The ability of executives to obtain and apply human capital successfully has become increasingly critical.

Traditionally, technology, strategy, and capital shaped organizational performance. Today, however, success depends on the creativity and skill used to devise strategies, deploy capital, and support technology.

A generation ago, columnist Robert Ruark wrote that "nothing works, and nobody cares." The United States survived because its manufacturing dominated the world, and exports far exceeded imports.

This safety net has long since vanished, and the manufacturing base has given way to a more service-based economy. Still, the renaissance of attention to the needs of the customer has failed to create a culture attuned to service excellence.

A Demanding Task

Understandably, the prospect of trying to provide excellent service is somewhat daunting. Yet superlative quality is imperative in today's highly competitive financial markets. To excel, a company must have a work force that is creative, adaptive, capable, and committed to its goals. In short, each member must strive for individual excellence.

Our research suggests that several practices have helped organizations turn themselves around in two to three years to maximize the human capital investment and to provide customer-service excellence.

The five practices we have identified are:

* Objective personnel profiling.

* Needs-based training and motivation.

* Goal, quota, and standards setting.

* Measuring goals and standards.

* Rewarding accomplishments.

Service excellence cannot be achieved without an of them. For now, let us concentrate on objective personnel profiling and how it affects training and management strategies.

The hiring, placement, and management of human resources have become more important to a company's success in today's competitive, service-oriented environment.

Moreover, it is increasingly obvious that motivating people and maximizing their contribution in a financial organization is too important a function to remain, as it often has been, a casual, undeveloped aspect of management's repertoire of skills.

Eliminating the Guesswork

In building an effective team, management must be able to hire the most suitable people without guesswork, train them thoroughly, and maximize their talents.

How does management build the strongest team? Objective personnel profiling is the first and most important step. This profiling of character traits surveys an individual's basic personality, learning style, and job role model, and matches the results to a job defined in terms of personality and behavior.

This approach has been used extensively and with spectacular success outside the banking industry.

The lesson was brought home at a joint conference of the American Bankers Association and Bank Marketing Association in April, when keynote speaker Patrick Mene, who is the "quality vision leader" for Ritz Carlton Hotel Co., said character trait assessment was the most important reason for his company's success in quality service and sales.

A Different Dependency

"In a service-driven culture, as opposed to a process-oriented culture," Mr. Mene said, "managers depend on people and ideas rather than on systems. Managers in a superior service-driven culture stress relationships, values, commitment, and purposeful communication.... The key is to identify a person's natural abilities up front and match them to the requirements of the job."

Companies that objectively profile candidates at the recruitment stage are more efficient at turning genuine potential into maximum results. Part of the reason is that the profiling tool is multipurpose. Besides creating a win-win job match, the profile serves as a blueprint for creating training programs and management strategies customized to an individual's abilities and personality.

As a result, training not only provides the outlook and information to sharpen employees' existing skills, but it also achieves long-term positive performance.

Most importantly, objective profiling reminds management that people are unique and cannot all be hired, trained, and managed in exactly the same way. The best profiling programs include annual validation studies that compare job performance with character traits.

Several banks that have tried this approach report that productivity levels increased by more than 100% and retention rates by 55% in the first year of operation.

Productivity and competitiveness are matters of degree and human desire. Employing resource tools such as objective personnel profiling and needs-based training has contributed to our clients' business successes through placing emphasis where it belongs: on the individual striving for personal excellence.

Mr. Marshall is senior vice president of marketing corporate development at the Liberty Financial Bank Group, Boston, which provides banks with marketing services for investment products.

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