How to Find and Keep Star Employees [Podcast]

March 14, 2016 Jessica Stone


star employee badgeEmployees are the lifeblood of any company. They embody your company to your customers and the public, and they turn the ideas and strategies into real results. Hiring employees can be tough. But hiring the BEST employees is even harder.

In this episode, Dallas and Jess talk about how to find and keep superstar employees.



Podcast Transcript

Dallas Wells

Hello and welcome to another episode of Lender Performance, Dallas and Jess from PrecisionLender here are your hosts. Thank you for joining us.

Jessica Stone

Employees are the life’s blood of any company. They embody your company to your customers and the public and they turn ideas and strategies you work on into real results. Today we’re going to talk about how to find and keep superstar employees.

Dallas Wells

We were inspired to cover this topic when we read a banking exchange article earlier this fall called, “Star Search Success,” and really talking about the struggle that the industry has of finding star employees and hanging on to them, and I know that it’s a real challenge especially for some banks that are in more rural markets or in smaller cities. Just finding that talent can be really tricky. We’re going come at this from a couple of angles. We’re going to talk about from a banking perspective and then also we will just throw in some of our own experience because we’ve done a ton of hiring over the last year or so, and we’ve had to pay a lot of attention to “How do we go about this?” “How do we get the right people in the doors and to be a part of the team at the pace that we’re doing it?” And it’s been difficult and we’ve learned some things so we thought we had share some of those.

Jessica Stone

Yeah, and today our during our discussion, we will talk about 2 big parts. There’s the finding and the keeping of those star employees, and those can be very different, so we’re going to start off with how to find those employees that really excel in your company.

Dallas Wells

Yeah, the first one is one that I think banks seem to really struggle with and that’s that under be actively recruiting at all times, so not just when you officially have an opening, and it takes a really long time to fill a spot and especially as you move up the levels of seniority and you’re looking for very specific skill levels and experience, the lead time on that is really long. If you lose an employee or somebody moves on or retires or you just decide, “Hey, we need another lender or another operations Officer”, whatever that need may be, from a standing start, it takes a really long time, and what we see banks end up doing then is settling. They hire who is available quickly instead of really having the right people available. The way we think of it just like a sales funnel, and in a sales funnel, you need a steady stream of leads so that you can have consistent sales. You always got to have a lot of people coming into the top of the funnel and then a few will eventually make it through the other end as closed deals.

The same concept with employees, you want to have a lot of options, and you want to continue to see good people come across, and that way, you’ve got a few that are somewhere in the process that you are familiar with, you’ve talked about to, so when there is a need that comes up, you’re not starting from scratch. Another way to think about this is a lot of banks say, “Well, we just don’t have a spot. Why would we go through the process, and why would we go through the motions?” My question would be, “If the top lender at your biggest competitor just called you out of the blue and said they were thinking about a change, would you really just say ‘Sorry, we don’t have any openings,’ and turn them away?” Probably not.

That concept of there’s no opening, I just don’t really think that’s true. There’s always openings for the right person in the right situation. Yet if you look at the careers page of just about any bank, it’s either going to be blank or they’ll be a couple of jobs for roving part-time tellers and things like that. Have some opens out there and just continue to see who pops up, and some interesting things can come from that.

Jessica Stone

Before you even start getting those candidates in the door if you’re thinking about doing this, take some time to figure out what’s really important to you in a new hire because of course; yes, you’re going list out the experience and the skills that a new hire should have, but if you haven’t already … Also, we think it’s helpful to take the time to put together some of the characteristics and qualities that you want that new team member to have and that will of course be different for every team and every company and every bank, but it should reflect the type of environment that you have. Some things might be external that you end up adding to that job description like “great communicator,” “ability to think on their feet” things like that, but some things might be a little bit more intangible that you might hold closer to the chest and use as context for interviewing a potential hire.

As an example of this for that kind of not for the job description lens, here at PrecisionLender, for our interview process, one of the steps is we do a coffee meet up that we have a couple of people from the office go meet with a potential hire and just chat over coffee and get to know them a little bit better. Of course, the goal is to get to know that person outside the office and those type of things but the secondary benefit is we get to see how that person interacts with people that aren’t able to give them a job. Are they nice to the wait staff? Were they kind to the barista making their coffee? That kind of stuff can tell you a lot of about someone so keep that in mind as you’re thinking about those potential people to join your team.

