If you work for Joe Schumacher, introductions are the appetizer at lunch.
When Schumacher gathers his employees together for a lunch meeting at Goddard Systems Inc., he makes sure that accountants sit with operations people, his legal staffers sit with marketers, and so on. It’s one of the most effective ways he encourages communication and prevents silos at the franchisor of The Goddard School for Early Childhood Development, where Schumacher serves as CEO.
“We want people from different departments at the same table,” he says. “One of the great pieces of feedback we’ve gotten is that everyone seems to like that. They had an opportunity to talk to other people that they normally wouldn’t have talked to.”
Schumacher oversees 115 direct employees and must set uniform standards for 368 franchised schools around the country, employing between 20 and 25 people each. Therefore, this means that promoting good communication and reinforcing the organizational direction of Goddard Systems are daily tasks for Schumacher.
He follows through on these tasks by facilitating an ongoing dialogue between levels and locations within the organization. Whether it’s corporate leadership speaking with a franchisee or different franchisees in different states speaking with each other, Schumacher wants the exchange of words and ideas to become an everyday occurrence underneath the Goddard umbrella.
“It’s really the biggest challenge for any franchise company, aligning the franchisees and the corporation as to the direction you’re heading,” Schumacher says. “The economy has certainly made everybody focus more on the core issues facing the company and the values of the company. The way to answer the challenge is to ensure that everyone has a voice in the approach that the company is taking. That includes franchisees and employees and making sure that everyone has a chance to be heard.”
Reach out to your people
From the time they sign the contract to run a Goddard School, franchisees are taught that communication is a major priority within the organization. When possible, Schumacher meets with each new franchisee personally and emphasizes the need for an open dialogue among all areas and levels of the Goddard system.
Schumacher and his staff also employ liaisons to help franchisees with their transition into the system, offering new additions a resource on how the organization does business as well as a sounding board for any issues the new franchisee might encounter.
“We do a lot to ensure that both our franchisees and our employees have methods for communication and understand that we have an overarching philosophy that encourages communication,” Schumacher says. “When a brand-new franchisee comes into our training class, I tell them that we are focused on communicating back and forth. We might not always agree on every issue, but I promise your voice will be heard.
“As part of that, we have a pre-opening process manager, and that person’s job is just to deal with people from the time they sign as franchisees. Then we have a franchisee liaison to act as an independent sounding board, someone who is not related to any department, who reports directly to me and can talk to franchisees about any issue the franchisee feels is important.”
Once new franchisees receive their initial training, they are encouraged to maintain contact with corporate management whenever they have an idea or issue to address.
“Franchisees are encouraged to call or e-mail anyone internal in the organization, up to and including me, on any issue,” Schumacher says. “We don’t want you to have to go through seven layers of management to reach us. So franchisees will regularly call me about both good things that are happening and things they might have some concerns about. Our policy is that calls and e-mails are answered within 24 hours, even if we might not have an exact response. I might not always have the answer of a more complicated problem, but I will connect with you and tell you on the matter.”
Turning a communication strategy into reality takes good execution from the upper levels of management. You need to be able to set the example from the top. But before you get to the blocking and tackling of rolling out a strategy, putting the priority in front of your people with words and messages can go a long way toward setting the ground rules of communication.
“The most important thing is making sure all of the constituencies understand that this is a priority for the company,” Schumacher says. “I regularly tell both franchisees and employees that I need to hear from you. This is my job as CEO, and this communication is the most important part of my job. Overall, whoever your constituencies are, you need to be making sure they understand that communication is important to the company, whatever they say won’t be taken personally by management, and they’ll be able to identify issues without fearing retaliation.”
From there, you need to have people in place who can help maintain your strategy’s momentum. That is the role of Schumacher’s franchisee liaisons. At your company, it might be your human resources department or corporate communications specialist. But someone in your organizational hierarchy needs to be trained on greasing the cogs of communication on a daily basis.
“Those two liaisons give people a specific point of contact,” he says. “If they don’t know who to talk to, they can go to those people and be directed to the right person.”
Make a lateral pass
Corporate management plays a vital role in communicating with your people in the field, ensuring that they stay focused on your organizational objectives and feel empowered to carry them out. But that is only a part of the communication equation.
