Carol Jackson steers HarbisonWalker International through the chaos of change

Three become one

HWI couldn’t just call itself a different name and expect its employees to think and act like one company. Experienced leaders like Jackson were hired to stabilize and grow the business. They reset the mission, vision and values, and created the first five-year strategic plan.

The commercial organization, under Jackson’s purview, had some of the greatest need for integration. Each company had separate business units with redundancies, rather than one organizational design with functional competencies.

Jackson says it was a painful process. It included change management exercises and process mapping to establish roles, responsibilities and competency models. HWI had to get people engaged and help them understand why the changes were so important.

“By virtue of that process, over time, folks started to refer to themselves as Harbison,” she says. “It didn’t happen overnight.”

People were moved to new roles without any reductions. But that meant getting the full picture of employee skill sets through the use of assessment tools.

“If someone is doing a job that they’re good at and they enjoy doing, we’re going to be more successful in the end because we’ll have highly engaged people doing a really good job,” Jackson says.

In addition, the workforce went through cultural training once the company’s mission and vision were established under six core values. Three years later, the cultural initiative remains ongoing.

Since Jackson became CEO and chairwoman in July 2017, culture has become top of mind. Her role is about more than business objectives. She needs to ensure the culture continues to advance.

Just like safety, you can’t just say it, you have to provide tools to make it happen, she says.

“Just this morning, I recorded my weekly CEO message, and I highlighted examples of people demonstrating our cultural beliefs in action,” Jackson says.

Clarity of purpose

While she continues to bring additional talent in from the outside, Jackson also has accelerated promotions where it makes sense and spent time learning from employees and customers.

HWI already had experience and commitment to the industry and company. But now, there’s also ambition. Ambition to achieve increasingly aggressive business goals, while adding clarity and alignment around individual goals.

To make this work, Jackson says, you need the right supporting tools and never-ending, authentic communication.

“Having the ability to communicate on a human level to the folks who have to get the job done is so critical,” she says.

Each employee knows the year’s goals and how they impact daily tasks. This is communicated through the weekly CEO address, town hall meetings and the Harbison Business System, which includes tier meetings and accountabilities for each employee level.

“You have to draw a line in the sand and have clear objectives,” Jackson says. “And then cascade those objectives clearly and repeat the message over and over again.”

Amidst the chaos of change, Jackson and her leadership team articulate HWI’s bigs, which are the large goals that, no matter what else happens, must be accomplished. These goals are tied to compensation benefits to ensure a clarity of purpose.

“There’s no secrets around here, and if we think there are secrets, we’re kidding ourselves because there’s the watercooler,” Jackson says. “So, we might as well just tell people what’s going on.”

Employees are taught, too, because engaged, educated employees add to the company’s success. For example, the CFO conducts lunch-and-learns with a lemonade stand analogy to help people understand finance 101 and things like cash flow statements.

Staff also can see how HWI is doing relative to its annual objectives, via the company intranet.

About the time Jackson became CEO, HWI didn’t look like it was going to meet its goals for the year. She made a point of reporting constantly and communicating what levers needed to be pulled before year-end. Everyone got on board and HWI undertook a dramatic shift.

“We turned a corner, and I’m absolutely confident it was because we simplified the goals to a couple of really important (we’ve) got to do this, no other alternatives,” she says.