Managing super community banks is like managing other companies, except for the strong need to decentralize decision-making while maintaining controls and to build entrepreneurial spirit in the enterprise.
In this column and one that will follow in two weeks, I'll lay out the management principles that work especially well in super community banks.
This week, I'll describe some of the ways managers should structure their organizations. In the next installment, I'll describe exactly what kind of manager will thrive in a super community bank setting.
Here are some organizational elements managers at super community banks should institutionalize:
Become one of the top three businesses in each of your markets. This leadership position could allow more aggressive pricing. Because of the size of a super community bank, resources are available to bring out new products. At the same time, acting locally and customizing delivery to each market can protect and enhance your position.
Be nimble. A company should be able to reinvent itself if necessary and to do so frequently and quickly. In deciding how to change the business, nothing should be sacred. Shed businesses and managers and employees who are not producing. As the world changes, so must we in delivery, product line, and work force composition.
Fix, close, or sell. The fundamental goal is to get rid of weakness.
Maintain the entrepreneurial spirit. Act like a small company. Small companies move faster. They know the penalties for hesitation in the marketplace. Super community banks must develop a small-company soul and small-company speed inside a big-company body.
Small companies have clear advantages:
*They communicate better.
*People listen as well as talk.
*Since there are fewer people in them, they generally know and understand each other.
*They are nimble and move faster.
*They have fewer layers and less camouflage. Leaders show up clearly on the screen.
*They waste less. They spend less time in endless reviews and approvals, politics and paper drills.
Most small companies are uncluttered, simple, informal. They thrive on passion and grow on good ideas, regardless of their source. Small companies need everyone, involve everyone, and reward or remove people based on their contribution to winning. Small companies dream big dreams and set the bar high.
Big companies have advantages too.
*Staying power through market cycles.
*Research and development budget.
*Ability to invest in products that may take years to pay off.
*Cultivation of the human capital to win.
*Broad product line managed by high-caliber specialists.
Super community banks must combine the best aspects of large and small, true to their core competitive advantage: out-local the nationals and out- national the locals.
Get costs down, no matter how great the resistance. Super community banks, like all other businesses, must compete in the marketplace. While service and product excellence can go a long way toward reducing customers' price sensitivity, they do not eliminate it.
Consequently, cost-effectiveness is an essential competitive factor. Cutting the fat, outsourcing, and figuring out how to do things more intelligently are critical success factors since many fat companies will be taken over and the slimming down done by the acquirer.
Get faster. Speed is becoming everything in our business. Mortgages are made in a day; car loans, in five minutes. Speed is an indispensable ingredient in competitiveness.
There is something about speed that transcends its obvious business benefits - greater cash flows, greater profitability, higher share due to greater customer response, and more capacity from cycle time reductions. Speed exhilarates and energizes. This is particularly true in a business where speed tends to propel ideas and drive processes right through functional barriers, sweeping bureaucrats and their impediments aside in the rush to get to the marketplace.
Readers may say: Speed can get you into trouble; it can reduce quality, disrupt a bank's crucial command and control systems, and cause serious organizational errors. I'm not talking, however, about developing speed at the price of cutting quality, disrupting controls, or disregarding compliance.
I'm talking about maintaining all standards but figuring out how to get faster.
We too often assume that the way we do things is inherent in the business. Mortgage underwriting is a good example. Many banks have assumed it takes 14 to 30 days to underwrite a mortgage - until someone asked: "Can we do a mortgage in five days?" The answer was, "Why, of course we can."
Because making the underwriting decision is a snapshot in time, a bank can be indifferent whether that snapshot is taken on day four after the application is received or day 30. The same information is collected, the same underwriting standards are applied, but the decision is made much, much faster.
Barriers must evaporate. The winners in the next century will be those who develop a culture that lets them move faster, communicate more clearly, and involve every team member in a focused effort to serve ever more demanding customers. We no longer have the time to climb over barriers between functions, work sites, or people.
Everyone must join in a common purpose: to satisfy the customer. Ultimately, the relationship between boss and subordinate will be redefined. All become team members.
Instead of managers, team leaders. Instead of workers, decision-makers with the power to act. To get the benefit of everything employees have, free them.
The way to harness people's power is to turn them loose; let them go; get the management layers off their backs and the functional barriers out of their way.
Many banks have employed a traditional management paradigm: Executives tell people what to do, and they do exactly that, nothing more.
That was the way to keep a job until retirement, but it won't work anymore. It's amazing how much people will accomplish when they aren't told what to do by management. Autocratic managers would find it strange to watch workers make decisions, contribute ideas, and organize their workdays.
As I've heard many times, some of us have been accustomed to workers who park their brains at the door each morning. But we now need to build up our employees - make them feel good, as if they are contributing directly to the company's overall goals.
In my next column, I'll discuss ways to make that happen.
Ms. Bird is chief operating officer of Roosevelt Financial Group, St. Louis.