Your dialogue needs to be lateral. Your salesperson in one part of the country needs to develop a working relationship with salespeople in other parts of the country, allowing them to share ideas and get a better grasp of what is and isn’t working among the company ranks.
At Goddard Systems, Schumacher has taken the step of formalizing peer communication among his franchisees. As part of a systemwide mentoring program, more experienced franchisees are given the opportunity to coach new franchisees on being a part of the Goddard organization.
“It’s somebody else they can call or e-mail to talk about issues,” Schumacher says. “We do the same things for our schools’ education directors, with a mentoring program in which more experienced directors get mentors, as well.”
Franchisees with high-performing Goddard locations are selected as mentors for the program. In recent years, more than 40 new franchisees have been mentored in the program. Schumacher estimates that about 20 franchisees received mentoring in 2010, due to a drop in the establishment of new franchises.
If you operate a business with multiple people in the same market, it is often advantageous if you can connect those people and allow them to find common goals. Even if you have locations or salespeople who might be competing with each other in a given market, if they are finding common areas of motivation, it will serve to strengthen your company overall.
Schumacher has encouraged Goddard franchisees in individual markets to find common ground in the marketing of the Goddard concept to the surrounding community. Some local schools have unified on creative marketing concepts.
“Our Denver market decided they wanted to sponsor the children’s play area at the Colorado Rockies baseball stadium, so they unified on that initiative,” Schumacher says. “They’d have things like ice cream socials and open houses to attract enrollment in their areas, so they tried to do that as a unified force, as well. There are 13 schools in the Denver area, so they tried to do the open house and socials on the same week.”
Schumacher wants his franchisees to take any opportunity to get together and talk shop, whether it be a formalized meeting or a less formal interaction.
“We put on an excellent business and social program, but even if they were just OK, the best part about any meeting is when you have franchisees coming together and talking with other franchisees about common issues,” he says.”
Know your role
As the person in the top spot of your company, your job is one of support and motivation when it comes to your team.
You can speak about having an open-door policy, about the standards you want for your company, how you want your employees to represent the company and the resources you’re willing to provide for them, but as you’ve been taught since grade school, actions speak far louder than words. Which means it is imperative that your actions follow your statements and employees don’t get the sense that you’ll say one thing and do another.
“A lot of your job is to set the tone,” Schumacher says. “It is important that the entire company, whether employees or franchisees, know that communication and adhering to the mission of the organization is key. That’s why living what you say is important. If I bloviate about the importance of communication but don’t tell people things or tell them to come back later, it becomes apparent that what I’m saying is just words, that I don’t take it very seriously.”
You need to realize the difference between leadership and management. You have elements of both in your role. You are a supervisor who manages others and a leader who seeks out new opportunities and charts a course to reach them. But you can’t let your supervisory role cast a shadow over your role as leader. If you try to control too much from a process standpoint, you run the risk of micromanaging, which can be detrimental to the trust factor in an organization.
If an employee has an idea and wants to run with it, accept it or decline it. If you decline it, explain why. If you accept it, give the employee resources and benchmarks, but let him or her take the creative lead.
“It’s often a criticism of upper-management types that they’ll sort of steal people’s ideas,” Schumacher says. “I try to make sure that if somebody gives me or the company an idea about something, they get recognized for it. Whether it’s in a meeting or communication or wherever, I try to make sure our managers understand it’s a better sign if a manager celebrates people and allows them to be recognized for the contributions, as opposed to the manager taking the credit.”
Recognition is one last vital part of the communication process. It stimulates ideas and encourages employees to come forward with new ideas in the future. It helps reinforce a unified, goal-focused company. And there is a difference between putting a bonus plan in place and actively recognizing someone. Both forms have their place, but neither is a catchall.
“Everybody, if not needs, then certainly wants recognition,” Schumacher says. “It’s easy in any company to feel like you’re laboring in the dark and that nobody really knows what you’re doing or how important it is to the company.
“That’s why monetary and nonmonetary recognition serves different roles. I think a simple recognition, intermittent and unexpected, often goes a lot further than money. But the two have to work together. You’re not going to have people happy about a gift card or a pat on the back if they’re not getting paid well enough or they’re not able to make bonus. That’s why it’s probably better if the money stuff is basic and expected, while the nonmonetary stuff is more unexpected and intermittent.”
