The connection between a bank's financial performance and its day-to-day activities has a tendency to become blurred as busy senior managers get absorbed in long-term planning. If your bank's financial picture is not what you want it to be - or even if it is and you want it to stay that way - it's always good policy to review the basics of organizational management.

These fundamentals include the ability to attract, train, and motivate personnel - perhaps the most important attribute for any forward-thinking bank. Addressing the following three questions can lead to useful observations and establish a baseline for strategic planning.

Do you have the right people in the right jobs? Look into whether your senior credit officer really has the leadership qualities to guide the loan department, your operations manager is equipped to deal with changes brought on by technology, and your front-line employees are adequately trained in cross-selling. You should also review your organizational chart and personnel records to identify any positions or reporting structures that could be revamped to benefit employee and bank alike.It is crucial that you get real input from employees, not just occasionally asking, "How's it going?" Employees are always the first to know what works and what does not.

They will be eager to provide the real-life horror stories that you may not want to hear but could make life easier for everyone involved.

Not every idea will make sense, of course, but front-line people usually know about the inner workings of the bank, and empowered employees will likely find solutions to problems before they are even noticeable. Remember: 99% of employees want to know more, do more, and have more responsibility. The rest should not be working for you.

Are your training programs up to speed? When I was a banker, I was amazed by how little my co-workers knew about basics such as amortization, interest calculations, and account ownership. For the most part, they knew what they were supposed to do, and little else.The good thing, though, was that the vast majority were eager to learn; they simply were never given training opportunities.

There are excellent training programs available for bankers, including association-sponsored and private company seminars. If cost or time is an issue, it can be done in-house by a professional trainer or by the bank's own personnel.

Are your goals well articulated? Many banks lack or fail to communicate a mission statement. Success in any team-oriented structure is dependent on spelling out objectives to everyone so that everyone can contribute to meeting these objectives. For example, is your company focused solely on the bottom line or more interested in customer relations? If each employee knew the answer, the decision to waive a service charge for a valued customer would require less forethought and reduce the likelihood of intervention by management.Knowledge is a powerful tool, and informed employees will be able to handle practically all transactions without supervisory oversight.

Less supervision leads to greater productivity that will eventually add to the bottom line. Informed and empowered employees will also be more satisfied with their work and will be eager to accept and meet additional challenges and responsibilities.

Banks that are able to place the right people in the right positions, establish ongoing training programs, and institute an appropriate blend of supervision and motivation will find that their employees can do more with less oversight. Although the results of a well-defined strategy for organizational management may not be evident immediately, in time you will boost employee productivity, customer satisfaction, and profitability.

Mr. Houston is a senior consultant at Professional Bank Services Inc. in Chicago.

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