Workplaces across industries are evolving to stay competitive and attract talent despite record low unemployment and rapid technological change. How are community banks rising to the challenge?
By Judith Sears
Two important factors will be major influences on workplaces in 2020: technology and a tight labor market. The competitive labor market is making it imperative for organizations to make the most of their on-board employees by engaging and developing employees, or even reskilling them for a completely different job. Meanwhile, the continuing pace of technological innovation is changing the way many jobs are performed, creating even more of a need for training and development.
These conditions will affect banking as much as any industry, but with banking, there’s the added hurdle of a workforce that’s getting older on average. “If we let the industry continue to age, we’re going to have a problem,” says Sheila Ray, chief talent officer of $17.9 billion-asset Cadence Bank in Atlanta.
To counter this trend, Cadence Bank is focusing on hiring entry-level positions and then training hires to create future leaders. “It’s more cost-effective to bring up this talent and make sure they’re trained in our culture and industry,” Ray says.
Cadence Bank trains entry-level credit analysts on its particular approach to credit. Upon finishing training, new hires remain part of the credit team and are also assigned to underwriting for certain areas of the company or by industry. (Cadence Bank is organized in teams of producers that are assigned by client or geography. Employees work on a team but report up through the credit structure.)
One of the advantages of Cadence Bank’s program is that it equips employees to move around the organization and develop their careers. “As there is expansion or turnover, these young credit people are candidates for switching over to the production side if they have the desire and drive,” Ray says. “We’re creating a level of producers who can migrate throughout the organization. They can develop a career in credit or on the production side. We have had great success with that.”
A key reason for creating mobility within the organization is talent retention. Employees are more likely to remain with an organization where they see future career growth. “We’ve got to be vigilant to make sure we’re retaining this young talent,” Ray says.
Michael Griffiths, principal of Deloitte Consulting in New York City, shares results from a 2019 Global Human Capital Trends 2019 survey that demonstrates the stakes for creating mobility for employees. According to Griffiths, 57% of respondents said it’s easier to find a new job outside their organization than within it.
“Banks can be very siloed,” he says. “They need to help people find more mobility and find a way to the future.”
In Bethesda, Md., $9 billion-asset EagleBank is currently rolling out multiple initiatives aimed at creating unique pathways to support employees’ professional development and advancement opportunities. “It’s much easier to fill positions at a lower level, where our employees feel valued as they are coached and developed to the next level within their career path. This also supports growing stronger teams,” says Heather Mansour, the bank’s vice president and human resources manager. “We’re focused on pathways so that people have a way to grow internally, within their team and across other departments. This supports our engagement initiatives.”
In 2016, EagleBank launched its Commercial Banking Development Program (CBDP) specifically to build a pipeline of commercial bankers. The program rotates associates throughout the organization. A cohort of new hires, consisting primarily of recent college graduates interested in finance, work in various departments for limited periods. They also have mentors and self-study assignments. This gives new hires the opportunity to learn what might be of greatest interest to them.
“It is an amazing program, because that’s where they develop their skill sets and find out where they fit well,” Mansour says. As of this writing, all three members of the 2018 cohort have been hired for full-time positions within the community bank.
EagleBank’s CBDP grew out of a need to continuously build the pipeline of talent throughout the bank. Robbie Wells, assistant vice president and training and organizational development manager, and her team administer the survey and provide that feedback to their executive leadership team. They also blend employees’ suggestions with management’s priorities. “It allows us to create the types of learning opportunities based on the needs of individuals and departments,” Wells says.
Some of EagleBank’s other initiatives include monthly workshops where managers can sharpen their skills in various areas, such as coaching or managing performance. “We really want to provide employees with an opportunity to grow with the bank,” Wells says. “The first step is doing our needs assessment in terms of identifying the skills that are needed currently and in the future.”
How WesBanco gets employees to innovate
In 2016, WesBanco in Wheeling, W.Va., started innovation committees, which comprise teams of three to five employees from all levels of the organization. The teams work for three to six months to create solutions for projects they have proposed or that senior management has suggested. For example, they might research the needs of the new generation of young people entering the workforce, or they might research optimal analytic data for the bank to have on its customers.
WesBanco’s innovation committees check just about every box for employee engagement and development. They promote cross-function collaboration and give management and employees an opportunity to get better acquainted. “It’s a chance for us to meet our various employees, and when you get somebody from another area, they have a totally different perspective on an issue,” says Tony Pietranton, the community bank’s executive vice president of human resources.
The innovation committees are also effective in developing soft skills, such as empathy and communication, and providing opportunities for employees to stretch their leadership muscles.
“It’s helping us to identify the next wave of bank leaders,” Pietranton says. “Younger generations want to feel like they can make a difference. It’s an opportunity to think outside the box and help WesBanco become the bank of the future.”
“It’s helping us to identify the next wave of bank leaders. … It’s an opportunity to think outside the box and help WesBanco become the bank of the future.”
—Tony Pietranton, WesBanco
Forging career paths
Another bank discovering the importance of employee development and mobility is $12.5 billion-asset WesBanco in Wheeling, W.Va.
“Employees, especially younger employees, are looking for career development and paths to success,” says Tony Pietranton, the bank’s executive vice president of human resources. “They want to know: Is there a clear path to be successful, and is the environment worthwhile, or is it drudgery?”