How to reach: Goddard Systems Inc., (610) 265-8510 or www.goddardschool.com
The Schumacher file
The Goddard School for Early Childhood Development
Born: Queens, New York City
Education: Psychology degree from St. Francis University, Loretto, Pa.; law degree from Widener University School of Law
First job: I was a janitor at some kind of warehouse. I don’t even remember what it was. I think I was about 14 at the time.
What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?
Transparency is the best business lesson I’ve learned. Be straight with people, and when news isn’t good, just deal with it. If you hide or avoid things, it just makes them more difficult to deal with.
What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?
Commitment and dedication. People need to understand that you are committed to the enterprise and committed to what it takes to make it work. You also need to be sensitive to people’s thoughts and ideas.
What is your definition of success?
Setting appropriate goals and then achieving them. It’s also important to have some fun along the way. We aren’t running an amusement park, but overall, your work should be something you enjoy. And, of course, profitability is an important element of success, as well.
If Kobe Bryant played for Greg Ashlock’s team, the star wouldn’t get much coaching about the fundamentals of basketball. Nor would he need it.
Ashlock knows that key players don’t need specifics about how to play the game. As the market manager and president of Clear Channel Radio Los Angeles, Ashlock has learned how important it is not to micromanage his 400 employees.
“You still need a coach to direct that a little bit … and think more strategically,” Ashlock says. “But as far as the day-to-day activity is concerned, I don’t really need to manage that in the same way Phil Jackson doesn’t really need to manage how Kobe’s going to get to the basket and score. He needs to orchestrate some of the plays. He needs to orchestrate the strategy on how they’re going to play against the Celtics.
“However, from a tactical level, they’re performers. They’ve proven to be performers and they don’t need somebody overseeing their minute-by-minute or hour-by-hour decisions.”
Ashlock has adopted that hands-off philosophy across the eight radio stations in the L.A. market of Clear Channel Communications Inc. By staying out of the way of his employees, he unlocks their creativity and makes the company stronger with their innovation.
A recent success story comes from Dan Granger, an account executive in Ashlock’s market who broke the radio mold to make his clients more successful. He took some tactics that have been popular in Internet advertising, applied them to radio and created what he calls audiolytics — radio ad campaigns founded on transparency, accountability and analytics.
Granger will be the first to tell you it’s not just about taking the ball and running — it’s about the result.
“All the creative ideas in the world don’t matter,” Granger says. “It doesn’t matter how much buzz you create. It doesn’t matter how many people laugh at your ad and are entertained by it if nobody’s buying your product. This economy is reminding people that we should be as accountable as we can be for the results we produce.”
Clear Channel encourages autonomy, but don’t assume employees just do whatever they want whenever they want.
“If you want that kind of freedom, then you have to have the successes to warrant that,” Ashlock says. “That autonomy’s not granted to everyone. You really do have to earn the right to get that autonomy.”
Employees have to prove themselves capable of the responsibility. It starts with bringing people on board who are already autonomous.
“It’s critical that you hire the right people, because if you’re going to grant autonomy to somebody, they have to be competent,” Ashlock says.
He looks for candidates who exhibit initiative and have some success to show for it. You have to dig to find that.
“The way you’re going to know somebody’s a self-starter is based on past experience,” Ashlock says. “Whether it’s the work they’ve done or through the people that you talk to that they’ve worked for, there’s no better example or backup for somebody on whether or not they take initiative.”
Start by asking candidates to elaborate on what they’ve done. But they can say anything. The real test is what their former bosses say, so check references heavily.
“I would never rely solely on an interview,” Ashlock says. “It’s going to be based on past work, reputation, past employers and what they have to say.”
Ideally, the reference will say the employee didn’t come to them with problems but solutions. Look for indicators that candidates are driven by results for the sake of personal achievement, not just to please a boss. When Granger talks about his project, for example, he’s so vested he’ll tell you he’s spending his money, not Ashlock’s.
