Second in a series

In my first column I described my plan for my first 100 days as chief executive officer of California Community Bankshares.

One of its first parts was a simple, five-question survey for all store managers and department heads in the company. Here are the questions and results:

• Where are we today?

Interestingly, our people did not have a clear consensus. I think it is because we are a new group of banks under a common holding company. No one word dominated the responses. As I read more, I understood why.

• What are our major accomplishments?

Themes emerged more clearly in the responses to this question. Our people felt it was a major accomplishment to go through multiple mergers with no discernible customer loss. I agree with them because I know how difficult it is to make internal change customer-transparent.

Another listed accomplishment: The merger standardized technology and led to other technological enhancements.

Last, many named the combination of a retail-oriented bank with some commercial-based banks. Like me, they saw the huge potential in leveraging each area of expertise over the other institution’s customer base; the merger built the retail capacity of the commercial banks and brought the brand and reputation of the retail bank to small businesses in the community.

• Where do we dream of being tomorrow?

Here, a clear winner emerged: Our management team wants to build a company of which we can all be proud. They want to be a part of a dynamic organization that has not lost its roots in the community yet demonstrates high professionalism. For me, this was great news. It was great to learn that all of us want to be the best in what we do for our major constituents: customers, team members, and shareholders.

• What are our biggest opportunities?

Though perceptions of specific opportunities varied greatly by department, the theme was encouragingly similar. Our people believe that we can be the best of both worlds — delivering services in a local manner while centralizing and improving services such as the back office, treasury, and accounting. Furthermore, they felt that we can leverage specific product expertise to compete effectively with larger banks and create important income streams beyond the net interest margin.

We were all aligned when it came to our strategic identity: Super community banking was the right position to pick. The many tactical opportunities they identified were all grounded in the three main characteristics of super community banking: local market delivery and decision-making; centralized, customer-transparent processes and operations; and diverse product expertise and capabilities.

• What impediments stand in our way?

I often describe my job by referring to an image I remember from the movie “Gunga Din” in which the young, scrawny boy with the white turban cleared brush for the enormous elephants that followed. I see myself the same way. Behind me is a herd of mighty elephants ready to charge forward. My job is to clear the brush and then get out of the way as fast as my legs can carry me.

That’s why I find the program so important. As we ask our team to do more, it is our responsibility as managers to make it easier for them to succeed. We can help them along the way by giving them the necessary tools, such as improved products, efficient back-office processes, and world-class training.

Equally importantly, we can remove major obstacles. Every six months I will continue to ask our people: What stands in your way? Whatever item hits the top of the list will be resolved; it’s the least I can do to help our people succeed.

I was surprised by the responses I received to this question. I expected responses such as “more staffing,” “more advertising,” “more technology,” “more training.” These are perennial corporate kick dogs and occasionally valid excuses for why things do not get done. Our people mentioned none of these. What they were seeking is unity, a sense of cohesion, consistent and common direction, and more communication.

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

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