“Employees, especially younger employees, are looking for career development and paths to success.”
—Tony Pietranton, WesBanco
Pietranton agrees that it’s good practice for community banks to routinely assess employees’ skills. Those skills may be transferable, helping them move through the organization. “Maybe someone is working in internal audit and they have skills in reviewing procedures and documenting different processes,” he says. “Maybe we have someone in our compliance area where part of what they are doing is reviewing compliance for different areas of the bank. Those skills are more likely to be transferable.”
WesBanco asks its employees to develop and own their individual career development plans. “We want everyone to have a development plan that they are working toward,” Pietranton says. “If they see certain positions come open that they need more skills to fill, we will partner with them to do that.” He says managers will provide assignments or special projects that will give employees the opportunity to develop these skills.
To increase employee engagement and satisfaction, $440 million-asset Springs Valley Bank & Trust Company in Jasper, Ind., is rolling out a pilot mentoring program. While its workforce of 110 employees is rather small, Dianna Land, senior executive vice president of human resources and marketing, says that due to retirement and growth, more than half of employees have been with the bank five years or less.
“I’ve been here 16 years, and I understand the culture and the brand,” she says. “But we have such a new workforce that we thought a mentoring program would help to preserve our culture.”
Land has created a mentor booklet that covers items like goal-setting and meeting frequency to guide mentors and mentees. “We’re starting with a pilot because we want participants to tell us what’s working and what needs modification,” she says.
Meeting customer needs
In some cases, technology is driving changes in customer behavior and expectations—and staffing needs. For community banks, the shift to digital banking and the resulting automation of many previously face-to-face transactions is well advanced. However, Griffiths says the elimination of some routine tasks has not eliminated the importance of individualized service—in fact, just the opposite.
“Customer demands are becoming unending. If repetition is doing away with some tasks, customer needs are becoming more complex and more personalized, and it’s driving us to add more value,” he says. “I think it’s very important for organizations to communicate that message and tell employees, ‘We’re investing in you to move up the value chain and show value in connectivity with customers.’”
Springs Valley Bank & Trust did just that when it eliminated teller roles in favor of personal and universal bankers in 2018. The community bank had noticed that customers were visiting the banking center less frequently. That made it critical to ensure that the face-to-face customer interactions that do take place have a greater impact. “We needed to go from a transactional to a consultative engagement,” Land says.
Springs Valley made a formal announcement of the changes, presenting its tellers with new business cards bearing their new titles. The meeting included recorded video messages from senior management that reinforces employees’ importance to the organization.
“We wanted to say, ‘This is how much we value you and believe in you that you can assume these additional, value-added responsibilities,’” Land says. “Their position is critical because they touch our customers.”
In fact, the frontline staff were delighted with the change because it communicated that they have careers, not just jobs. “It is not the title that makes the difference,” Land says, “it is the recognition received from management of the significant importance in these positions.”
Offering future benefits
The tight labor market and technology have combined to make the need for remote workers greater and more possible. Joshua Hogue, president of $439 million-asset Reliabank in Estelline, S.D., has considered hiring remote workers in compliance, IT and back-office staff to secure the talent the bank needs.
“You need talent, and if that’s what it takes, that’s what you do,” Hogue says, adding that the bank has formed a committee to set parameters for handling remote employment. “This is a little bit new to banking, but it will be a trend going forward.”
About 200 of WesBanco’s 2,400 employees work remotely. The opportunity to work from home or another location is an attraction for many job hunters, so the community bank uses this option as a talking point when recruiting. “We can explain, ‘You may come here and begin a career as a teller, but once you learn the fundamentals, you can move into other positions and remote work may be a possibility,’” Pietranton says.
It is clear that the most successful workplaces of 2020 and the future will leverage employees’ abilities in creating new opportunities for growth and development. EagleBank’s Mansour adds: “Employees want to feel they are making a difference; to feel both valued and appreciated. We are continuing our efforts to create an amazing workplace and culture.”
“Employees want to feel they are making a difference; to feel both valued and appreciated.”
—Heather Mansour, EagleBank
Learning to learn
The 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report found that 86% of its tens of thousands of respondents believe that opportunities to learn are important or very important to the workplace. Given the challenge of continuous learning and development, Michael Griffiths, principal of Deloitte Consulting in New York City, suggests that organizations distinguish between skills and capabilities.
“Skills are ever changing in today’s workplace, and it’s very hard to keep up with the pace of change,” Griffiths says. “Instead, employers should focus on capabilities to help employees become better learners.”
Griffiths says that compared with skills, capabilities like curiosity or creativity are more instinctive. “If you go to a playground, you don’t have to train most third graders to show creativity or curiosity. Those are innate,” he adds. “But we’re taught to recount information and that the best thing to do is follow the rules. We need to do a better job of cultivating those innate capabilities.”
Griffiths adds that the best way organizations can do that is through “experiential learning,” or creating environments for people to practice and demonstrate critical thinking or emotional intelligence. It’s not as exotic as it sounds. Experiential learning occurs when you create cross-business teams around specific issues and challenge a team to solve them.
“It’s important to recognize the effort,” Griffiths says. “If the solution the team creates doesn’t work, don’t just label it ‘failure,’ but ask, ‘What did you learn from it?’”
Judith Sears is a writer in Colorado.