs.

Getting Started

Formal skills assessment programs are in their infancy. But human resources managers are using a variety of informal methods to find out what their employees are all about.

Bank human resources departments can use a standard set of questions as a part of their skills assessment program. The following are some suggestions from Nella Barkley, president of Crystal Barkley Corp., a New York-based management consulting firm:

* What do you think you are good at?

* What do you do in your leisure time that you enjoy the most?

* What do you do at work that you enjoy the most?

* What things haven't you done at work that you would like to do?

* What one thing would you change about your work environment?

* In What way would you like to change your job responsibilities?

* What kind of training do you need?

* What most needs doing in your unit?

John Coughlin, first vice president of Anchor Bank, a New York metropolitan bank with 1,600 employees in 92 branches, uses skills assessment to help employees with upward mobility and career development.

Eighteen months ago, Anchor implemented an "800" phone mail system, which guides employees through the bank's job postings.

The listings are open to all comers within the bank, and the phone system guides them through the application procedure. Mr. Coughlin is pleased and a bit surprised by the employee's enthusiastic response to the system: more than 300 calls a month.

The end result has been that more of the bank's open positions are being filled by current employees.

Anchor's system encourages employees to impress interviewers with their range of talents. For example, Mr. Coughlin finds that women who have been running a household have skills that readily transfer to being supervisors.

Limit on Adaptability

But not all skill sets are easily transferable to new jobs. For example, said Mr. Coughlin, selling banking products may differ from selling Girl Scout cookies.

"Sales skills don't always translate well because of the complexity of loan products. You have to understand the features of each product and match them to each financial situation, being alert to nuances of customer needs. Experience selling real estate in one's spare time, though, may transfer readily to loan products," he said.

Skills assessment is straight-forward at entry level and first-line jobs such as teller, where skills are readily measurable. A major challenge for advocates is measuring skills needed by middle and upper-level managers.

Robert Laggini, director of human resources of Chemical Bank New Jersey's consumer banking division, is tackling this problem head on.

Mr. Laggini sees "core competencies" emerging as the way to assess people. For example, a branch manager would be expected to possess strong business planning and analytical skills.

Chemical Bank New Jersey is now working on developing benchmark core competencies for each position in branch banking.

"It's a lot different than handing someone a job description with a list of tasks and duties. It pushes everyone to ask themselves tough questions about what kind of competencies they possess," Mr. Laggini said.

Although Chemical Bank New Jersey is only at the very beginning stages of the process, the plan is eventually to formalize the core competencies for each job title within the bank.

Mr. Coughlin from Anchor is also moving toward assessing core competencies. The bank has a list of 12 competencies such as time management skills, setting goals, listening, giving unbiased information, and decision-making. Each job requires only certain competencies, which the Anchor human resources team is currently identifying and ranking.

"We recognize that people can have acquired these competencies other places than on their jobs. As part of our interview process, we now ask people |is there anything we didn't ask you about that you can do?' This lets their true skills shine through," Mr. Coughlin said.

Employees' Life Goals May Point To Productive New Assignments

What a person does on the job may not necessarily correspond with what he or she wants to accomplish in life, said Nella Barkley, president of Crystal Barkley Corp., a New York consulting firm that markets self-assessment software.

Ms. Barkley cited the example of a high-level banker who was told that he must either find a new job within the bank or leave. Skills assessment showed that running for local political office and participating in United Way programs were sources of satisfaction.

The bank, recognizing that his talents and interests revolved around political activism, referred him to its training department, where he worked on his presentation skills. Before long, he was giving convincing talks to the bank's regulatory agencies.

Aid for Job-Finding

While banks are using skills assessment as a way to manage their staffs more effectively, it also has great value during outplacement.

One Midwestern banker, who requested anonymity, looked beyond his job description, which included 23 years in international electronics fund transfer.

He said: "My technical skills were in demand, and my outplacement counselor had interviews for other banking jobs lined up for me. Through a self-assessment test, though, I knew that what I valued in life was volunteer work.

"I decided to use my technical skills as a consultant to help local and international groups set up accounting systems. I earn half what I used to, but taking a good look at myself made it easy to leave banking and do what i really wanted."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.