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HR Magazine, September 2003 - Cover Story

By Steve Bates  8/1/2003
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HR Magazine, September 2003

Vol. 48, No. 9

Business Partners - Additional Material

First Tennessee: 'Talking to the People'

When Memphis-based First Tennessee National Corp. put Sarah Meyerrose in charge of its HR operation in 1998, one of her primary challenges was to strengthen the link between people and profits. Meyerrose was directed not just to maximize financial performance, but also to be able to demonstrate to investors how the companys people-first philosophy adds value to the bank holding company and financial services firm.

Working with First Tennessees CFO, she launched a study of how the firms reward and recognition system lined up with its business strategy. They reviewed results of employee surveys and mined several years of data from the firms HR information system: market share, profitability, customer value and loyalty.

First Tennessee wanted to find the reasons for high turnover in certain areas and to determine how to reverse the trend. The company discovered that business units with teams of employees that had been together for a long time had far better financial results than others. Meyerrose and her staff knew that they had to create visible career paths for high-potential and high-performing employees to keep them from bolting from the firm.

Among the specific actions taken toward this end was offering highly valued employees lateral moves within the organization when immediate promotions were not feasible. But it soon became apparent that some top performers were leaving anyway.

A follow-up employee survey dug deeper. "It said that we were doing the right things but not talking to the people" to tell them why the lateral moves were being offered—as part of a development plan that eventually would take them to greater responsibilities and rewards, Meyerrose recalls. She and other First Tennessee National officials are more confident now that they are completing that loop.

"You tend to be able to see these patterns over time," she states, adding that solving difficult management issues takes repeated effort by HR and finance professionals.

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