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The X factor for improving front-line employee engagement

Observational coaching embeds knowledge and skill to drive successful behaviors and positive culture for maximizing business performance impact.


Front-line staff engagement improves customer experience and retention. Every banking leader knows that. Yet, many banks and credit unions are still struggling with improving employee engagement. The result is a missed opportunity to build and sustain positive cultures that maximize growth potential.

How can banking leaders supplement their existing methods to increase employee engagement? And what kind of performance impacts can financial institutions expect to achieve by deploying a digitized solution in addition to employee surveys and training?

There is almost an overfocus on customer experience without first addressing front-line employee engagement. It is important to address employee engagement first because if an employee is not happy in their job, that’s going to come across to the customer. Most financial institutions use tools like voice of employee surveys and training that partially address the engagement challenge. The biggest miss we see is the lack of “observational coaching”.

The terms “training” and “coaching” are often used interchangeably, but they are different. Training is usually a learning-focused, one-time event. Coaching is a development-focused, one-on-one and continual process. Most banking leaders would say they are doing both; however, only a few are doing observational coaching.

Observational coaching captures customer-employee as well as employee-manager interactions. It documents the signoffs and follow-ups. It embeds the learned knowledge and skill sets to drive successful behaviors and positive culture which maximize business performance impact.

The three key customer interactions for observational coaching are onboarding new clients, deepening client relationships and resolving complex issues.

The observational coaching methodology needs to be consistent across the board – in all business units, regions, markets and banking centers. And it’s really important to capture the observation data digitally and to make it easily accessible to the employee, the manager and, in the aggregate, to the line of business leaders.

To capture the data in a consistent and scalable way, the organization must have a digitized coaching framework. For each type of client interaction, the organization needs to have a consistent, formatted list of key behaviors, like a pre-flight checklist for a pilot.

All the behavioral data captured from individual sessions should be compiled across the board and up the hierarchy. The data should be organized and presented with relevant dashboards tailored for various levels of management. The dashboards should provide actionable insights that enables managers and leaders to drive business performance improvement.

Employee perceptions of coaching

Observational coaching should not be viewed as a punitive method to deliver critical feedback. Look at the world of sports.  Even the best athletes are coached and observed because it is about continually improving performance.  Observations must be viewed as part of the culture in helping your people perform better to better serve the customer.

A big piece of why many managers don’t coach effectively and employees don’t like being coached is because they don’t see the value in it. The existing coaching methods that most organizations have in place don’t deliver value or they don’t drive successful behaviors.

Here are a few important considerations for coaching up new front-line staff for their next assignment.

  • Clearly define the skill sets, knowledge and performance expectations necessary for the next assignment.
  • Adopt a structured coaching process and digitized coaching framework that provides visibility for both the manager and the employee.
  • Make sure that the coaching solution can hold the new member accountable for their performance.
  • Not every banker wants to be a manager. It’s OK to have superstar bankers who are not excited about becoming managers, but are excited about serving customers.

Currently, most financial institutions are just scratching the surface of what is possible with the observational coaching methodology. Those that are deploying observational coaching are achieving significant improvements in customer experience and employee retention.

We hear of “service culture” or “sales culture”. I believe in what we call “performance culture” and part of that culture is continuous improvement. And if you’re looking for continuous improvement, there has to be continuous coaching and observation.

Jim Bywater is a senior vice president for SeeEverything.

Watch BAI’s Terry Badger and SeeEverything’s Jim Bywater discuss ways to improve employee engagement in the recent webinar, “X factors for improving front-line employee engagement.”