Over the past decade and a half, I've had the opportunity to address and/or attend scores of banks' recognition events. My favorite ones have always been those that recognize branch managers. Experienced bankers understand that at the end of the day, most banks' successes or failures are determined at the branch level.
I've long reminded middle and senior managers that their individual success or failure comes down to pretty simple math. Sum up the individual successes and failures of the folks who work "for them" and they'll have the measure of their own success or failure as a manager.
A conversation with a half-dozen middle managers last week had me reflecting on this topic. The conversation turned toward finding ways to increase the coaching and employee development efforts of their branch managers for their frontline employees.
I shared an observation that I've made while participating in many award events. I've tried to make a point of seeking out and congratulating the top managers receiving awards. I also try to engage them a little in conversation about what they think the key to their success was during that time period.
That's one of the best-practices instilled in me by a former boss when I found myself on my early consulting assignments in the 90s. As the outsider they've brought in, you're obviously there to share your best ideas and opinions with the folks who hired you.
But when you have the opportunity to be in a room with high performers, don't waste it. Listen to what they have to say. They'll either reinforce your own message or give you things you may have not thought of or previously considered.
There has been a common thread I've noticed when speaking to top performing branch managers. I hear an awful lot of "we" and "my team" in their sentences. I've often joked about how embarrassed so many appear to be when recognized.
I know that, in reality, they are not embarrassed by success. But they feel a little shy about being singled out for praise when theirs was a team effort.
When that subject comes up, I sometimes point out that when you see a coach carried off of the field after a championship, the only stains he has on him are Gatorade … not grass or mud. His job is educating and motivating others to succeed in their jobs and reach their goals. His success came from others successfully executing their jobs and reaching their goals. But he was integral in helping them do that.
I don't believe it's an accident that recognition-sharing managers tend to be the top performers. They seem to understand the simple, aforementioned manager math: Their success or failure is simply the cumulative success or failure of their employees.
Managers who grasp this spend more of their personal time supporting, educating and motivating their employees. They also tend to be far more selective when hiring new members of their teams. They'd rather run understaffed for a time than make a quick, but wrong, hire.
These are the type of managers who build teams that stay engaged and remain productive even when "the boss" is not looking over their shoulders.
And employees are far more willing to give extra effort when they know it will be noticed and acknowledged. It's human nature.
I try to make that point as strongly as I can when discussing the importance of coaching with managers. I tell them that they likely have the same human assets as their competition – both internal and external.
Their teams are of similar size, and they usually have pretty comparable strategies. In competitions of teams in virtual parity, it's the team that gets the higher and more consistent levels of effort from its individual parts that wins.
I occasionally analogize a branch team to a car's engine. Most managers are given "engines" of the same size, but how many pistons they actually have firing seems to vary.
Engines aren't designed to have one or two pistons firing while the rest go along for the ride. And no matter how hard those one or two pistons work, they're never going to produce the results 4, 6, or 8 can when all are engaged.
Teams outperform individuals. Managers who recognize this fact and act accordingly tend to be the ones, ironically, singled out for their performance.
Whether you are a manager, or manager of managers, remember that the truest way to reach your personal goals is to show your people, in actions and words, that your priority is helping them reach theirs.
Dave Martin is an executive vice president and chief training consultant at NCBS, a SunTrust Banks Inc. subsidiary that offers consulting, training, design and construction services for retail banking programs. He can be reached at Dave.Martin@ncbs.com.