Saturday, March 02, 2019

Employee Retention: Keep the Keepers

You have a highly valued employee, and they quit. Why? The boss? The culture? The pay?

I'm sure if I searched for credible sources, I would get some version of one or a combination of the three. It is highly individualized. But what is universal is that each financial institution has employees that are highly valued and they want to keep. Yet rarely tell them so. For fear that the employee will recognize their worth and ask for more money or shop themselves around. Better to repress that employee, right? Shhhh. Don't say a thing.

The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis shows the number of quits, i.e. employee-driven departures, at 3.5 million in December 2018, the highest since pre-recession 2007. 

Best Strategy

The best single strategy for employee retention is management attention, according to Bill Conerly, a business economist and former banker. Employees may tell you they are leaving for more money, and if your compensation is not in the ballpark for the value they can get on the open market, then perhaps that is true. But if comp is in the ballpark, then it is likely the employee wouldn't be looking around if the company's culture was great and their boss paid attention to them.

Management and leadership are soft skills that are not on a financial institution's priority list. Seven years ago I wrote about this on these pages, and I haven't seen much improvement since. In that post, I wrote of a former military commander that worked for a large corporation that incorporated leadership into their development program. They hired psychologists to develop the curriculum, and actors to role play. 

So, in addition to the ideas below, it is important for financial institutions to develop good managers with leadership abilities. Because they are the ones that will be executing the following ideas to retain your high performers.

Three Ideas to Improve Retention

1.  Build a culture that salutes achievement. Accountability shouldn't be based on fear, recrimination, and public flogging. It should be built on open recognition of a job well done. Be it exceeding goals, achieving top quartile profitability, most improved, or proposing and implementing an innovative idea. Give that employee a trophy. Coach under-achievers that have an attitude of self improvement. Because, as one of my Navy Senior Chiefs once told me, if you have an employee that puts forth the effort and has a good attitude, and they don't succeed, that's on the supervisor.

2. Set career paths. And develop employees to achieve. So many financial institution development programs are ad hoc. No direction. But if you hire a junior credit analyst out of college, once they get the job, ask them what they aspire to be. Aside from compliance and functional training, develop them to hit their next level. Even if it is outside of Credit. Perhaps they want to be a commercial lender and some day, be CEO of your bank. That's great! If they achieve within their functional position, then we should be prepared to develop them for the next level. Instead of pushing them down in their current position because they are really good at it. Which is a sure fire way to have them shopping their resume, in my opinion.

3. Conduct stay interviews. Now, I will admit that I'm cynical about buzzwords. But I received a newsletter from a financial institution executive recruiter that caught my eye on improving employee engagement. Stay interviews will help your financial institution make tweaks to its culture and employee relations, and improve employee engagement, which I hear is a key reason why high performing employees stay. Because they matter to you. 

During our most recent podcast, we answered listener questions and one question was "what is the most effective way to recruit and find talent in a community bank?" My answer, build from within. 

Because there aren't many employees out on the street. And to woo them, you might have to pay up. And if you pay up, you may run into "equal pay" movements happening in many states, pricing up your existing talent. An unintended consequence.

What would you rather do to build an employee base capable of executing your strategy? Buy or build?

~ Jeff

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This article relates to my firm's Profit and Process Improvement and Management Advisory services. Click on the links to learn more.


  1. Jeff -- I spent five years with Deloitte in their consulting group, and it was an amazing experience. They spent a lot of energy on developing people. They recruited based upon traits and cultural fit, knowing they could develop the rest of the stuff. Part of the process was a quarterly Personal Development Assessment. It sounds like a fancy word for a job review, but it was really a structured discussion about skill set, gaps and what the firm could do to help you advance. It started with a self-assessment, which removed a lot of burden on the person I reported to. I remember being very nervous about my first review (and all reviews were normally done off-site, to get out of the office). But after I figured out they were trying to develop me, and not review me, I looked forward to them. Now, I understand a professional services firm might not be the same as a bank, but so many of the concepts of developing staff are still relevant. It takes a huge commitment, some structure for consistency, and a hammer to make sure it is executed upon -- have to walk the talk. My experience, anyway.

  2. Mike,

    That's a great analogy. I came from the military where you either trained for war or went to war. So obviously the military is committed to development. But reading your experience is more relatable to our banking readers. So thank you for sharing!

    ~ Jeff