When thinking about your bank's reputation, you need to first think about your employees and how they are representing your bank. Whether it's in your branches, through your customer service lines, in your local communities, or through mainstream or social media, it's your employees who can make or break your reputation with customers and prospects.

These days many of your employees are likely to be millennials, as they now make up the largest percentage of the workforce. So engaging them is crucial, but the way to do so isn't the same as with previous generations. The core question employees still ask is, "What's in it for me?" And part of the answer is still about offering a competitive salary and benefits, but increasingly it's more about having a purpose and making a difference. According to a recent Deloitte study, millennial employees understand that making a profit is critical to a company's long-term success, but they don't think it's as important a goal as creating jobs or improving society. So, although a focus on improving employee engagement is important, that focus is a missed opportunity unless it is entails creating something more meaningful than a bigger bottom line. Clarity of purpose (why you exist) and clarity of strategy (your specific game plan for achieving that purpose) have never been more important than they are today.

There are three core components to creating clarity:

  • Information — Do employees know what your strategy is and can they explain it in their own words? Do they understand their role and know what they need to do for the strategy to succeed? Do managers consistently reinforce the strategy through communication, priorities and actions?
  • Motivation — Are employees inspired by your purpose and motivated to support your strategy? Are their primary incentives directly connected to the success of your strategy? Is the management team seen supporting your strategy and actively engaging employees around it?
  • Capabilities Development — Do employees have the skills to execute on the strategy? If not, are programs and incentives in place to help them gain those skills?

Banks have clearly caught on, but some have made more progress than others. In our annual Survey of Bank Reputations, the bank with the best reputation among its customers was Regions Bank. It made a significant shift in its purpose about five years ago towards a philosophy of "shared value," which is about making sure the things that it does are for the benefit not just of the company, but employees, customers and the community. This philosophy makes clear that investments in employees and communities are critical to the success of the business.

Huntington Bank, which also has a top reputation, simply frames its approach as doing the right thing for customers. Although many of the programs that Huntington is known for, such as a 24-hour grace period on overdrafts, are customer focused, the employee impact is substantial. Employees see the bank putting its money where its mouth is, with their role changing from that of policy enforcers to customer advocates and problem solvers.

TD Bank's two-year-old "Bank Human" campaign is fundamentally about embracing employees as a critical stakeholder and customer touchpoint.

You won't find traditional Madison Avenue yuks, water- cooler banter or celebrity voiceovers in the "Bank Human" storyline — just TD employees celebrating things like the bank's extensive weekend hours for all 1,300 stores up and down the East Coast and even its do-it-yourself mobile banking.

Employees are looking to work not just for a successful company, but one that also stands for more than just profits. They are looking to be inspired. So the question is, who will inspire them, your bank or someone else's?

Rob Jekielek is a vice president at the Reputation Institute.