Dallas Wells

I like the idea of starting with some base values, what are our values as a company, and we want to make sure that those always align first and foremost. Related to that, and I’ve seen this work firsthand in banks, not just at PrecisionLender, but look in unexpected places and hire the person not the resume. What I mean by that is, and this is not just bankers, this is every industry. We tend to pigeon-hole the type of person that we’re after. You’ll see it in the job descriptions a lot, and a lot of times, they’ll be screened out. You’ll get a ton of applicants and screen them out by saying, “Well they don’t have 3 years of experience as a lender.” They are just automatically out. Some of the best folks that I’ve seen come into banks had no banking background at all.

A couple of examples, we had in your deposit side, branch side of the bank, we always struggled to find tellers and customer service reps and people who could open accounts. It’s a tough job. They have to have a lot of knowledge and they’re really the face of the company. A lot of banks hire for those spots. They look for experience. “Have you been a bank teller before?” “Have you opened accounts before?” ” Have you worked in a bank?” one of the best ones we ever hired was a cash year at a gas station. Our COO stopped at that gas station almost every in the morning get coffee and just sort of watched this person and knew all the regulars, was super friendly, started conversations with them, and had experience handling cash obviously. Brought him in, started as a teller. That lasted about 2 months and then it was on to opening accounts and eventually managing a team and eventually manager a branch all in a very short order.

Jessica Stone


Dallas Wells

He hired the person and they can figure out the skills. The banking, there’s a lot of complexity to it because regulations, but there’s also a lot of resources for teaching that kind of stuff. Find smart, capable people who share your values and then teach them the skills. That’s stuff’s out there and easy to do.

Jessica Stone

When you’re looking for those people in those unexpected places, but also, have your own networks. When you’re networking, you know, going to commerce lunches, or charity events, or networking events, place as much emphasis on finding new employees as you would in finding new customers. That gas station example, would you be happy to put that person in front of your best customers? We find that that’s the best gut check for in someone’s going to make a good employee. Would you feel good about putting them in front of a customer? Use that lens when you’re going things or your main goal is coming out with a customer and you might come out with your next superstar employee.

Dallas Wells

Again another example of that is we hired an eventually pretty good lender who happened to be in the insurance business, and we met him at a Chamber of Commerce lunch, and it was a same test of would we feel comfortable putting this person in front of some of our best customers even with no banking background? The answer was “yeah.” They’re a good relationship builder. They have lots of empathy, all those criteria that we talked about that are important for lenders to have, they hit all those. There’s lots of expertise in the bank. Get prospects in the door, we will help you put the deal together. Another thing that we found to be really important, and again I think banks as builders in the community, talking about building communities and being involved in community service and how important that stuff is to all banks. I think it’s really important to treat perspective employees just as we will as you would treat perspective customers.

It’s a basic stuff, the kind of lessons you learned in kindergarten, be polite, be responsive, but most people are really bad about this with their hiring process. You have people apply and then you don’t get back to them. You don’t let them know one way or the other. You kind of let them languish for weeks or sometimes months. Just the basics of get back to them and even if the answer is, “We don’t have an answer yet,” don’t just leave them staring off into the void wondering what happened to you. It’s another one of those things of empathy. As a bank, you’ve got tons of stuff going. There’s a million things to do and there’s fires to put out and yeah you want to hire somebody and yeah you interviewed that person, and you’re not sure what you want to do yet so it just gets pushed to the back burner day after day after day.

For that person, that is a huge deal in their life, and there’s a lot of things in flux. Are they changes jobs? Do they need to keep applying to other places? At their current job, they’re kind of in limbo of “Am I leaving? Am I staying? Should I forget about that or is that something I should be getting prepped for?” it’s a lot of anxiety that you’ve left somebody with and for no reason. Just let them know. Give them a time frame. It’s just the right thing to do, but it’s also an extension of your brand. Even if you’re going the say no the somebody, if you do it quickly, efficiently, politely, you treat people fairly, they’ll generally respect you and they’ll say nice things about you. If you treat them poorly, then that out come can be very different.

Jess and I just did an interview yesterday. We are slow with your hiring process, and it does take a long time, and we know that people are in limbo so what we tell them is, “Our hiring process is slow. There’s going to be lots of steps involved, but we will let you know where you stand. We will be responsible.” We will have a conversation and within a couple days, we will let them know, “Yes, you’re moving on to the next step which looks like this,” or “No.” Let let them know quickly so they can move on to the next thing. It’s not that hard to do that and it takes a huge difference in how you’re perceived out in your market. Those people are talking to other potential employees other potential customers. Be nice.

