Thoughts & Comments
The Bank Blitz Memo: Who Works for Whom?
There’s a difference between whom we “report to” and whom we “work for”.

David Martin
Posted 02/03/2010
Chief Training Consultant,

I was recently asked to address a large group of a bank’s middle managers.  These were individuals responsible for the performance of multiple branches.   As I put the presentation together, I smiled while reflecting on a couple of slides that have sometimes drawn mixed reactions from this type of audience.

The first slide makes the point that any middle or senior manager’s “individual” success is simply the cumulative successes and failures of the people who report to him.  The next slide puts a finer point on the matter.  It states, “Anyone in a position ‘above’ branch manager is actually in a support position of branch managers.”

That statement is often met with “hallelujahs” from some and smirks by others.  The reaction of a group to those assertions also gives me a little insight into the culture of an organization.

I’m not semantically splitting hairs when I suggest that there is a distinction between who we “report to” and who we “work for.”  I propose to managers of all levels that they actually work for the folks who report to them.  That shouldn’t be as perplexing a statement as it is to some.  Again, our personal success is nothing more than the cumulative successes and failures of the folks who report to us.

I try to make a similar point to branch managers and frontline employees.  We all have a natural tendency to believe that our bosses are the folks with the greatest influence over our careers.  I respectfully suggest to them that the folks with the greatest influence over their careers are the folks nowhere on their organizational chart.  The real “bosses” are known as customers.

It’s our ability to establish new relationships and expand existing relationships with customers that has the most influence on our “career paths.”  Customers decide whether we succeed or not.

And yet, it would be comical if it weren’t so true that most of our frontline employees would barrel around, over, or through customers in their presence on their way to greet the senior manager walking into their branch.  Hey, customers are in here all the time, right?  The boss is a special guest!

That comment usually gets quite a few knowing laughs from middle-manager groups.  I then tell them that I don’t blame frontline employees for this behavior.  If that is the culture of an organization, it’s because it is being created, or at least tolerated by the management chain.

If the folks “over” branches on your org chart allow themselves to be the focus of their branch visits, that’s exactly where the focus will be.  Heck, the staff may even pretend they’re glad you’re visiting.  They’ll compliment your hair or shoes or tie.  They’ll ask how the family is doing.  They’ll make sure you know they appreciate you! 

Don’t get me wrong, those visits can be good for your ego.  But I like to joke with groups that they shouldn’t use branch visits for their personal therapy sessions.  With this in mind, I put together an only-half-joking prioritized list of where the attention should be placed during a visit to one of their branches. 

1. Customers. Actions always speak louder than words.  Customers in a branch should be greeted and thanked first.  The highest ranking person in a branch is not being paid to be there.  We’re fond of saying that the customer comes first.  Our teams actually believe it when they see their bosses walking the walk.  And customers are often pleasantly surprised when a “senior person” in the organization makes the effort to acknowledge them.

2. The Branch Staff. Their challenges are your challenges.  The best way to ensure your personal success is to do all that you can to help them succeed.  Do your visits address and help solve their problems?  Do your teams see you as a resource to assist them or as an “auditor” whom they have to momentarily accommodate? 

3. The Branch. What looks good?  What looks great?  What could stand for improvement?  How can you help make that happen for them?

4. Anything else besides you. 

5. You. (And it’s okay if you don’t have time to get to priority #5.)

Now, I’m not suggesting that we have to be “Little Miss Sunshine” on every branch visit.  There are obviously times when “tough love” (or something more forceful) is called for. 

But we too often lose focus on the true keys to our success.  When our managers and their teams help customers succeed, they succeed.  When they succeed, we succeed.

What are you doing today to show the folks who report to you that you are working for them?

What do you think? Let me know!

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