Performance-enhancing program spurred growth at this Tennessee Bank.

Author:Albro, Walt

The Hardin County Bank, Savannah, Tenn., had no idea that it might benefit from a transformation back in 2006. At that time, the bank sent a group of five employees to an outside training meeting dealing with how to maximize financial performance. The group came back singing the praises of the event.

The bank's president and CEO, Gordon Majors, sent a few more groups to the training sessions and, soon, he says, "It became apparent that we needed a cultural transformation."

A formal program aimed at boosting the bank's performance and profitability was initiated the following year, with the assistance of the outside training organization, The Emmerich Group.

The program had three main areas of focus:

* Target marketing for prospects.

* Intensive training for existing staff, plus upgraded hiring practices for new staff.

* New lending procedures that aimed exclusively at A-grade prospects.

Prior to the transformation, the bank felt that it had to advertise in every local newspaper and radio station. "We never knew who read or saw those ads," says Majors. "There was no strategy, and it was impossible to measure the success of our efforts."

The bank introduced marketing campaigns that targeted new prospects or attempted to expand existing relationships. One strategy was to develop lists of "best prospects" based on psychographics and then to clinch the sale through the use of a unique selling proposition. By asking existing customers with profitable accounts to make referrals, the bank discovered that it could draw in core deposits and make loans to customers outside its traditional geographic market area--in fact, from as far away as California.

The bank upgraded its standards for hiring and training. Before the cultural transformation, bank employees liked their jobs, but really didn't see them as careers, notes Majors. "Our employees lacked passion for The Hardin County Bank!"

As part of the initiative, the bank attempted to create an environment where everyone enjoyed being at work. "That meant doing things that traditional banks typically didn't do," says Majors. "Believe me, this is hard to do for us 'stiff-necked bankers)."

The bank also upgraded its standards both for training and hiring. "We began to strategically place people in jobs that their personalities qualified them for," notes Majors. "We made it clear that it wasn't enough to be the most brilliant person in your area of expertise if you didn't also have a passion for helping...

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