Not everyone wants to be a manager, nor is everyone cut out for the work. And while many employees do aspire to reach the managerial ranks, others may prefer to remain in their current roles, explore technical positions or avoid having to manage others altogether. These realities can pose problems for community banks that are in the throes of a labor shortage and drawing from a smaller pool of potential candidates.

According to one recent Visier study, 62% of the 1,000 U.S. employees surveyed would prefer to remain “individual contributors” and just 38% are interested in becoming “people managers” at their current organizations. Visier says its survey unveiled that the “‘quiet ambition’ trend is indeed a real threat to an organization’s corporate pipeline—and employers need to prepare now for the leadership gap that’s coming their way.”

With more than 190 offices in eight states, WesBanco in Wheeling, W.Va., understands the vital role that its banking center managers play in the overall success of the $17.3 billion-asset community bank. 

Retail banking executive vice president Jennifer Mott says WesBanco fills its management pipeline with people whose values align with the institution’s “Better Banking Pledge.” That pledge outlines some basic deliverables like always responding to customer requests on the same day, delivering service with a smile, always using the customer’s name and looking for ways to “do something extra” for those customers.

“In a world where so many interactions become centralized and call center-delivered, our community branch managers serve as the ‘quarterbacks’ of [customer] relationships.”
— Jennifer Mott, WesBanco

Training isn’t everything

Mott, who leads more than 150 banking center managers, looks beyond basic skillsets when identifying potential managers. Skills can generally be taught through good training, she says, but it takes a good amount of energy, commitment and leadership traits to make a good community bank manager. 

“Whether they have the right energy needed to inspire a shared vision with the team around our bank’s values is one of the biggest things that we look for,” says Mott. “If they can inspire a team around those values, we can help them with any hard skills that they need.” She also looks for candidates who display “elements of adaptability and versatility,” knowing that they may be helping a small business owner get a loan one minute and then helping a customer balance their checkbook the next. 

“What differentiates community banks from super-regional banks is that we pride ourselves on relationship banking, first and foremost,” says Mott. 

“In a world where so many interactions become centralized and call center-delivered, our community branch managers serve as the ‘quarterbacks’ of those relationships,” she continues. “Because of this, we’re very deliberate when it comes to sourcing talent that can think that way and enjoy that quarterback role.”

In return for these efforts, Mott says community banks can effectively create a level of “associate loyalty and appreciation” that transcends current labor market trends like job-hopping and continually looking for the next opportunity. In fact, she says WesBanco’s managers are regularly headhunted by competitive institutions but understand that it’s not always worth moving employers for a $2-an-hour salary bump.

“Everyone wants to go home feeling successful and knowing that they made an impact,” Mott explains. “When community banks do that the right way, we can all compete with the super-regional banks all day long when it comes to recruiting and retaining high-quality managerial talent.”

“When you involve [team members] early, they know they weighed in and/or provided information in advance of any changes coming down the road.”
—Valerie Utsey, ICBA

People leave managers, not organizations

Valerie Utsey
Valerie Utsey

Knowing that the relationship between an employee and their boss can ultimately determine how long that associate stays onboard, ICBA EVP and chief people officer Valerie Utsey says community banks should put extra effort into identifying, training and promoting management staff. 

The requirement has heightened in the current labor market, where says 50% of working Americans are unsatisfied in their current positions, and over 60% are either already seeking new jobs or starting their searches soon.   

“At the end of the day, people leave managers, not companies,” Utsey says. “So if a bank is experiencing any retention issues outside of benefits and time-off policies, it should always look to its management team. That tends to be where you see the rubber meeting the road in terms of why people are displeased with their current employment.”

When recruiting new managers, Utsey says to look for people who are active listeners and understand that good communication skills is a two-way street. “The better a manager’s listening skills, the better they can communicate with their teams,” she adds. Good managers also understand the functional roles that they’re filling, know how to delegate tasks and know that today’s workforce doesn’t want to just be told what to do.

“People want to know the ‘why’ and are no longer satisfied with explanations like, ‘It just is what it is,’” Utsey says. Good managers can turn this into an advantage by explaining process changes or new policies before any subsequent confusion or frustration begins to set in. They also get their teams’ buy-in early, ask for everyone’s feedback and then factor that input into the decision-making process.

“Team members are generally ‘deeper in the weeds’ than their managers are,” Utsey adds. “When you involve them early, they know they weighed in and/or provided information in advance of any changes coming down the road.”

More from ICBA

Look out for more information on the ICBA LEAD FWD Summit later this year.

You can’t just set it and forget it

Once you’ve identified one or more managerial candidates, you should assess your training programs and make sure they include both early, basic training and ongoing support. At a fundamental level, Utsey says training should focus on how to complete HR tasks like time sheets, plus the bank’s employee disciplinary and performance review processes. Along with these tactical points, you should also make sure managers are aware of the tools and support that are available to them. 

Cheryl Kuch, a senior consultant with Rehmann, says you should also give managers time to develop their skills, versus just sending them to a class and assuming that those individuals are “trained.” For example, managers should be allowed to test, practice and adopt the new skills that they learned. 

“Training managers should be a long-term and continuous process that involves learning and practicing a skill at a time,” says Kuch, who suggests holding quarterly training sessions for new and existing managers. “Encourage them to master one or two skills before moving onto the next.”

Each manager should also have an individual development plan that can be used to lay out, track and document their management development. Kuch also suggests creating a “community” of leaders and managers who can get together on a regular basis for huddles or roundtables. They can use those sessions to connect, have discussions and learn from each other. “Gather the group regularly—perhaps once a quarter,” Kuch recommends.

Mentoring matters

Mentoring from veteran managers is another good way for community banks to cultivate new managers and leaders. 

Pair new leaders with seasoned ones to provide feedback, development and problem solving, Kuch says, and leverage any “social learning” that may happen during manager huddles and/or mentoring arrangements. 

Utsey also sees great value in mentoring and coaching arrangements, both of which can help managers get the inside scoop of what it really takes to succeed as a community banking leader. Mentors who are involved early in the onboarding process, for example, can help new managers through the transition to their new positions—be it a new hire or a promotion—and then help shepherd them into the actual work phase.

“This is an area that banks should allot time to, be it collectively for their managers or focused on individual skill set needs,” says Utsey, who recommends ICBA’s LEAD FWD Summit, which equips community bankers with skills and knowledge they need to thrive. “There are also ongoing leadership training opportunities, including some of the banking institutes’ leadership training courses and ICBA’s leadership-oriented webinars and prerecorded classes.”