My friend was the human resources director of a major company, employing thousands of people, that fell on hard times and folded. We met when she was searching for another job, and what she had to say about the role of the human resources manager got me thinking about community bankers' roles.
At one point in our talk I ventured that an HR director's job is to run training programs, handle hiring and firing, and provide top management with data on what is happening to personnel.
"Wrong," my friend replied. What companies really want is "someone skilled in working with people who stand up to management and speak out on what they feel is wrong and needs change in the organization."
As for training, she said, companies "don't want someone who has the skills to run a training program on specifics of operation." They are looking "for someone who can be a facilitator - who can sit with people from various part of the business and get them to see their common problems and goals."
"In fact," my friend said, "I never need to use a computer in my HR job. I just need people who can use data processing effectively and can give me the information I need."
Isn't this pretty much what a top officer in a community bank needs to do? Community bankers and HR directors both need to be amateur therapists, sounding boards for people's problems and ideas.
A key part of the human resources job is figuring out why people leave and what can be learned from their departure. My friend would call people after they had left and get them to talk about their gripes.
But there is also much to learn from disgruntled employees who have not quit.
Salomon Smith Barney recently received an e-mail with more than 30 complaints from a new hire just out of college. (Once such a litany of grousing would have brought a reprimand. Not so today, when established companies worry about the lure of Internet start-ups.)
The e-mail's topics ranged from the dress code to the company gym's schedule to who gets the frequent-flier miles. But the most important thing conveyed was that new hires want respect - to be treated like people with lives and families, with a right to schedule their time without worrying that the company can veto their plans with no thought of their needs.
Community banks usually give their employees that respect. This is one reason that so many bright people stay in local banks, despite the much higher salaries and perks that big banks offer.
A good organization appreciates that its people are its most valuable resource. Those who do no appreciate this fact will soon find this resource walking out the door.
Community banks have always known this, and that knowledge remains one of their greatest strengths. Mr. Nadler, an American Banker contributing editor, is professor of finance at Rutgers University Graduate School of Management.