Listen up Featured

8:00pm EDT September 19, 2006
 Thomas G. Caldwell learned the hard way that you can’t please everyone.

“I was one of those folks who grew up through the ranks, and when I attained the presidency, I was dumb enough to think I could keep everybody happy at the same time,” says Caldwell, president and CEO of Middlefield Bank and its holding company, Middlefield Banc Corp. “It didn’t take too long for me to realize that was impossible. It led to decisions that probably were not in the best interest for the long-term success of the company.”

So instead of focusing on being liked, he started promoting the company’s goals and communicating to employees that if Middlefield achieved those goals, each employee would share in its success. Since then, the 75-employee bank has prospered, averaging 10 percent revenue growth each year.

Smart Business spoke with Caldwell about the importance of involving your staff in the decision-making process.

How do you communicate your vision to employees?
A lot of the decisions we make, we make as a group. We have a pretty good understanding of what the direction and the goals of the company are. When it comes time to strategize on how we’re going to accomplish those goals ... we like to think everybody is on the same level.

We encourage everybody to have open discussions, to give their opinions, thoughts and ideas, and we discuss the merits of all of those. When we leave the meeting, we have a consensus on which way we’re going to go.

Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t, but the one thing we stress is, once we walk out of that meeting, we’re all on the same page and we’re all working to accomplish the goals that we’ve set.

Why is that important?
It reminds everyone what we are trying to accomplish, plus it gives the staff an opportunity to give their feedback. Let’s face it, those are the folks who are talking to the customers day in and day out.

We may sit on our lofty chairs and think we have all the answers, but it’s the staff members who see the people day in and day out, who are the first ones to let us know if there are some concerns out there or we need to change the way we’re doing some things.

We’ve instituted a lot of suggestions the staff has suggested, and we’ve done it quite successfully. It’s important they understand that they’re an important part of what we’re trying to accomplish. Also, the staff has seen us put into practice some of their suggestions, and it gives them a feeling of comfort that we really are listening to what they’re saying.

It gives an importance to what they are saying, and the fact that we act on it makes them less hesitant to offer other suggestions.

What is the difference between a good CEO and a good leader?
There are a lot of common qualities between a CEO and a leader. It requires someone who is knowledgeable about their industry. They have to be able to look forward and understand what they need to (do) in order to continue success and remain competitive.

They need to be a good communicator and get that message out, not just to staff but to the public. They also need to be a good listener.

There’s always somebody out there who can do things better and smarter than you. You should be able to observe and learn from what they are doing and make it work for yourself, too.

What do you look for in a new hire?
If you’re looking to fill a specific position, obviously experience and past successes are very, very important. But our business is primarily a relationship business, so one of the things we look for in new hires is a pleasant, outgoing personality.

They are very comfortable sitting down and talking to someone they don’t know well. They have to be able to make that person they are sitting across from very comfortable, to discuss whatever issues they want to discuss. It’s all about relationships, and people want to feel comfortable that the person they are talking to can meet their needs.

We like to think we can be very flexible in how we treat each customer. We need those kind of employees who have the ability to be flexible themselves.

A lot of our employees are involved in several social or civic organizations, sometimes in leadership positions. When they’re involved, they see what the community needs. When they see the community needs certain things, and the bank is striving to meet those needs, it becomes easier for them to try to accomplish the same things we are trying to accomplish.

HOW TO REACH: Middlefield Bank, (440) 632-1666 or www.middlefieldbank.com