A few years ago I was a guest at Chewton Glen, a magnificent hotel in the English countryside with top-notch service and facilities, and a celebrated restaurant.
While eating dinner, I asked whether I could compliment the chef in person. The server told me that the chef was not crazy about having people in his kitchen but that he probably would not mind my visit because he is not the stereotypically French chef.
Three hours later we were good friends, and now whenever I go the hotel, I always spend some time working in the kitchen. Oddly enough, I have learned much in Pierre's kitchen about how to conduct an effective morning sales meeting and how to galvanize a team into action.
Pierre has a huddle each and every morning for no more than 10 minutes. Those of us who have tried such huddles know how tough it is to keep it short. Operational items and other issues creep into the agenda, and pretty soon we're spending 45 minutes of every morning in a meeting.
At Chewton Glen, this does not happen. Every team member has predefined responsibilities, such as chopping the vegetables, preparing the fish, baking, or desserts. These department heads, along with Pierre and his No. 2 man, meet in the main kitchen with clip charts each morning.
They review: special events, parties, or banquets to be held that day or that week; today's special dishes; specific recipes that are in the "creative" stage and need team input; and special ingredients coming from the produce markets that offer new opportunities for creativity and flexibility (since fresh ingredients are a must).
Pierre runs the meeting. Together, the team identifies what needs to be done today to assure that deadlines for today's and future events are met and that the food for banquets is prepared well. They discuss refining the recipes and improvising with new ingredients. They agree on who is going to do what, according to the specific expertise of each department.
And last, but not least, they develop non-negotiable "to-do" lists for each team member.
You may think the parallels between this business and ours are slim. After all, not having food ready for lunch is not an option for a restaurant. At a bank, deadlines aren't so tight.
Yet I feel that not making daily sales goals, not converting on time, or not meeting any other crucial deadline should be held in the same category as not having a menu ready when guests come to dine at a top restaurant. The difference between the two escapes me.
I believe that so many of us fall short of crisp execution precisely because we consider sales or timely delivery optional. Chewton Glen has become a world-class restaurant because there is no alternative to executing the plan for Pierre and his team.
Effective morning huddles can help any department succeed. In addition to simplifying communication, such brief meetings clarify expectations and each person's role within the team. Specialization and clear understanding of success are crucial to each team member's ability to deliver excellent results and achieve personal fulfillment.
Borrowing from Pierre, the recipe for success in sales huddles is: Keep it short, be specific, allow for flexibility and creativity, require team input, and consider tasks that need to be done today in order to achieve future goals. (For example, making sales calls today will bring loans three or more months from now, but delaying those calls will make us miss longer-term goals.)
Try this recipe in your own kitchen. The results will be delicious!
Ms. Bird is president and chief executive officer of California Community Bankshares. She is based in Sacramento.