Leading By Example Key To One Branch's Success

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WASHINGTON-A simple truth sometimes overlooked by branch managers is that leaders are only as good as their teams.

Jesse Bell believes that. In his 10 years managing a branch at the $1-billion State Department FCU, he has learned that it's the most important principle a successful branch manager can adhere to. "When have you ever seen a good coach that's not surrounded by good players?" Bell asked. "I can be the best branch manager, but I won't succeed and my branch won't succeed if I don't have good staff."

Part of assembling a strong team is leading by example so staff stand behind you, said Bell, who has managed SDFCU's main branch inside the State Department for the last three years. "They have to see that you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do the jobs they do. I don't ask one of my team to do anything that I would not do. For example, I will grab reams of paper to load the fax machines or printers. I'll talk with members to open accounts, and I'll work teller lines if a few employees are out."

While making it clear that a manager will work side-by-side with the staff can motivate the team, Bell said what drives performance is letting individuals know what is expected of them, and make sure there are no gray areas. That's why Bell makes job expectations "black and white. We rely a lot on metrics, and we have monthly goals for the branch and for each employee," Bell explained. "Sometimes I'll create challenges between two individuals, in addition to their normal incentives. Maybe it's to see who brings in the most new members in a month. Whoever wins gets a free lunch."

Metrics and incentives let employees know how they are performing, but Bell also makes sure the team knows where they stand with him. He said he maintains strong lines of communication. "I let staff know my expectations, and I am big on inspecting what I expect," Bell said.

Bell's communication relies a lot on morning staff "huddles" to review the previous day's performance, talk about the day's objectives, and share any new news or marketing and sales direction. "I also do one-on-ones with each employee every month, and I do at least two coaching observations with each person."

Bell will observe an employee performing a task, such as serving a member, and then immediately sit down with them to assess their performance. "We'll talk about what went well, and then I try to provide some advice on what they can do to do an even better job next time," Bell said.

Any criticism is done in private, said Bell, who believes criticizing a staff member in front of others is one of the most counter-productive things a manager can do. Bell's also not big on giving awards; he'd rather hand out compliments for a job well done.

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