“Some people crave freedoms, but they know that they’ve got to produce results to maintain that,” Granger says. “Those people put more pressure on themselves than you could ever put on them. For one, they don’t want to fail themselves, but they also don’t want to fail the people who have given them those freedoms and those opportunities.”
Once you hire self-starters, they should prove their ability to drive results before you loosen the reins. Don’t set new employees loose until they have credibility.
“Once you know they’re going to make good decisions, then granting them autonomy and freedom’s not a stretch,” Ashlock says. “Managers that don’t grant the autonomy means they don’t have a lot of confidence in the people below them.”
Once you have employees with initiative, you have to give them opportunities to innovate.
“The biggest thing is, at the top, you have to be willing to take some risks,” Ashlock says. “If you’re willing to take some risks, it actually encourages stepping outside the box and entrepreneurship. If you’re only willing to play it by the game and nobody is able to add their creativity or anything outside of the norm, then that becomes a stagnant culture.”
It’s a balance of encouraging innovation while emphasizing the expected result.
“Everybody knows that it’s a place where they can thrive on creativity and pushing the envelope,” he says. “I don’t mean you push the envelope without vetting the process out a little bit. You do it with a good idea of how and what the result’s going to be.”
In order to vet ideas, you need background. Set the expectation that employees do homework to make their case. Fortunately, self-starters tend to do that without urging.
“It started with just trying to answer the question: What works?” Granger says of his idea. “So many people spend money on radio and walk away and say, ‘Radio didn’t work.’ I wanted to find out why they would end up feeling that way when I knew that there was a way to make it work. So it came from a frustration, and it drove me to just start picking up books.”
Granger dug into “Tested Advertising Methods” by John Caples and “Confessions of an Advertising Man” by David Ogilvy, to learn how industry predecessors produced results. That research taught him about direct-response advertising and provided case studies for proving his idea to management.
“What it really required is just, No. 1, reading anything and everything that provides case studies — whether that’s from a recent online company that posts information about what they find or it’s reading a book from 85 years ago about what was done,” he says. “We’re all trying to accomplish the same goal, which is sell products for businesses. And it occurred to me that we could take all the same principles that are used in any form of advertising and apply them to our industry.”
Employees should have a plan for translating their case studies into your industry and your company specifically. To do that, they need a keen understanding of your core and future goals.
“We’re here to innovate, have fun and, at the end of the day, move product,” Ashlock tells managers. “And the way we move product is through the innovation and the encouragement of taking educated risk.”
Granger can recite the vision Clear Channel has had since it first began strategically purchasing radio stations in Texas to reach decision-makers in industrial regions — it’s about reaching advertisers and helping them sell. And he could tie that to his new model of tracking results to optimize advertising success.
“Dan, over time, took a very big-picture approach to not just getting an order on the air but, ‘How do I move somebody’s business?’ which is always the right way to approach any client,” Ashlock says.
Because Granger’s idea aligned with the corporate goal and he could illustrate how it would improve a service he already provided, Ashlock’s decision was easy.
“If it’s part of their core business model and they’ve come up with a plan to help with that, then nine times out of 10 they’re dead-on because they know their business so well,” Ashlock says. “If it’s an area that they’re looking to branch out into — maybe it’s something in the digital space that’s not as much part of their core business at this point — I’ll bring in other people more knowledgeable in that area for us to vet out some of the possibilities and some of the concerns.”
Once the pros and cons are on the table, it’s an evaluation of risk versus reward. Think of it as a seesaw where you want to maximize the reward — whether in terms of revenue or customer satisfaction — long-term while reducing risk.
“If the risk that they’re wanting to take is not going to reap that much of a reward, then (we say), ‘Hey, go back and revise your plan a little bit where there’s a stronger chance for us to benefit greater, whether it’s from a ratings standpoint or revenue standpoint,” Ashlock says.
The key here, from Granger’s perspective, is that managers don’t bluntly turn down ideas. Give employees a chance to make them better.
Then consider whether the idea lines up with your core. Ashlock relies on customers for that barometer.
“If there’s some kind of huge revenue potential, but it would damage a brand, I wouldn’t do it,” he says. “If it’s going to compromise our integrity, if it’s not going to resonate with the listener, then we won’t do it. There’s plenty of things that we’ve decided not to do, because they don’t fit what the station’s about and it would seem like a sell-out or a disconnect with our listener.”
