Third in a series

Even the best strategy will fail unless executed properly.

Those I will outline in future columns are not unique; many institutions use them. After all, many challenges — to manage margins, contain overhead, and increase fee income, for example — are common property in our industry, as are the approaches to dealing with them.

But execution makes a difference.

Take relationship-building. This has become a mantra at many institutions and the theme of countless annual reports. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on customer relationship management.

But making meaningful changes takes more — long-term teamwork by large groups to create a reliable customer experience. Since most companies fall short here, relationship-building is usually a motto, not a reality.

One way to improve execution is to create a sense of urgency. How do you do that throughout the team? The simple and practical answer is to reduce the time available for execution.

Here is how we did it at our company:

• First we created an expectation of accountability and reliability from everyone, particularly senior managers. This was included in our values statement, so everyone knew it would be an integral part of our daily operations.

• The decision-making process and bodies were clearly and quickly defined. We eliminated any confusion as to where to go for a decision.

All decisions that affect more than one bank in our family are made in the presidents council — the presidents of all our banks plus our chief administrative officer and chief financial officer — which meets at least once a week by telephone.

Similarly, each bank has an executive team that meets weekly to tackle decisions. No major decision is made by cutting side deals, or by the actions of only one person. Team members work through decisions together, thereby spreading an understanding of why things are done as they are — crucial information for everybody.

All our executives know that once the team has made a decision, no matter how tough the process was, we are all in it together and will support that decision as a team.

• How we arrive at decisions has also been clarified. Anyone who wants to get management to agree to something knows how — by presenting a compelling (and concise) business case.

For example, when our facilities person wanted us to buy a new phone system, he took bids from several vendors, ranked them on 10 major variables, and presented his findings to the executive team. The decision then took no time at all, since the business case was so compellingly presented and the tradeoffs were clearly spelled out.

• Every major project in our company is now detailed in a simple project-plan format that we all share.

The project plans are given to all the executive teams, and we report progress on each during our weekly meetings. This not only greatly enhances accountability, but also helps to motivate our staff to meet time lines. People do not want to acknowledge at our meetings that they are behind schedule (unless they have a good reason).

• Urgency permeates our staff, not only through the cascading effect of the project plans but also because our sales force is reporting its results more frequently.

In fact, we produce daily performance numbers for each person, branch, and market. Many say this is too costly and time-consuming, but the reality is that with good partners and a little bit of programming you can generate daily numbers without major disruption or dollars.

Daily numbers are invaluable for several reasons. One is that the they focus the team’s attention on each and every day, and highlight the importance of a period as short as a day. Another is that they give us the chance to make corrections, with the support of the managers coaching the sales force, after only one day of missing goals, so shortfalls are unlikely to reach mammoth proportions.

In a future column I will tell you about what happened during my first 30 days as CEO of California Community Bankshares. A key was that the team saw that I, like others within our company, am held accountable to aggressive yet do-able time lines.

Ms. Bird is president and chief executive officer of California Community Bankshares in Sacramento.

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