February 11, 2019
Joseph J. Lebel III
Virtually every sector of the economy has faced an unprecedented wave of changes and challenges in recent years. Much attention has been focused on the impact of digital technology and its consequences: shifting customer demands, disruption of legacy business models, and the quest for new sources of growth and profitability.
Meeting these challenges has placed demands on companies to reinvent the most basic elements of their business at a rapid pace. However, reinventing an enterprise isn’t just a matter of adopting innovative technologies and tactics. New employee skill sets (and mind-sets) are needed to implement emerging technologies, execute forward-looking business plans, and respond to changing customer preferences and business conditions. Companies must therefore think differently about how they attract, develop and retain the talent needed to deliver on the potential of new innovations.
As the largest community-based financial institution headquartered in central New Jersey, with assets of more than $8 billion, OceanFirst competes for talent with the most desirable employers in our tri-state area. That means we must take fresh approaches to everything—from career development, to work-life balance and benefits, to on-the-job amenities—to attract and motivate a new generation of employees.
Developing Leaders. One of the “asks” we get from newer employees is for a well-defined career development path and continual feedback on performance. Although I’m a career banker, I’m also a parent and spent 30 years coaching high school basketball in my spare time. I know the importance of constant learning, constructive feedback, listening to others, and practice. That’s why I feel it is important for businesses to offer mentoring programs that give employees an opportunity to advance their careers by learning from colleagues with relevant experience and insights. For example, OceanFirst not only has a mentoring program, but also a Certified Digital Banker program, so that both new and existing employees can potentially become fluent in the use of new technologies.
A Workplace that Works. In a competitive talent marketplace, the quality of the work environment is a key deciding factor for employees. Depending on the preferences of the talent pool that a particular business wishes to attract, amenities such as access to public transit, on-site fitness facilities, office-based childcare, or other amenities should be considered. For example, when OceanFirst relocated our administrative offices in 2018, we moved within walking distance of a commuter rail station that connects us with the entire metropolitan area. We also have a state-of-the-art health and exercise facility on-site, and our “HQ2” is near great restaurants and entertainment, which are attractive amenities that are appealing to our team and an advantage when we are attracting new talent. Because education is essential to building a highly qualified workforce, OceanFirst Foundation has awarded $2.2 million in scholarship grants to local colleges and universities, assisting more than 1,500 undergraduate students to advance their college education. OceanFirst Foundation is also funding a pilot program in Ocean County that will provide scholarship assistance to our neighbors pursuing vocational education and specialized training to expand career options.
Pride and Purpose. It is often said that a distinguishing characteristic of this generation of employees is an interest in factors beyond pay and benefits—such as working for an employer that fosters a clear sense of pride and purpose. Forward-thinking businesses should consider sponsoring community engagement programs that respond to the interests of their employees and prospects. We surveyed our employees about their interest in community involvement, for example, and found they were most interested in volunteering with organizations dedicated to youth development/education, human services, animal welfare, and the environment. There was a high interest (30% of those surveyed) in activities that might involve teaming up with work colleagues. And volunteer time-off or company-sponsored “days of service” also drew high ratings.
Adapting to a changing talent landscape is nothing new to OceanFirst. Our bank is the result of five mergers since 2015. We have never been about imposing one corporate culture on the employees of a merging bank—but rather about creating a shared culture that reflects the best of each organization. That receptivity to change has given us a head start. We also have learned a lot by observing our most successful business customers and the ways they invest in their employees. But all companies today must think about remaking their talent-building process to support growth and progress—and meet the emerging needs of their own customers, employees, shareholders and communities in the society and economy of tomorrow.