In a previous column, I pointed out the importance of the bank's human resources as a factor in providing added value to the customer. But how do you make sure that your human resource strategy is integrated into the business strategy of the company, and that it achieves this critically important objective?

To begin with, there are several areas to be focused on: providing leadership, getting the right people for the right job, and recognizing and rewarding those people.

Even when you have the best people on board, you often find that people work in a compartmentalized environment. Without a common theme or consistency, you will have a conglomeration of solid practices and processes that are not terribly effective as a whole.

Begin by defining the business competencies, leadership attributes, and basic skills required at different places in your bank. Then build job mobility systems around these aspects that allow the free flow of the best people for the right spots.

For example, think about how you develop your people. A lot of skill development that I've seen is done in a laboratory environment. We strongly recommend experiential development, putting people into the right jobs at the right time. Examine your company's training programs and determine if this is taking place. Are you connecting employees to their peers across branches and across banks - for learning experiences, for a shared understanding of how they learned on the job and how they met their objectives?

Think about your hiring process. Most banks do not spend much time hiring tellers and customer service representatives, yet they account for 95% of costumer contact. Tellers are the public "face" of the bank, but the amount of time spent screening job candidates is often less than 15 minutes. The Ritz Carlton Hotels - and other companies known for their excellence - spend some time identifying the personality attributes necessary to create the kind of atmosphere they want in their hotels. Banks should do the same thing.

If you do not have a clear definition of success for employees, backed up by frequent feedback, it is difficult to reward and recognize the kinds of behavior you want to encourage. Some successful practices merge the traditional areas of benefits and compensation, moving toward a total pay concept. In addition, establishing performance measurement systems with quarterly feedback loops can help channel employees toward success, both by their definition and by yours.

Chief executives often tell me they are very effective in communicating their vision for the company and its values. Both are crystal clear in their minds and to me, but as I make my way through the ranks I realize how few employees actually capture that vision. Constant communication cannot be overdone.

As the banking industry continues to consolidate and downsize, managing the human resources function becomes a critical success factor. They are our most important "production facility." Right now, we are facing more work, fewer people, and less job security. We need to ensure that people see the reverse of this, the "what's in it for me?" that involves empowerment strategies, self-determination, and self-managing work teams.

Ms. Bird is chief operating officer of Roosevelt Financial Group, St. Louis.

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