A great idea could have all the potential in the world, but that has to actually materialize.
“It’s not autonomy without some kind of measurement,” Ashlock says. “That autonomy … would be short-lived — and when I say short-lived, not a month or two (but) over a nine-month period — if there weren’t successes attached to it. Successes back up that autonomy.”
Ashlock gave Granger’s idea a thumbs up along with a timeline. When you give approval, you also give checkpoints that must be met to validate the proposal.
Those milestones will differ with each project, but obviously you’re looking for growth and improvement — whether that’s with your revenue or customer satisfaction.
“It really had to do with new and repeat business,” Ashlock says. “Are you able to sustain clients better under this model? Are you able to bring more new business on? [It’s] quite frankly talking to the clients and asking them about their experience. Is (the service) better than what they’ve had in the past? Are they getting better results? Are they moving more product? Is their return on investment better?”
When he got emphatic yeses across the board, Ashlock considered the model a proven success. That was easy to back up with facts because, due to the nature of audiolytics, Granger had built-in metrics. Along with a team of three others, he sets up unique phone numbers, landing pages and discount codes to track responses to clients’ ads. They also look at before-and-after trends, such as increases in overall Web traffic.
Legalzoom.com, for example, launched a pilot program with Granger in 2004. There was skepticism from an online company trying radio for the first time, but thanks to the success it has seen through audiolytics, it has grown to be the largest advertiser on the largest news/talk station in the country.
Now, Granger’s team grosses nearly $4 million annually in local radio spot sales.
He couldn’t have done it without an environment that supports innovation while stressing results.
“The biggest indicator whether something is working is if the client comes back,” Granger says. “There’s so much money wasted in the name of creativity, it makes me sick, when this is about performance. At the end of the day, if you perform, if you make (clients) profitable through their investment, they’ll give you more money.”
The Ashlock file
Market manager and president
Clear Channel Radio Los Angeles
Education: Undergraduate degree from Northwestern State University, La., and USC-Annenberg, for graduate school
What was your very first job, and what did you learn from it?
L.A. Dodgers PR department. It’s important to love what you do, and that still holds true today. As I look at business peers across multiple industries, those that are excited to go to work each day are the ones that are performing the best.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.’ John Wooden
Describe your favorite radio station to listen to.
Hot 92.3 (old school and R&B). It just doesn’t get any better than Luther Vandross and Marvin Gaye when you’re looking to kick back and unwind.
What’s your favorite stress relief?
Hanging out with the kids, either in the pool, in the game room on the Wii or playing cards on the patio.
Weatherchem Corp. considered itself a sustainable manufacturing company long before Jennifer Altstadt arrived. But when Altstadt, the president, began using the buzzword “sustainability,” she received some pushback.
“We had a few managers talking about, ‘We have a lot to do to take orders and ship our products; we don’t have time to be tree huggers,’” she says. “That has the wrong context that sustainability is something you do separate from business. With the training and the discussions that are involved, sustainability is how we do business; it’s not separate from business.”
You, your managers and your employees all have to buy in to the idea of implementing sustainability initiatives in order for your company to see any success. So when you suggest forming a company mindset around sustainability, your staff has to recognize the direct link.
“Where we focused first was internally,” says Altstadt, who has about 100 employees. “You can get caught up in the, ‘What does it mean to the outside world?’ It goes beyond the scorecard that large customers might be asking for. To begin, you really have to look internally and create the basics. A basic recycling program has to be in existence. Start small, start simple and see where that goes.
“It’s really been the employees who start to come up with the ideas, and it’s listening to employees where they want to take it. Are they interested in doing more with the community? Are they interested in doing more with wellness? With that mindset, then as you are just doing normal operating, buying equipment, you think, ‘How do we do it a little more different?’ We do start thinking about energy and long-term effects.”
Your employees can’t just show interest, they have to take ownership in the initiative. Instead of forcing ideas, ask them where in the business they think efficiencies can be found. Along with direct conversation, put in place feedback mechanisms specifically for sustainable ideas.
