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How to Keep Your Best People In Banking: Revisited

How do you keep your best employees in an era where so many of them are working remote due to COVID? Do you offer them more money? Schedule virtual happy hours? Send them gifts? 

What’s the award-winning recipe for retainment? 

Having worked in the Commercial Banking recruiting industry for over 30 years, I get asked this question all the time and honestly, my answer has been consistent over the years.

For this blog post, I’m going to bring you back to the winter of 1990 (a simpler time) when I first wrote an article (blogs didn’t exist) for the Northwestern Financial Review titled, “How to Keep Your Best People.”

In that article, I spelled out three guidelines that helped banking clients achieve employment retainment nirvana and quite honestly, it still holds up today.

In this blog post, I’ll share my ancient wisdom with a few modern updates in the hope that this will genuinely help you keep your best people, especially in today’s age of uncertainty.

Let Your People Know They Count (1990)

Strive to make your institution more, “people-oriented.” Here’s a few guiding principles:

Praise is often better than a raise. Never forget that well-motivated, hard-working employees are tough to find. Reward good employees by upgrading their functions and giving them incentives, perks, bonuses and titles. The PPP loan processing experience was tough on everyone. Consider some token of appreciation for those who went beyond the call of duty. 

Promote from within. Promoting from within isn’t always easy, but many banks that succeed in keeping their turn-over manageable make it a practice to look at their current employees before they seek outsiders. All employees are more apt to feel motivated to excel when there is potential for promotions.

Learn to listen. Keep communication open by encouraging ideas from your staff and giving their ideas serious thought. Take the time to have informal one-on-one meetings with key employees. These discussions help establish trust and keep employees involved. Check in with your employees on a regular basis. This is a difficult time for many people and a personal non-business check-in call to see how they are doing will be appreciated.

Titles do count. Titles give a sense of belonging that tends to boost both self-esteem and importance. 

Use perks. Don’t forget the little things. Common courtesy is so important, yet so easy to overlook. This can take the form of a personal note of appreciation, small gifts for special occasions (birthday, anniversary, etc.), tickets to sporting events, and the occasional morning bagels/coffee. 

2020 Notes

All of this is still relevant today, especially the perks portion. In the age of the remote workplace, a surprise package sent home could be a very welcomed surprise. Even real men appreciate flowers.

Get Your Employees Involved (1990) 

When employees feel they are an integral part of the team, not only is a positive work environment created, but employees also experience greater job satisfaction. One way to develop a team approach is being receptive to suggestions. But don’t just wait for suggestions: solicit them. Offer rewards based on their value to your bank. 

2020 Notes

Help your employees understand that we are in this together and we will get through this together. Talk about employee activities that can be arranged when we arrive at the new normal.

Keep The Compensation Package Competitive (1990)

While it is true that it takes more than money to keep employees satisfied and productive, it also is true that employees who think they are being underpaid are rarely happy on the job. In most well-managed banks, people rarely have to ask for raises. They generally know what to expect and when to expect it. 

In addition, keep your compensation package competitive with prevailing salaries. Consider paying slightly above the average rate. While this policy may seem costly in the short run, you save money in the long run by retaining key employees and their customers.

2020 Notes

The pandemic has not increased the talent pool in the Commercial Banking Market. Good candidates are difficult to find and the demand for talent is still high. Your best defense is a good proactive offence. Keep your people happy by making sure they are compensated fairly in relation to their job function and prevailing market conditions. 

Nevertheless, it’s useful to remember that most employees, for a variety of reasons, would much prefer to stay on their job rather than look elsewhere.

Bottom line: If your employees feel comfortable and valued, they are less likely to consider leaving.