top officers and staff describe the organization.

If the chief executive talks about the bank as "I" -- "I have a strong lending portfolio" -- rather than "we," this is a highly controlled bank.

In such organizations, the employees usually refer to the top people as "they" -- indicating that the staff has little power.

When a contact person says "this is their policy" rather than "this is OUR policy," you know that empowerment is minimal. This employee probably has to take your request up the line instead of handling it directly.

Such distancing often stems from a controlling CEO, but it can also result from poor decisions at the time of merger or acquisition.I learned of an employee whose bank had been sold just before her 25th anniversary with it.

The old bank's policy had been to award a two-week bonus, a long weekend off, and a gold watch for such loyalty.

Well, this employee did not get the gold watch. You can imagine how that affected her attitude and enthusiasm.

In contrast, another acquisitive bank I know makes a point of rewarding longevity according to when the employee started at the acquired bank. Also, at first it rewards people according to the old bank's policies.

The CEO of the acquirer bank proudly reports that when it buys another, he goes to that bank's lobby at 8 a.m. the next day, calls in as much staff as can be spared from serving customers, and announces:

"I want to tell you three things:

"First, no one will be fired.

"Second, no salary will be cut.

"Third, we want you to stay."

This immediately helps calm fears. And the bank has a reputation for keeping its word and doing as much as possible to bolster the morale of the new employees.

This CEO told me that directors of a bank that his is buying will often accept a lower price because they know their people will get respect and a fair deal.

Another banker reportedly took a very different posture: "Look," he said, "I treated my people fairly while they worked for me. What happens next to them is not my concern. I want the best price I can get."

One bank president came to a recent seminar at Rutgers University and was asked:

"What do you look for in employees when hiring them?"

He replied: Acceptance of change. Integrity. A desire to serve customers.

He also stressed that attitude means more than aptitude in making the bank run smoothly.

But developing a good attitude is as much or more the task of senior management as of the people being brought on board.

Like so much else in business and banking, employee attitudes start at the top. They are shaped by policies on subjects ranging from attrition and firing down to whether a 25-year employee of an acquired bank still gets the anniversary watch. Mr. Nadler, an American Banker contributing editor, is a professor of finance at Rutgers University Graduate School of Management http://www.americanbanker.com

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