Magazine article Talent Development

Putting the Focus on Coaching: Sandy Spring Bank Sought to Boost Engagement Companywide and Knew That Managers Would Need to Play a Starring Role

Magazine article Talent Development

Putting the Focus on Coaching: Sandy Spring Bank Sought to Boost Engagement Companywide and Knew That Managers Would Need to Play a Starring Role

Article excerpt

Who is responsible for reinforcing company culture? What role does a manager play? According to employees, the role a manager plays may be the most important one. When Sandy Spring Bank found itself struggling to deliver on its brand promise, it looked to leverage the impact of coaching on employee engagement and performance.

Our story

The year was 1868 and the United States was rebuilding in the aftermath of the Civil War. The town of Sandy Spring, Maryland, was a small, Quaker community located about 25 miles from Washington, D.C. A group of local businessmen and townspeople wanted to establish their own community-based financial institution independent of the influences of the District of Columbia and Baltimore. The bank would serve the interests of all people in their community, and be staffed and managed by those who lived and worked there.

Today, Sandy Spring Bank is the oldest, largest, independent community bank headquartered in Maryland. We have a 46-branch network and employ more than 700 employees. Our dedication to serving the needs of our community has remained virtually unchanged for nearly 150 years.

During the past 20 years, Sandy Spring has experienced record growth through acquisitions and branch expansion. We sit in one of the most affluent and heavily "banked" areas of the United States. While we were growing, our community bank competitors were being gobbled up left and right by the large banks.

Bank mergers make economic sense when the banks combine operations and reduce staff. As a result, there was no shortage of talent for Sandy Spring Bank to recruit and fuel the growth. These new hires brought with them not only their considerable work experience, but also their own banking cultures. The result was a melting pot of banking cultures trying to co-exist within an organization that prided itself in its unified approach to providing remarkable client service.

As stressed as our internal culture was, the external environment added a multitude of serious challenges. Banks felt the impact of the recession particularly hard. Record low interest rates put pressure on profit margins and stock prices. Business owners found themselves unable to meet credit obligations and banks had to write off billions in bad debts. Bank service charges came under fire from consumer groups and Congress. Finally, the mortgage crisis and "too big to fail" caused consumer confidence in banks, all banks, to hit an all-time low.

The solution

To emerge from the crisis stronger than when we entered it, we needed to re- engage and reinvigorate our employees around delivering a consistently remarkable client experience. A critical component of this process would be for the bank to provide a remarkable employee experience. Employees will only treat their clients as well as they are treated.

Logic dictates that if you want to know what kind of experience your employees are having, ask them-so we conducted a "Voice of the Employee" survey. The results reaffirmed the important role of the immediate supervisor in employee engagement. Our employees told us loud and clear that they wanted more regular performance feedback and more career development opportunities. A strong manager in the role of coach can provide both of these.

Although our retail branches had a highly structured monthly coaching process in place for sales and service results, there was no consistent coaching happening elsewhere in the bank. We would have to "sell" the need for a coaching program by making it relevant to business results and obtaining an executive sponsor.

We developed the concept of a certification program and selected metrics tied to our client experience strategy. We secured our executive sponsor and were given the go-ahead for a pilot as long as we limited our expenses largely to in-house resources. Development of the FOCUS Coach Certification program took more than eight months. …

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