Jerry Kelsheimer Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2007

Jerry Kelsheimer knows that he shouldn’t be talking on his cell phone and driving at the same time, but he can’t help it. Kelsheimer,president of The Huntington National Bank’s Cleveland region, an arm of Huntington Bancshares Inc., is interested in getting feedback inany way he can. So even as he drives through downtown Cleveland, he keeps his Rolodex on the passenger seat and keeps his fingersbusy by dialing up customers to ask them how Huntington is doing. It might not be the safest driving strategy, but using every free momentto learn more is part of Kelsheimer’s leadership style. And that desire doesn’t just extend to Huntington’s customers; Kelsheimer appliesthe same philosophy with his 1,000 employees, using every avenue he can think of to hear what’s happening on the front lines. SmartBusiness spoke with Kelsheimer about why you should hire people who can take your job and why you have to celebrate good times.

Use celebration to drive energy. You can’treplace positive energy, and the celebrationis the energy that drives an enterprise. Youmake sure associates hear, ‘Good job,’ as away to direct positive influence as opposedto a corrective influence all the time.

You see a lot of e-mail, voice mail and personal notes flying around our company. Wemeasure that, and it is an expectation of ourleaders that they are watching and makingsure to say things like ‘thanks,’ ‘good job’and ‘congratulations’ in a personal and sincere way where it’s appropriate.

You can’t quantify how much that helps,but I’ll tell you this, we’d certainly notice ifwe didn’t do it. Capable, committed peoplewant to work for capable, committed people. Winners want to be around winners;they thrive on the interaction. We want tobe committed here to an environmentthat’s positive, that’s high energy. We operate in a very competitive landscape, and wewant to have everyone in it together in away that’s fun. Winning and having fun gohand in hand, and taking the time to stop,recognize, affirm and celebrate all works inconjunction with that.

Hire with higher hopes. My view is, be secureas a leader when you hire. You have to hirepeople that can take your job. My world isa lot easier if I’ve got superstars workingaround me doing their job.

To do that, I look at someone who we’retalking with to see if they will fit with ourteam and culture. We have a very well-defined set of values, and in our process ofconsideration, we’ll talk about values, whatthey mean to us, what they would mean toa fellow associate and see if that matchesup with the person we’re interviewing.

Secondly, I look at somebody’s life balanceand their life skills. Does an individual seemto have the right perspective in general ontheir outside-of-work stuff? You rarely meetsomeone who is overwhelmingly successfulprofessionally that doesn’t have their life incheck and the ability to articulate it in a waythat shows it’s under control.

Ask for feedback. The basic way to get feedback is to continually ask. Each week, Ispend time at our banking offices, and I’malways asking. You never get it if you don’task for it.

Beyond that, we’ve set up e-mail boxesfor associates for feedback, where they cansend me e-mails with suggestions, feedback and input. I’ve got a confidential voicemail box so an associate can contact me,and I don’t know where the message camefrom in case anybody has some constructive criticism or ideas on how we can bebetter in the marketplace.

I meet regularly with a randomly selectedgroup of associates for breakfast, and wehave no formal agenda. I just take a piece ofpaper and a pencil and talk to the group andlet them know that I’m there to listen. Weare at our best when we listen to the folkson our front line day to day, so I’m able totake sincere feedback out of those sessions.

Help your employees help the community. Wehave associates and leaders engaged incommunity leadership here in Cleveland.In an industry where our focus has to beon the customer, that only happens if we have associates that share that commitment, that feel good about our goals, theirrole and their sense of purpose within ourorganization.

People don’t care what you know untilthey know you care. They aren’t interested in your direction and influence untilthey know that you are interested in them,so I think it is important for associates tofeel like they’re at a place that cares aboutwhat they are doing.

If involvement in the community isimportant to the organization — which isshowed by allowing associates the opportunity to invest their time and energy andfinances in things that are truly an area ofinterest or that touch the heart and passionof that associate — then associates will seethat. And if they are part of the team andthere are opportunities for them to getinvolved, then that is something they mustbe allowed to participate in because weowe that to the associate.

Push integrity from the top. In today’s world,you want to trust people; that’s a core element of human nature.

Associates want to be in an environmentwhere folks are going to do what they saythey’re going to do, and you have to showthat from the top. It’s important for theassociate to be able to trust that everyoneis doing it the right way, and that is something that management has to be showing.

We tell our people daily, ‘It’s OK to wantto win and compete against the marketplace, but you don’t compete against eachother internally, and we don’t competewith other areas of Huntington.’ At theend of the day, we need to be able to lookin the mirror and say, ‘We worked realhard to do that,’ but it’s more important tolook our family members in the eye andknow we did it the right way. Winningisn’t winning if you don’t take the highroad and do it the right way.

HOW TO REACH: The Huntington National Bank, (800) 480-BANK or www.huntington.com