Sun Trust Bank Combines 28 Recruiting and Screening Systems into One

SunTrust combined 28 recruiting and screening systems into one with a minimum of chaos and a maximum of teamwork. It saved money, got better candidates and won SunTrust the Optimas Award for service.

November 6, 2003
Forget everything you’ve ever done and start from scratch. Potentially risky and overwhelming, yes. But that’s what SunTrust did when it moved from a decentralized system to a "OneBank" concept. And in the process, the organization merged 28 human resources departments, strengthened partnerships between corporate headquarters and individual banks, and developed new and better ways to recruit and screen employees.

    The goal in implementing unified staffing and recruitment strategies was to boost efficiency and cut costs. And just one year after implementation, the new systems seem to be a resounding success. Full-time teller turnover has dropped from 47 to 34 percent, and call-center turnover from 43 to 28 percent. Time to fill a position has been slashed from 28 to 19.5 days--a 32 percent decrease. The average cost to fill nonexempt positions was reduced by 12.6 percent, from $1,125 to $983.

    Until three years ago, the Atlanta-based bank, which has 27,000 employees and more than 1,200 branches in six states throughout the southeastern United States, operated under 28 separate regional charters. Each had its own operations, board of directors, rates and products, as well as separate human resources departments and policies. That kind of muddle resulted in a confusing inconsistency in technologies, products, rates, services and expertise--as well as quality of job candidates--from bank to bank. "The main problem was there was no uniformity around roles, expectations, hiring or staffing practices across the various banks and regions. The challenge was to bring the diverse set of banks together under one framework, with a common vision and strategic focus, while still preserving the flexibility needed due to regional differences in customer markets," says Ken Troyan, senior vice president and chief staffing officer of corporate employment.

    Formerly a human resources manager in an Orlando, Florida, SunTrust branch, Troyan was the natural choice for leading the human resources unification. Before joining SunTrust, he had been a consultant and employee to banks, including First Union, Security Pacific and Bank of America, overseeing re-engineerings, spin-offs, divestitures and acquisitions. He describes himself not as a human resources manager but as a "business manager who understands human resources issues." And while he relished taking on the challenge, he admits that he was also slightly terrified. "I think a little bit of fear is a healthy attitude," he says. "It keeps you on your toes. It keeps you doing 360s to make sure you have everything covered."

    But designing new integrated systems wasn’t the hardest part of Troyan’s new role. "My biggest challenge was change management," he says. "Poor communication will cause a re-org to fail. If people understand and accept the change and the ups and downs that come with it, they will make it work. If they don’t accept change, it will disintegrate on you. Sometimes in these situations, there can be a lot of ‘navel gazing’ in HR. By that I mean focusing on policies and procedures that don’t mean anything to the people we serve. We didn’t want to do that."

    To help ensure its acceptance and success, the OneBank unification was implemented in stages. "A lot of companies re-organize with a big bang," he says. "They shoot the gun; everyone takes new positions and follows new marching orders. We did it more slowly, in small increments, so people could absorb the changes and get used to one thing at a time. It was a quiet transformation that took place over a year. And it’s a continuing process--we’re still making tweaks and adjustments."

    A key to the plan’s success was providing plenty of interaction between individual bank managers and the human resources staff. "Previously, each of the 28 regions had its own human resources department, and everyone defined the jobs a little bit differently and had a different way of measuring candidates’ skills," Troyan says. "Consequently, there was a huge variance in skills and personal attributes in the people who were hired."

    Under the new OneBank concept, a single corporate Employment Department is in charge of recruitment, screening and selection. As a result, many human resources managers who had served as generalists in their individual regions were moved to specialist roles in the newly formed department. "So the human resources staff had to be placed in new jobs and retrained in new processes and philosophies," Troyan says. "And once we went functional, bank employees who were used to reporting to one local person suddenly had to report to many people. I had to go to individual bank managers and say, ‘You don’t have your own HR department anymore. But it will be better--and here’s how.’"

    He met with bank managers and the human resources staff to explain the changes, why they were being made and how they would affect each branch. Together they reviewed and consolidated the old policies and procedures in the different regions and developed best practices from them. They redefined roles and responsibilities of "high-touch" positions--those that have direct, daily contact with customers. They standardized job descriptions, qualifications and recruitment strategies. And together with Censeo Corporation, a consulting firm that specializes in employee assessment and selection, they created competency models that spell out ideal candidates’ desired personality traits, interests and skills. The team also developed guidelines, checklists and other tools for evaluating applicants. "To be successful, this large-scale initiative required a true working partnership among all parties," Troyan says. "So we joined hands and built tools for getting, training and keeping the most highly skilled and motivated people for key jobs."

    To preserve the banks’ individual flavor, plenty of decision-making authority remains in the hands of local managers. Staffing managers, for example, can recruit within their territory how and where they want, as long as they work within the new policies and guidelines. "We tried to balance the push-pull between the corporate vision and real-world banking realities. We did not want one side or the other to hold all the cards," Troyan says. "The bank managers had equal stakes in what and how the OneBank initiative would happen, so this had to be a joint effort. The bank managers unanimously say they are now getting better candidates, and our new, more precise recruiting system has enabled us to reduce advertising and sourcing expenditures, while increasing the amount of assessments on each candidate. So in effect we ended up spending less but doing more."

Workforce Management, November 2003, pp. 59-60 -- Subscribe Now!