Jessica Stone

Yeah, for sure. Finally, our last piece of advice for finding that superstar is to be open minded about flexibility and location with schedules and where that person is going to work. Nowadays, employees are consistently rating flexibility in their workplace as a bigger priority than compensation. If you’re willing to think outside the box, make some adjustments, you can significantly expand count pool that might be available to you if you’re sticking to that by-the-book approach that you’ve maybe used in the past. We know that banks have operations people and analysts that work evening shifts so that they can juggle daycare or their spouse’s schedule or lots of banks very started hiring finance and credit and legal positions that are remote.

Banking’s a super complex industry, and sometimes it’s hard to find the talent for specialized positions in smaller towns or cities, but don’t let that cause you to settle for C players just because setting up remote workers might take some more effort, but they’re really the A players that you want. If you get those people in the door, it’s going to be well worth it to have them on even if they’re not in the office next door to you.

Dallas Wells

Yeah, absolutely. Let’s shift gears now for the second part of today’s topic. Once you recruit and hire star employees, how do you actually keep them? The poaching of employees between banks seems to go in cycles. Usually, at least anecdotally, it seems to follow the need for loan growth. When it gets really tough for banks to grow loans then they start thinking about, “Well maybe we go pick off a lender or a loan team and we try to jump start the growth a little bit that way.”

It’s really important, once you have one of those big producers, somebody who is a performer and they’re well-known in the community and they are doing good things for you, you have to hang on to them.

First things first, I know that this one can be tough. You have to do it very purposefully and very carefully, but you’re star employee should be treated different. We don’t want to treat all people the same. There’s an article that we said at the beginning was an inspiration for this topic, we’ll link to that in our show notes. In that article, there is a quote from Jim Cherry who’s the CEO of Park Sterling Bank, he says, “It’s important not to micro-manage talented leaders and to empower frontline employees so they can sit down in front of the customer and say, ‘Here’s how we can make this happen.’ Instead of just gathering information.” It makes people feel valued when you empower them to do business.

I think that is a great point from Jim and it’s one that we try to train lenders on all the time with our own service. Which is, give your lenders some authority to make decisions. Yes, there is some accountability that goes with that, but give them some clear guidelines. Here is the out-of-bounds line, but within that framework, so, they don’t get to go out of policy, they don’t get to do crazy things. Give them the freedom to make some decisions and actually be responsive to their customers.

They way we approach that internally here at PrecisionLender is our saying we try to live by is pretty simple. Which is: “We hire adults and then we treat them like that.” They know what they need to get their work done and where they’re headed and that’s our responsibility is to give clear guidance on what’s the big picture? Where are we headed with this thing? What’s the purpose and the end goal? Then, here’s how your role fits within that.

You clearly communicate the big picture of where they fit and then just get out of their way. Let them do what they do. As Carl, our CEO, says to me all the time, “Look, my job’s just to clear the runway for you. You let me know what’s in your way. I get that stuff out of your way and then you do what we hired you to do.” People really respond to that. Especially those star players. Let them do big things and grow their own business, their own department if they are managing something. Let them do what you hired them to do. I think you’ll be impressed with those results and they’ll be happier there.

Jessica Stone

Yeah. To that point about being happy at work, it’s really important to get employee feedback. To keep people happy you want to know if they are happy. Whether it’s measuring happiness, or engagement, or satisfaction, put some effort in to find out how your employees feel. Do they feel fulfilled? Are they happy in their current position? In that “Think Exchange” article Dallas mentioned there’s WSFS Bank who is based in Wilmington, Delaware and they, since 2003, have worked with Gout to measure employee engagement every year and learn where they can improve. They have someone whose title is “Chief Human Capital Officer,” which is pretty great. Peggy Eddins, and she said, “If employees are engaged they are more committed to what they are doing. They serve at a higher level.”

If you can get into that and find when people are engaged, your output is going to be better. If you’re afraid to ask this question of your own employees, then you probably need to ask it even more than anyone because being an ostrich sticking your head in the sand isn’t going to solve this one. If you ignore issues with employees, those don’t go away on their own. People will leave the company, people will be not happy in their job, not doing great work. It needs attention. Find out what those issues are so you can get started on fixing them.

