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Leadership training is essential for retail bankers.

But what type of training is most effective? While having a strong understanding of technical concepts creates a solid framework to assist in delivering desired financial outcomes, tech skills aren’t the only thing that’s important to professionals in the retail banking industry. Good old-fashioned “soft skills”—also known as “people skills” or personal qualities that improve communication and collaboration with others—are just as important for leadership development.

That’s what we discovered at BankersLab after observing teams that participated in our simulation–based training. Here, we found that many teams who had poor financial outcomes in the simulation actually had a firm grasp on the technical and numerical concepts required of the exercise. What hurt their outcomes, however, was having weak teamwork, time management, or collaboration skills.

Fortunately, further research revealed a solution. We noticed that when we coached those soft skills, the financial results of individuals and teams improved dramatically. If you’ve struggled with leadership training initiatives in your office and want to improve your team’s performance, consider these tips:

Choose Your Tools Wisely

Not all leadership training tools are created equal. In fact, traditional leadership training in the form of passive learning or off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all solutions can fail to deliver promised results.

A big reason for this is that many leadership development activities designed for the financial industry are often completely unrelated to bankers’ day-to-day jobs. Abstract exercises—such as building a house out of popsicle sticks or outdoor orienteering in an effort to help enhance teamwork—are too far afield to help bankers who may be managing million-dollar portfolios under difficult economic conditions. Think carefully about what tools or teaching techniques would be best aligned to help your teams tackle their roles most effectively.

Break Down Barriers

Many industries have traditionally separated training for different specialist areas. Often, HR departments assign different teams to handle each area, further deepening the divide between the technical and business sides of the company.

We feel that it’s particularly crucial for retail banks to carefully define their soft skill and leadership goals and values in the organization. Workshops shouldn’t be dedicated to separate teams – for the best results, assign participants who are a mix of business managers and specialists. By doing so, those participating immediately gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by different departments and how best to integrate multiple perspectives when searching for a solution.

Combine Hard and Soft Skills for Success

The most effective approach is to combine two areas when you mentor and train, integrating the most effective technical training tools with soft skills coaching. But can this be achieved? We think so!

BankersLab found that for retail banking executives, simulation offered a unique alternative by providing an opportunity to practice and build on emerging leaders’ existing strengths while developing new skills. Using one of our existing simulations, we developed CreditLab Leadership. In contrast to building with popsicle sticks, CreditLab Leadership allows teams to work together toward a tangible business outcome: competing to run a virtual bank.

Here’s how it works: Participants first review formal approaches to leadership, teamwork, and decision-making, and then apply this knowledge in a numerical simulation game designed to mirror the types of challenges they face back in the office. During the three-day workshop, players compete by operating their own virtual lending portfolios under a variety of market conditions. To win, they must generate the heftiest profit and emerge with the most satisfied customers.

BankersLab facilitators observe, coach, and debrief teams in the context of their earnings, suggesting areas for improvement in communication and leadership styles. After each module, participants immediately practice what they’ve learned in the next round. After a session on how to manage pressure, can teams keep their cool in a downturn?

This unique blended learning model integrates soft-skills coaching and technical-skill execution. This combination is important, because the finance industry requires both data-driven decision-making and wisdom-based leadership under uncertain conditions. A simulation environment that offers the best of both worlds thus becomes a very powerful tool.

There’s no way around the fact that everyone in this industry, from top to bottom, is held to challenging financial targets. By using an effective leadership training tool that combines soft- and hard-skill training and mirrors what really happens on the job, you can empower your staff to reach those difficult targets.

By Robin Madell

About the Author

Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, finance, technology, health, and public-interest issues. She is a contributing writer to U.S. News & World Report and serves as a copywriter, ghostwriter, and speechwriter for executives and entrepreneurs across diverse industries. Robin has interviewed over 200 thought leaders around the globe, and has won 20 awards for editorial excellence. Connect with her on LinkedIn, circle her on Google+ or follow her on Twitter @robinmadell.

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