It would be natural for banks to blame recruitment strategies for their employee turnover. But the problem might have less to do with finding good people than it does with keeping them.

A recent seminar I conducted reinforced my belief that a number of banks are potentially misdiagnosing why they are losing employees. Institutions are quick to assume that their recruitment efforts are lacking. But dwindling staff might relate more to banks' inadequate onboarding and mentoring programs.

At the event, a rookie branch manager conveyed the stress and confusion most people experience in a new role in any field. When recalling a misunderstanding he had had with a colleague, he smiled and kidded, "I suppose I missed that stuff in training. Or, it may just be that I'm a slower learner than most."

But he's not a slow learner. In fact, I knew he was a promising new manager. He was improving sales, if not yet in great numbers, and turning around a branch that had been disappointing.

He was, however, new to the industry. He was recruited and hired because he was a top salesperson at a nearby location for a national retailer. And while he had sales experience, he had limited sales management experience. Being a great salesperson does not necessarily prepare a person to lead sales teams.

His comments were evidence that he had a healthy mindset in his new job. And his potential to perform well in a new industry reflects the promise for banks to draft new managers from outside the industry — a talent pool that is only growing.

As technology increasingly transforms the banking industry, many institutions have begun recruiting nonbankers more aggressively than ever. The retail perspectives and sales experience of outsiders are in demand as banks aim to transform their branch models.

These attributes are beneficial for banks. But we need to be careful that we're not scaring off potentially good employees or suppressing new hires' ideas and energy early on.

That's not a potshot at banks. Most industries have rules, regulations and procedures, among other things, for new employees to learn. But banks tend to have more red tape to master than other industries. 

More important, I find that many institutions have not matched their recruiting efforts for outside talent with the kind of training and mentoring programs that can make the difference between disillusionment and success. 

Through the years, I've heard many bankers lament high turnover of nonbanker recruits. Some of the turnover rates are startling and make it very difficult to build momentum in the affected branches.

In more recent years, I've had scores of bankers ask for advice on where to recruit "the right people" for increasingly sales-focused banker positions. They think their turnover problem is largely caused by recruiting folks from the wrong areas.

In response, I tell them to focus on recruiting people who impress them, regardless of where they're found. Great potential team members, who would never consider a banking career until they are asked by an interested and proactive recruiter, are everywhere.

Sure, there will be unsuccessful hires. But to defend against high turnover, institutions should look at onboarding and mentoring efforts as much as recruiting. If new hires' most prevalent feelings in the first few days, weeks or months on the job are confusion, stress and failure, then disillusionment sets in.

I'm not suggesting that new recruits need coddling. Folks cannot be shielded from the demands and expectations of their jobs for very long.

Too often, however, recruits are put on the front line sooner than we'd like. I've kidded with bank management that we find ourselves in "we need you too much to train you" situations.

Will that ever change? I wouldn't hold my breath. Our smaller staffing models typically don't lend themselves to having extra personnel to fill positions while new hires get months of training.

One suggested solution may seem like a cliche, and I make it half in jest, but banks should consider mentoring initiatives similar to a big brother or big sister program. Make the first page of new branch manager training material a directory of managers who were hired six to 12 months earlier. Those folks may not be the most experienced bankers, but they are the most qualified to give relatable advice to their brand new peers.

Assigning new managers an experienced mentor manager to check in with can be a simple and valuable resource. Bringing new managers together after they've been on the job for a short time for Q&A sessions with top managers can also be helpful. Even if the information shared by an experienced manager is identical to what a new recruit heard in training, having best practices reinforced by colleagues can be powerful.

Banks can also start a "Dumb Questions Book," an idea I implemented in a previous job with help from district managers. When we created such a book, these dumb questions were thrown out to the groups at future manager meetings and we were frequently surprised at the different answers we got to the same question. Some answers were even better than the ones our district managers had come up with. Our trainers eventually included several of our dumb questions into their own sessions.

A theory I've long held is we're programmed from an early age not to raise our hand and ask what we fear to be a dumb question, out of concern of looking foolish. But when someone does work up the courage to ask a "dumb" question, many others in the room let out a sigh of relief and feverishly scribble the answer. Having a book devoted to answering such questions could be a resource for new hires.

Bottom line: When we remove the fear of looking lost or feeling foolish, we tend to get more open and honest pictures of where our people need more help.

Dave Martin is an executive vice president and chief development officer at Financial Supermarkets Inc. He can be reached at and on Twitter at @instorebank.