Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - May 3, 2017

Wishing Vs. Investing

Does your institution have enough of the right skills on the front lines and in the back room? Do they know how to interact, for maximum benefit, both with customers and with each other?

In a recent article in Banking Exchange (see source below), Melanie Scarborough reviewed the issue of the "Skills Gap," as she called it. It isn't enough to have all your positions filled if those employees don't match the needs of the institution and its customers in terms of appropriate skills.

Scarborough highlighted some of the changes over the past decade or so that exacerbate the skills mismatch. For instance, she points out that these days, customers handle the easy tasks themselves, with ATMs and on-line account management. That means that when a customer contacts you with a question, it is already likely to be one of the more complicated issues rather than a routine matter. The customer may already be confused and frustrated. In short, automation, putting more under the customer's direct control, has made it all the more important for front-line staff to have superior communication skills.

Many institutions are still recruiting and hiring based on past job descriptions that badly need updating. After all, number skills and accounting knowledge are often specified. But with sophisticated software and specialized staff, it might make a lot more sense to hire for people skills first, computational skills second. Flexibility and a willingness to learn are crucial in our ever-changing industry, but how often are they explicitly named as attributes to look for in new hires?

In the current environment, "relationship manager" is more than an appealing job title. These employees truly manage resources and information. They need to be able to work effectively with specialist colleagues in several areas. They need to be able to look at the customer from several perspectives. A longtime credit employee who has never become comfortable with, say, investment products may be a drag on potential revenue.

Middle management itself may need a tune-up in people skills. Today's institutions are staffed by employees from several generations, and older management staff may have very different expectations around work performance and corresponding incentives and guidance than do your youngest employees.

Take a hard look at what you are trying to do and who you are trying to do it with, and you are bound to find yourself wishing that some of your staff had additional skills to fit your needs. But there are really only two ways to get the skills you need:

Either one is going to require a deliberate investment, a planned and budgeted expenditure of resources.

If you try to hire people with the right skills, you are probably going to have to steal experienced staff from your competitors. That usually means paying a premium in salary and other incentives to get them to move (and then stay).

If you want to develop the needed skills in people you already have, you are going to have to rethink, and expand, your training. Most training tends to be either preventive, driven by regulatory issues, or technical, covering process and analysis. More skills training in people and project management needs to be added to your curriculum.

And even if you do a good job of hiring skill sets, you'll need additional training as our industry evolves (very rapidly), and your employees adapt to the changed environment.

To thrive in a competitive financial services world, you need to go beyond "filling positions." You need to match skills with conditions and needs. Take the time to do an inventory of your skills gaps. And then make a commitment to the investment needed to close those gaps.