National Bank and Trust Co allows employees to succeed Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2009
John Limbert, President and CEO, National Bank and Trust Co. John Limbert, President and CEO, National Bank and Trust Co.

John Limbert likes to think of his 210 employees at National Bank and Trust Co. as a baseball team, albeit a large one.

Limbert, president and CEO, can’t pick up a bat or run the bases for his employees. Instead, he has to stay out of their way and let them succeed.

To do that, he gathers their input before setting goals and then gives them the reins to reach those goals creatively, keeping an eye on their progress and providing support when necessary.

The 40-year banking veteran says he has made it through a career of tough decisions and tasks by relying on the team effort of his employees.

“The most rewarding part about the job is giving people the opportunity to fail and then helping them avoid that,” says Limbert, whose company posted 2007 revenue of $41 million.

Smart Business spoke with Limbert about how to empower your employees to reach their goals and how to follow up on their progress.

Get input on decisions. Early in my career, I used to micromanage everything. When you do that, you diminish the worth of the person that you’re talking to. Once you’ve hired a good staff, you sit down, you formulate a plan and then you get out of their way.

There’s three pieces I normally use when I look at a situation. The first thing you do is sit down with the people that are responsible for that area and you get their perspective on what’s working and what’s not working. The second thing is you put a financial analysis, independent of the operating group, against their observations and against the metrics that you think that group ought to be earning.

Then you sit down with both the finance side and the operating side and walk your way through: If something’s earning 4 percent and we think it should be earning 8 percent, what are the steps? It’s not a one-person decision.

Baseball teams mirror what I believe a successful company is. You’ve got nine players who play the game and a manager who never takes an at-bat. I’m managing things with the input of coaches and players. You build a team, and they all have different strengths, and you’d be a fool not to rely on those


Set the goal and let employees go. There shouldn’t be any mistake in any manager’s mind about

what the goal is. Sometimes there are lapses in communicating, but at the end of the day, most of our folks understand what the goal is, at least at the management level. If we haven’t gotten it down to the last person hired, then we probably need to re-examine our communication process.

If everybody understands what the goal is, you can tell them, ‘There it is,’ and let them be creative and figure out what’s the best and the quickest way to get there. When you do that, what you get is people who, A, enjoy what they’re doing and, B, are allowed to be flexible and creative on their own.

I don’t think the buy-in is the hard part; I think creating the opportunity for them to be successful is more difficult. It all gets back to empowering.

What’s worked for me is finding an operating mechanism that allows them to own their book of business. That management person has to be the author, not the reviewer [of their budget]. Then sitting down on a routine basis and mapping their progress to that budget affords you the opportunity to say, ‘You said you were going to operate this department with a $10,000 profit this month, and we only

made ($8,000). What didn’t work? What can we do to help?’ And then sit back and listen.

Agree on the strategy, agree on the targets and then (have) regular communication to find out if it’s working or not. It’s like sailing a ship. You’re always looking at that compass to figure out where you are. If you’re not doing that, you’re going to end up farther away than your port of call. You’ve got to keep


Use managers to keep informed. If you’ve got everybody that agrees that we’re going to go take this hill today or this month or this year, they don’t need to be told that they’re making progress. The difficult part is actually getting out of the way.

The way I’ve tried to do that is a weekly meeting with my management group every Friday morning. It’s not so much an operations meeting as it’s, ‘Tell me what’s going on in your neck of the woods.’ We wouldn’t need that meeting if I was stopping to see everybody every day of the week. Finding a way to

do that once a week or once a month is important.

Coach your employees. You’ve agreed on an annual budget, and that budget’s broken into monthly pieces. Everybody knows what their target is. I believe in the three-strike rule. If you’ve had three strikes, then we might put in pinch hitter for you the next time or maybe we’ll get you some extra batting practice on the sidelines.

If we’ve got talented people who aren’t able to meet those numbers that they’ve helped write, then we’ve got to give them some coaching. Sometimes that means moving from one department to another. Sometimes it means sending them to some off-site education, some training programs. Sometimes it means there’s a better opportunity on another team somewhere.

Coaching, counseling, cheerleading, all those things come together to work with an individual.

HOW TO REACH: National Bank and Trust Co., (800) 837-3011 or