Magazine article The Journal of Lending & Credit Risk Management

Talent & Attitude

Magazine article The Journal of Lending & Credit Risk Management

Talent & Attitude

Article excerpt

Big bucks may buy top talent but it doesn't always buy top attitude. Customer satisfaction is often linked to attitude. Some invective from tells its own story on what happens when talent and attitude operate at two levels.

Painful as it may be for those of us who fancy ourselves as strategists par excellence, the truly important management lesson of the last decade is that competent execution is more important than elegant strategy. And competent execution comes from combining talent with attitude.

Finding and keeping the right people with the right attitude and putting them in the right job is one of the most crucial and challenging management tasks of this decade. To make matters more interesting, this recruiting and retention must be accomplished in one of the most competitive hiring markets in U.S. history, while shareholder demand for profits requires low overhead.

The upshot is that cost-conscious companies are fighting each other for even the less-talented and less-than-best-attitude people--because this is what they can afford. And when push comes to shove, cost-effective employees generally requires a trade-off of talent versus attitude. But which is more important--talent or attitude?


The tradeoff is a relatively new phenomenon. From 1930 to 1960, banks and insurance companies could snag top employees at minimum expense, because they offered a safe, steady, prestigious haven from the depression. These employees knew what to do without being told and cared about customers. Banks, in particular, came to rely on these superior employees to automatically correct problems. There was plenty of time to rotate people in jobs so as to produce mature, well-rounded employees. Banks were knee deep in staff that adhered to high standards of customer service. Meantime, investment and brokerage businesses easily captured the intellectual cream because of the opportunities they presented for both money and entrepreneurial freedom. A whole generation of bank management grew up with this luxury.

From 1960 to 1980, as the job market became more competitive and financial companies lost their prestige, banks had to pay competitive wages for ordinary employees. This put pressure on management to supervise and train more effectively and to make the workforce as efficient as possible. When competing for tellers against supermarkets, banks were at a disadvantage because supermarket checkout clerks were paid more for less responsibility. Banks became (and still are) the training ground for entry-level employees who then migrated to other, more lucrative jobs.

Since 1980, banks have had to pay a premium for under-qualified employees. As banks became more involved in nonbank activities, they have had to compete for top talent in such areas as brokerage, investments, insurance, corporate lending, and investment banking. In other words, they have had to pay up for raw talent. At the same time, banks were trying to become selling organizations, shrink their employee costs, and introduce technology solutions to customer interaction.

Since customers implicitly expect the same level of friendly interaction that they had known for 30 years, employee attitude as part of high-quality customer care has not diminished in importance. In other words, banks have to pay up for people with the right attitude to care for customers in a far more frustrating world. Getting the right staff now takes aggressive recruiting with incentives that move beyond salary. Developing this staff requires more sensitivity and product training and even better supervision.

Future Employee Pool

Financial institutions today are getting what the market will provide at the price they are willing to pay. And the quality of the talent pool has generally declined because of the deterioration of our educational system. What is the outlook?

Despite surging immigration, the labor force in the U. …

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