Magazine article American Banker

Banks Mining Their Staffs for Hidden Talent: Programs to Assess Employee Skills Are Reducing the Need for Layoffs

Magazine article American Banker

Banks Mining Their Staffs for Hidden Talent: Programs to Assess Employee Skills Are Reducing the Need for Layoffs

Article excerpt

Kenneth Torreyson, senior vice president of human resources at Wachovia Corp., knows that there is more to employees than their job descriptions.

Over the past year, the banking company based in Winston-Salem, N.C., has eliminated nearly 1,000 jobs through acquisitions and consolidations. Nevertheless, less than 100 employees have been laid off.

Some banks are finding a new source of managerial talent: the people they already have working for them. By asking employees to take stock of their own skills, often banks find needed workers - and avoid yet more layoffs.

Getting Started

Formal skills assessment programs are in their infancy. But human resources managers are using a variety of informal methods to find out what their employees are all about.

Bank human resources departments can use a standard set of questions as a part of their skills assessment program. The following are some suggestions from Nella Barkley, president of Crystal Barkley Corp., a New York-based management consulting firm:

* What do you think you are good at?

* What do you do in your leisure time that you enjoy the most?

* What do you do at work that you enjoy the most?

* What things haven't you done at work that you would like to do?

* What one thing would you change about your work environment?

* In What way would you like to change your job responsibilities?

* What kind of training do you need?

* What most needs doing in your unit?

John Coughlin, first vice president of Anchor Bank, a New York metropolitan bank with 1,600 employees in 92 branches, uses skills assessment to help employees with upward mobility and career development.

Eighteen months ago, Anchor implemented an "800" phone mail system, which guides employees through the bank's job postings.

The listings are open to all comers within the bank, and the phone system guides them through the application procedure. Mr. Coughlin is pleased and a bit surprised by the employee's enthusiastic response to the system: more than 300 calls a month.

The end result has been that more of the bank's open positions are being filled by current employees.

Anchor's system encourages employees to impress interviewers with their range of talents. For example, Mr. Coughlin finds that women who have been running a household have skills that readily transfer to being supervisors.

Limit on Adaptability

But not all skill sets are easily transferable to new jobs. For example, said Mr. Coughlin, selling banking products may differ from selling Girl Scout cookies.

"Sales skills don't always translate well because of the complexity of loan products. You have to understand the features of each product and match them to each financial situation, being alert to nuances of customer needs. Experience selling real estate in one's spare time, though, may transfer readily to loan products," he said.

Skills assessment is straight-forward at entry level and first-line jobs such as teller, where skills are readily measurable. A major challenge for advocates is measuring skills needed by middle and upper-level managers. …

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