How to keep good employees

From left: Heather Kelley, Jan Button-Minton, Andrew Pyles and Ro Byrd of Eclipse Bank in Louisville, Ky., create a team-centric focus as part of the bank’s company culture. Photo: Chris Cone

When it comes to hiring, everyone’s been feeling the pinch. But don’t forget to take care of the folks you already have. Here, we look at how a people-first cultural approach is key to both preserving talent and preventing another Great Resignation.

By William Atkinson

Over the past two years, much ink has been spilled about the Great Resignation and what employers need to do to fill empty positions, from higher hourly wages to student loan assistance. But equally important is what they should be doing to keep the talented employees that they already have, both to avoid a short-term staffing crisis and to keep the pipeline of leadership full.

Quick Stat


of adults have left a job to get away from a manager as a way to improve their overall life.

Source: Gallup, “State of the American Manager” report

“Job seekers are in the driver’s seat across most industries, including community banking,” says Lindsay LaNore, group executive vice president and chief learning and experience officer for ICBA. “However, community banks have a big opportunity to stand out from the crowd of potential employers.”

LaNore believes the rules have changed. “What worked prior to the pandemic needs to be revisited by business leaders going forward,” she says. “Business growth hinges on employee engagement and creating an inviting culture at the bank.”

Put people first

LaNore says many community banks have found that by humanizing the future of work, they can not only attract new employees but also reduce turnover and create a more productive and engaged workforce.

“A major component of a people-first approach is recognizing your employees’ the potential,” she says, noting that this can be done through professional development and learning. (See “Five ways to develop a people-first culture” below)

“Drive engagement through learning,” she says. “Do this early and often. Providing all levels of employees with opportunities to learn and grow has profound benefits for a bank.”

LaNore notes that in addition to increased productivity and performance, it also drives employee engagement and satisfaction, lowers attrition and absentee rates, and create a healthier workplace. “Often, innovation and creativity soar when we allow employees to be curious and explore new ways of thinking.”

One bright idea for community banks to consider is equipping team members with “power skills.” Examples include, but are not limited to, teambuilding, critical thinking, strategic thinking, problem-solving, and new communication and presentation strategies. “This is one way to future-proof your bank,” says LaNore. “Power skills allow bank teams to add value beyond any automated or intelligence system, operate in a digital environment and continually adapt to new ways of working and new technologies.”

Finally, LaNore suggests, another important way to demonstrate bank leadership’s commitment to continuous learning is by linking learning and performance goals. “And,” she says, “always remember to make learning fun.”

Malvern Bank’s personal touch

One community bank that has found success in retaining its best employees is $180 million-asset Malvern Bank in Malvern, Iowa. “Here at Malvern Bank, we try not to focus on ‘talent retention,’” says Katelin George, human resources and marketing manager. “Yes, we tend to retain top talent, but we do this because we are focused on the individual and not their title. We care about our people, we are flexible when needed, and to be honest, we do have some truly awesome ‘extras.’”

The bank offers the more commonplace birthday lunches and gym memberships, but it also takes care of its employees in some unconventional ways, such as paying for monthly manicures or pedicures for all staff at the local salon. “We group up our team members and send them out of the office quarterly to have fun together, such as golfing and bowling, which enhances cross-departmental relationships, teamwork and collaboration,” George says. Malvern Bank also hosts quarterly happy hours after work with food, drinks and teambuilding games.

“It is also not uncommon for our bank president to announce that we’re ordering ice cream on a sunny Thursday afternoon, or that ‘lunch is on me’ on a hectic Monday morning,” says George.

Furthermore, in a more meaningful way, management does its best to listen to the heartbeat of its team. “If anyone on the leadership team feels there is something preventing a department from excelling, we take the time to talk to our team members to determine how we can better support them or coach them through their roadblocks,” says George. “This takes precious time and energy, but we find it is always worth it in the end and pays out overwhelmingly via employee engagement.”

Eclipse Bank: Team members first

Another community bank with successful initiatives in retaining its employees is $370 million-asset Eclipse Bank in Louisville, Ky.

“We’ve roughly doubled in size during the last three years, which has created several new positions,” says Andrew Pyles, president and CEO. “We have promoted from within for a number of those. I think that path for upward mobility has been, and continues to be, a big factor in retaining some of our best people.”

“We have tried to create a team environment here. You won’t hear us use the terms ‘employee’ or ‘boss.’ We are all team members, and we have team leads. We try to enforce this through our culture.”
—Andrew Pyles, Eclipse Bank

In addition, he believes, while it may sound simple, just appreciating your team makes all the difference in the world. “Respect and appreciation are ingrained in our culture and are even part of our mission statement,” he says.

In terms of retaining mid-level employees, Pyles believes pay is important. “However, while you need to be market competitive, not everyone is driven primarily by salary,” he says. “We have tried to create a team environment here. You won’t hear us use the terms ‘employee’ or ‘boss.’ We are all team members, and we have team leads. We try to enforce this through our culture.” According to Pyles, many people are friends both inside and outside the bank, and everyone genuinely cheers one another’s successes.

“We also try to be flexible,” he says. “For example, many team members are allowed to work from home one day per week, we have eliminated Saturday hours, we have team-building days and gatherings after hours and we allow paid time off to volunteer in the community.”

As these banks show, building a culture of respect, achievement and fun is something that should be embedded in day-to-day operations. That way, the next time a Great Resignation comes around, you’ll be less likely to feel the effects.

Five ways to develop a people-first culture

  1. Schedule check-ins to identify interests and developmental needs.
  2. Provide skills-based training opportunities.
  3. Create “stretch” assignments in the form of short-term projects that fall outside an employee’s typical role and job function.
  4. Embrace new ways to collaborate and share knowledge and skills across departments.
  5. Nurture leadership by providing a mix of technical and power skills training.

Source: ICBA Community Banker University

When it comes to employee retention, think about improving managerial skills

According to Cyndi Mergele, senior director of capital consulting at tax, audit and consulting firm RSM US, there are a number of reasons good employees will leave organizations, including lack of training, compensation/benefits, culture, burnout, lack of career growth opportunities and poor management/bosses.

Mergele believes employers should pay special attention to the last one. “Employees leave their managers, not their companies,” she says. In fact, according to Mergele, managers account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores, and, at some points in their careers, 50% of adults have left a job to get away from a manager to improve their overall life.

The reasons for the inadequacies of some managers? According to Mergele, employees are often promoted into managerial roles based on their individual performance but are not trained on how to be effective leaders. In addition, many employer systems reward individual managers’ performance and results, but not their ability to grow and retain talent. Also, managers do not always have the tools and insights they need to coach and develop others.

For these reasons, it is critical that senior bank management spend the time selecting the right people for management positions, and then provide the proper training, feedback and support.

William Atkinson is a writer in Illinois.