Dallas Wells

Yeah and there is lots of tools for that. We tried one last year, I think it was called “Tiny Pulse.” We’ll put a link to that out there too. Tools like that, it just send out basically a periodic question. In the Saas industry we think that a lot of time with net promoters scores, it is kind of the same idea except for your employees. You know, as them. They can anonymously respond. Let you know how they feel, if things are good, back, or indifferent. Then, once you get that feedback, the really important this is to let them know that they are not just shouting into the void, you’ve got to act on it.

Another quote from that same article from Suntrust Bank, their Virginia Division President, John Stallings, he said, “Last year teammates were concerned about their health and well-being. We developed a program that makes health a priority.”

Very clear responses. Let them know that “Hey, we heard what you asked for. Here’s our response. Then let us know, is this meeting that need?” Just that clear communication. What you need, what’s important to you, and then act on it.

Jessica Stone

Another strategy for keeping superstar employees happy. We talked a couple weeks ago with Scott Page, the CEO of Colorado Business Bank and Arizona Business Bank. He talked about what makes lenders and bank employees happy. One thing he said is, “Start traditions and initiatives that your employees can get excited by and get behind and feel connected to.” During our conversation, we’ll link out to that episode, he kept going back to “BizDash” this annual fundraiser and concert that they put on in the community every year. His employees compete to get on the planning committee every year, they look forward to it, it’s a chance for them to connect with their fellow employees, with members of the community. It’s a way for lenders to invite their clients and help deepen those relationships. Get to do something fun with them outside the walls of the bank.

Things like that can be really fun. Things that people can feel like they get to look forward to ever year and remind them why you’re a great place to work.

Another area we think is really important for paying attention to to make sure that you’re keeping those superstars in your company is to nurture growth. In that article, John Stallings from Suntrust Bank said one of his expectations of managers is that they spend a lot of time coaching their staff and helping them navigate the next step in their career. He said, “For me, it comes down to leadership and teamwork. Helping create engages teammates that want tot spend their entire careers at Suntrust.” That’s really important to make sure you are doing what you can that they can see themselves at your company or your bank for the long term.

Dallas Wells

Yeah and we will do one more to wrap up with. It’s one, again, that we see… That I’ve seen up close in banks and that we hear clients occasionally talking about. A players like to work with other A players. There is nothing more frustrating to a star employee than feeling the dead weight around them. Incredibly frustrating, especially if you are trying to treat everyone the same, come to bonus time and the bonuses calculated on company results. Everyone rides on the coattails of those star performers and then it’s time for raises and everybody gets the standard 3%, you will lose those star employees.

This kind of goes back to a few of those Jim Collins concepts from “Good to Great,” and we will link out to that too if you haven’t read that book yet, shame on you, you should. The concept’s about; you’ve got to have to right people on the bus and they’ve got to be sitting in the right seats. The big take away there is that, the banks really need to be a lot better about hiring slow, but firing fast.

We hear this all the time. Management teams will kind of pull us aside as we’re going into a training or a conversation with some of their lenders and they’ll say, “Hey, watch out for John. He’s a real problem. Don’t worry about it, he’s going to complain. Frankly, we are just kind of waiting for him to retire.” It’s like, “Why would you do this?” It’s not good for John, it’s not good for the bank and the worst of all, it’s really bad for everyone around. Basically, buck up. Be brave enough to do something about John. Help him find a better spot for him where he can be happier and more successful and maybe you will hang onto your star employees.

Jessica Stone

Going back to someone that we mentioned earlier, Jim Cherry, the CEO of Park Sterling Bank, he had said, “talent that gets talent.” When you get those A players in that can help you. To Dallas’ point, if their surrounded by people that really aren’t living up, that’s not going to make them feel great but continue to… if you make the entire team A players everyone is going to make each other better. We think that is a great way to approach that.

I think that will do it for us for this episode. Thanks everyone for listening. We will provide links to some of those articles we mentioned in the show notes and you can always find those at

As always, please subscribe to our feed in iTunes, SoundCloud, or Stitcher. In all those give us ratings and feedback. Until next time, this is Jessica Stone

Dallas Wells

And this is Dallas Wells

Jessica Stone

And you’ve been listening to Lender Performance.

The post How to Find and Keep Star Employees appeared first on PrecisionLender.


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