“No. 1 is you just have to listen,” Altstadt says. “That sounds simple, but you have to make time to be available. It’s simply making sure that it’s not only I or the management team that agrees that this is something important. We listen to the ideas. We do have a formal suggestion box that we take seriously. Our vice president of operations, for the most part, is the person who reads those and makes sure they’re implemented.”
No matter how you’re gathering employee feedback, you have to provide individuals with suggestions or a response. Altstadt is informed of who made a suggestion so that she can personally take time to thank that employee.
With a response, Weatherchem also provides small recognition for the idea, usually a gift card for groceries or gas between $25 and $100. The instant recognition encourages employees, even those beyond sustainability, to participate with the suggestion box.
Weatherchem’s sustainability initiatives include going landfill free, making all recyclable products and using a chiller that uses naturally cold air from outside to cool its manufacturing space. The chiller generates energy savings of about 40 to 45 percent compared to previous equipment.
To keep ideas and momentum going, you also need to set measurements where possible and update employees on the progress being made.
“The word ‘sustainability’ makes people feel good. It’s not about cost cutting. At times, that’s one of the benefits, but when you talk about leaving the world a better place and what can we do to help ourselves and help the world, it’s something that makes people feel good,” Altstadt says. “So involvement becomes natural.”
How to reach: Weatherchem Corp., (330) 425-4206 or www.weatherchem.com
Find a champion
Glimpsing at the positions companies are hiring for these days, many of the titles include sustainability manager or sustainability director.
Whether you’re a large company that can hire a full-time employee to implement sustainable measures or a small company increasing your commitment as you grow, you need to have a champion or champions if you want to see continuous improvement.
“You do need a dedicated resource, especially at the very beginning of the program,” says Anna Frolova-Levi, a vice president at Weatherchem Corp.
That resource may be a person or persons. Depending on the size and structure of your company, as long as every top and middle manager has bought in to the program, designating a single person might not be necessary.
The main reason for dedicated resources is that, before you can implement any processes, there are the responsibilities of research, setting metrics and explaining to employees what a company culture based on sustainable measures really means.
Either way, putting people, time and funding behind projects is usually a signal to employees that the focus is important to the company.
“It’s all about people in the end,” Frolova-Levi says. “You have to bring people with you to get excited about the whole concept.”
Suddenly immersed in Switzerland to head teams from 17 different countries, Kelly Grier was understandably overwhelmed. It was late 2000, after she moved her family overseas for a position with Ernst & Young LLP.
Grier was responsible for Europe, Middle East and Africa engagement teams, and she was having trouble handling the group’s broad differences. Some advice from the chief financial officer of a client turned the challenging experience around and shifted her mindset going forward. He told her she wasn’t in the “United States of Europe.”
“Every one of these countries is very unique. Every one of its people are very distinct,” Grier remembers him saying. “They have their own culture, their own mores, their own business practices, and you can’t just come in here and impose the American way. You can’t even try to come in here and have one homogenous approach to all of the different geography, because it’s vastly different from one country to the next.”
Grier is closer to home today, as the managing partner of Ernst & Young’s Chicago office, but she remains a huge proponent of global mobility — if for no other reason than she sees her clients expanding globally all the time. To be able to serve them competitively and effectively, leaders like her need that same expansive mindset, whether or not they hone it overseas.
“That criticality of being able to operate with a global mindset and function effectively in any geography around the world — having that sort of intellectual agility is critically important for us, as a firm, to serve our global client,” she says. “Even if you are solely a domestic organization, the fact is that the global environment is influencing your success, because your competitors might be overseas and pulling your business outside of the U.S. You face domestic competition where there’s a more global mindset, and they’re offering a differentiated solution because of that advantage.”
Grier’s broadened perspective translates into everyday inclusive leadership when she leverages her team’s diversity into a common vision.
“You can’t generalize people or places or business practices,” says Grier, who oversees 1,700 employees at E&Y’s second-largest office. “You really need to understand and respect that there are vast differences — and that’s the power of it. If you aren’t able to harness the power of it, it will be an incredible impediment to your success.”
Draw out diversity
When Grier met with teams from the 17 countries she oversaw, she’d get about 17 perspectives around the issue. She grew so accustomed to that constant diversity of thought that she notices when it’s missing from her team today.
