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Three keys to turn talent into your most powerful competitive edge

How do progressive financial services organizations succeed? Here’s how their take on the talent makes all the difference.

As a lifelong baseball fan, I always look forward to this time of year, when just a few World Series contenders rise up from the pack of regular season hopefuls. It’s easy on the one hand to reduce the formula for winning to the strongest hitters or best starting pitchers. But the most successful teams know that top talent must occupy every level of the organization. They spot it among the rookies. They nurture it in the earliest stages of a player’s career. They maintain an unwavering commitment not just through a 162-game season, but season after season. The talent-centric focus even extends past the playing field and all the way up to the front office. Dedication to talent becomes part of their DNA.

Whether in baseball or banking, no one questions the importance of talent. But embarking on a mission to identify and develop key people is easier said than done. Faced with hiring competition from many business sectors, financial services organizations are fighting to gain and keep talent. And in the eyes of some prospective employees and industry observers, banking doesn’t have the cache it once had.  But, you can make a difference in everything you do including how you approach new hires, emerging leaders, high-potential managers and employees nearing retirement. Without question, your success as a leader depends on how you think differently about your workforce segments.

BAI has made a significant commitment to understanding talent’s strategic role in successful financial services organizations. Based on our industry research and interactions with human resources leaders, BAI has identified three significant factors that build engagement, retention and skills: career pathing, training and mentoring.

Create a career pathing philosophy

Progressive financial services organizations now put professional development directly in the hands of the employees. This doesn’t mean that managers should take a backseat, though; instead it’s about providing tools for employees to chart their own professional growth course. A career pathing tool can have a major impact on an employee’s experience and engagement because it helps establish clear career goals and identifies what knowledge, skills and experience they need, both in the short and long run. Career pathing also makes it more feasible to consider internal talent for new and open roles, creates more upward mobility, reduces costs and drives engagement even higher.

BAI’s research of best practices shows three success drivers in career pathing:

  • Focus first on helping employees master the skills to be effective in their current role. There are always ways to improve or address skill gaps in a current position.
  • Provide insights about future career opportunities and give employees the information and tools to build required skills and knowledge for moving into a new role. Don’t just read job descriptions. Encourage your managers to regularly dialogue with employees about what they want to do and how to land in the best position to advance. Capture the conversation in a written action plan to keep the discussion going, measure progress and adjust as needed.
  • Find ways to evolve from a common mindset that you must go outside the organization to find the right talent. Though many organizations say they want to promote from within, it’s hard for this to happen consistently without the ongoing professional development that a career pathing philosophy creates. Change this belief system.

When an organization commits to a career pathing philosophy and tools, you wind up well positioned to improve retention and engagement as you develop your current staff.

See your need for more effective training

Too many organizations load up on training and hence miss a crucial point: most people want to learn how to do their jobs better and develop their knowledge and skills to advance. Many financial services leaders think their teams don’t need (or want) any more training. Empower your employees to challenge that assumption. In a recent BAI Banking Outlook survey, less than one third of the employees strongly agreed that they have the needed training to do their jobs. Two thirds want more!

Among the many benefits, your team will gain knowledge and confidence in how they approach their responsibilities and serve your members. They will gain opportunities to provide feedback and suggestions on doing things better. Your employees will believe that your organization values their professional development. All of this leads to higher engagement levels.

How can you add valuable training? Start with a multifaceted approach that takes a fresh look at your current training approaches and weigh changes that reflect what you hope to accomplish. Revisit your new employee onboarding process and who is accountable for your new hires’ success. Ask your employees if they have what they need and what other training would provide the most impact. Also, rethink which approaches will best help your team to gain familiarity and confidence with using new tech tools. Don’t leave this to your technical team; get managers actively involved.

Enlist mentors to shepherd the way

More than just a fad, formal mentorship programs bolster how business gets done in today’s financial services environment. Programs with the most impact involve every organizational level, with creative twists to address each employee group’s needs. Even reverse mentoring yields impact as it assigns younger employees to help more experienced leaders think about and use technology in new ways.

Valuable external opportunities to network and mentor can also supplement accomplishments within your organization. For example, BAI’s Emerging Leaders Network offers an ongoing opportunity for high- potential professionals and mentors to meet and learn from industry peers. With the many industry options, consider new team ideas that will work within your culture.

Talent represents one of your most important responsibilities. So, think differently: How can your organization attract and retain the best people? How you serve your customers depends on your team’s capabilities and approaches. Redefine your commitment to professional development through a career pathing philosophy, increased training alternatives and mentoring.  Your team will respond with stronger engagement and loyalty.

The key is this: An engaged, loyal workforce will rise up your most powerful competitive edge. And taken together in a smart approach, career pathing, training and mentoring will elevate your organization into a championship team.

Debbie Bianucci is president and CEO of BAI.