What It Takes to Be One of the Best Banks to Work For

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If you want your bank to be one of the best to work for, you can pick up a lot of pointers from those in our third annual ranking. I spoke with Patrick Cole, a benefit plan senior manager at Crowe Horwath, to find out some best practices for employers of choice, and multiple banks in this ranking came to mind quickly as examples for each recommendation he gave.

All of the ideas Cole shared sound easy enough. But they must not be so easy to execute, or we would have a lot more than 50 banks on our list. Even if you pick only one practice to implement from the following suggestions, at least it is a start to making a change for the better.

Communicate often. Update employees on their department's performance, their branch's performance and the bank's performance. "Keeping people in the know builds that commitment to the organization," Cole says.

One example from our ranking is Homebanc in Tampa, Fla. Its chairman and chief executive, Jerry Campbell, has a monthly meeting for all employees, where he gives a detailed update on the company financials and candidly answers questions.

Provide training and development. "Typically employees who desire to do a good job and are high performers are also those who want to continue to learn and improve their skills," Cole says.

Some of the best banks here have elaborate programs to help employees who want to advance. First Horizon Financial Corp.'s employee leadership program is a 10-month course for mid-level managers who are seen as having senior-executive potential. About 25 employees are chosen to participate each year, based on applications and interviews. They take part in webinars, classroom instruction and executive coaching sessions. Many of the graduates have moved into more senior roles at the Memphis company.

But no need to be intimidated. You can start with something simple. At Central Bank in Lexington, Ky., a job-shadowing program allows employees to observe in other departments for four hours or more while on the clock. Central sets no limits on the number of times an employee is allowed to observe.

"Employers of choice recognize that improving employee knowledge and skills will more than pay back," Cole says.

Foster camaraderie in the workplace. "If people have a bond with their co-workers, that only builds the bond to the organization," Cole says. "It can also increase productivity," because people struggling with a work task can go to their friends for help.

American Savings Bank in Honolulu has an activity each Friday to encourage employees to take a break from work and have some fun, including online trivia quizzes, scavenger hunts and holiday potlucks.

Happy State Bank in Amarillo, Texas, accepts prayer requests via the bank's intranet. An email goes out to alert participating employees about the request. Executives there say employees find comfort in having co-workers pray for them.

Make employees a priority.

Becoming one of the best banks takes commitment, Cole says. "Organizations that become best banks are those that have a plan to do it," he says. "They have a strategic objective to be an employer of choice and they have performance metrics to monitor how well they're doing."

Some of the metrics they typically measure include turnover, employee engagement and promotions from within. Promotions are important for people to see, so they recognize there are career growth opportunities, Cole says.

In just three years of compiling the list of best banks to work for, we have already seen some banks drop off, often after an acquisition. Cole says it is hard to get enough employee engagement to make a list like this, but even harder to sustain that engagement.

Though banks spend a lot of time and effort on recruiting, they sometimes don't think about deepening the relationship once the new hire comes on board. "Some banks leave that rapport between the supervisor and the employee," Cole says. "Best banks don't stop there. They are focused on rapport-building on a continuous basis."

He recommends a tactic called "stay interviews," which is typically focused on high performers. Recruiters check in to ask how things are going and whether there is anything the bank can do to help the employee be more successful. "That demonstrates a commitment to those individuals," Cole says.

High performers are worth the extra effort, because they contribute to the bank not only through their own work, but by setting a good example for others.

But none of the insight is much use unless it leads to action. So plan to use what you learn and follow through.

Bonnie McGeer is the executive editor of American Banker Magazine.

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