No excuses Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2009

Lauch McKinnon wants to see results at this point in his career.

“I’ve heard it said that experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want,” he says. “I’ve had enough experience. I’m into getting results at this point.”

As president and CEO of RockBridge Commercial Bank, he knows that getting results from his 21 people requires a lot of work, especially given the economic climate. But despite that, he doesn’t use the poor economy as an excuse and says that any leader can’t rest on that excuse either.

“It is our accountability to be able to have an effective, productive, profitable organization in the good times and in the bad times,” he says.

One of the best ways to do this is to make sure that you have a strong sense of what you’re trying to achieve and having a solid team of people to help get you there.

Smart Business spoke with McKinnon about how to create a mission, vision and team to succeed despite a down economy.

Set your mission. It has to be something that meets a need in the economy. For a bank, it is satisfying the financial needs of a fairly well-defined customer or client grouping. For us at RockBridge, it was seeing where the marketplace need was, and that typically is in small- to medium-sized companies. … Usually, where you find a marketplace inefficiency is where you can come in and provide a resolution and is where you can not only satisfy a need but do well for yourself.

Make sure it’s something that you enjoy doing. If you’re not having fun with it, when it gets to the difficult times, it’s going to be awfully easy to walk away from it. The second thing is make sure you don’t get enamored with your own product. By that I mean you need to step into the purchaser’s shoes, the client, and determine or find out if it’s something that they really want. If you’re not providing something that a potential client or customer values, you need to go back to the drawing board. Once you have determined that, then the mission is pretty easy and follows naturally from that kind of process.

Craft a vision. The vision is kind of an interesting thing. It has to be something that — just think about the word vision — you can actually see. You have to be able to experience and feel it. It’s not necessarily that you’re articulating that to the benefit of your customer, but it’s more important for you to be able to say it and understand it for yourself.

There was a motel chain that I understand had its vision as, ‘A head in every bed every night.’ That’s something you can see, you know? You can touch it. That is so clearly understood that you have no difficulty at all reaching out and touching that.

Probably the best way to do that is to engage all of your folks in the process. Huddle up as a group. We call them staff meetings, but they’re really more than that, once a week, and we talk through the challenges and opportunities we have. We also do a round table, and each person gets an opportunity to talk about what’s going on in his or her area of responsibility. That kind of particular opportunity lets folks know that their ideas and their contributions are important. So when you get to the visioning side of it, our folks are willing to step in and say, ‘Yeah, this is what we should do.’ Most often, the best ideas come from the folks that are out there with your clients day-in and day-out.

Attract people. We’ve had some good fortune in attracting some really top-notch folks. Part of it is because they understood what the business plan was here — we were able to state our mission clearly, and they kind of caught a glimpse of the vision of where we’re going.

It’s critically important to have your walk accurately reflect your talk. One of the things we pride ourselves on here is we promise a lot, but we deliver even more. And there are achievers, contributors, who can sense that and are excited about the possibility of showing what they can do. I mean that in a positive way, not showoffs or prima donnas, but are really looking forward to the opportunity of demonstrating to a client or customer what we can deliver.

Amongst the best folks we have, [they] have come from referrals. Our senior loan officer came as a result of a referral from one of our shareholders who said, ‘This is who I bank with now. I can’t tell you that this fellow is the best you’ll find, but I can tell you he’s done an extraordinary job for me.’ We talked to a lot of people but we came back to him because of that experience that one of our shareholders had had with him, and it’s turned out to be exactly that for his clients. He does an unusually good job for all his clients. So referrals are probably amongst the best ways to get good talent.

An overlooked resource is your own staff. Good people like to be around quality. We have found good people by talking to our bankers and say, ‘Think back to your previous bank. Of the folks that you know there, who would stand out in your mind of someone you’d really like to work with again and why is that?’ Usually if you know the who and the why of someone you really enjoy working with again, if it’s someone in a discipline that you have a need, that’s likely to be a very good prospect for you.

Make the economics the last component of the consideration. If you lead with money, you’re leading with the wrong thing. You have to lead with the opportunity of the organization and the position and convey appropriately that each individual, particularly in a small organization, makes a difference and is influential. Everyone here at RockBridge gets that opportunity. People feel important, and they are important when they’re participating and making a contribution, and in larger organizations, that sometimes gets overlooked.

How to reach: RockBridge Commercial Bank, (404) 250-8600 or