“I can just sense when I’m not getting everything,” she says. “In some cases, I’m not getting everything because people in the room aren’t contributing everything that they have to contribute, and in some cases, it’s because I don’t have the right complement of people in the room. There’s no panacea for this; it’s really a learned behavior that comes from operating in a highly diverse environment where those diverse perspectives are really valued.”
You can obtain diversity on your team by intentionally building it in, but that doesn’t mean you need to place employees just to fulfill a quota of minorities.
“When we talk about diversity of perspective, it’s not necessarily their ethnicity or even their gender — it’s their experiences that inform a more diverse perspective,” Grier says. “You could align (team members) with other activities, other projects, other teams within the organization. Even transferring them from one business to another business or from one function to another function broadens one’s perspective. You could certainly ask that they take on a leadership role in community organizations. There’s almost an infinite amount of opportunities to broaden one’s perspective and create that kind of diversity of thought and experience.”
You can also highlight diversity by grouping cross-sections of employees for projects. Grier forms task forces with representatives from various generations, service lines, genders and ethnic backgrounds. The internal communications task force, for example, represented a spectrum of communication styles, which helped develop more effective messaging that would resonate across the company.
An intentionally diverse team is crucial, but it’s moot if you don’t maximize, and later leverage, the team’s diversity. In order to do that, you have to tap into every viewpoint you can and consider its weight in the discussion.
“Diversity without inclusiveness is counterproductive if anything,” Grier says. “You’ve got to have the ability to really draw out different perspectives and then synthesize a wide variety of thoughts and perspectives. You’ve got to know when you’re not getting that broad and diverse spectrum in the dialogue. Looking for the folks who may not be fully engaging or participating and drawing them out, that sends a message that everybody matters.”
One of Grier’s partners, for example, is an “intellectually sophisticated thinker” with plenty of valuable perspectives to share. He’ll fill an hourlong one-on-one — and then some — with his distinct ideas. But in a two-hour group session, he only makes a couple of comments.
“I’ll ask him in advance of the meeting, ‘This is what we’re going to talk about. You have such a valuable perspective; I want people to be able to benefit from that perspective. I really want you to talk specifically about this when we get everybody together,’” Grier says. “I needed to know that person well enough on a one-on-one basis to know that this is his style, that he does have this incredible broad perspective that’s very valuable. For me to draw that out and get that that very valuable perspective infused in our group discussions, I needed to approach it differently.”
Welcome all ideas
Part of inclusive leadership is soliciting opinions. But if you’re quick to brush off certain perspectives, see how quickly the feedback stops.
You need to give diverse perspectives a safe place to surface by creating an environment where all opinions are welcome.
“How, as a leader, you respond to that contrarian view will really dictate whether or not people feel safe in sharing a perspective that’s different from the norm,” Grier says. “You’ve got to be visibly both encouraging and then rewarding those folks to share a perspective that is different.”
The way you react to comments that directly challenge your stance can be the biggest revelation about your leadership style.
“As a leader, you’ve got to be able to face some criticism of how you’re seeing things, and not become defensive or dismissive,” Grier says. “That immediately shuts down that communication channel. You’ve got to express a little bit of humility — perhaps, ‘I didn’t know that,’ or, ‘I hadn’t thought about it that way.’ You really set the tone by how you behave — not only as a leader of the team but when your own perspective is challenged.”
Even if you end up going with the majority, your decision-making process only benefits from a richer variety of thought. If you want to expand the possibilities on the table, you’ll want to vet every perspective you can.
“If somebody says something that’s a little out of step with the normative thinking and you don’t give that point of view ample airtime in the discussion or if you’re dismissive, if you’re defensive, if you don’t really listen to what’s being said and understand it fully before you make an opinion of what place it has in the discussion, that will immediately shut down that candor that you want,” Grier says. “Make sure that everything that you say is grounded in the spirit of inclusiveness and encouraging that candor, because it’s very easy to just react quickly in a manner that sounds dismissive. At that point, the conversation’s over and everybody around takes a message from that; it’s not just the person who may have made the statement.”
You set the stage for an inclusive environment, but you won’t get far if you’re the only one with that mindset. Enforce an open attitude from your team members, too.
“Where you see a member of your leadership team cutting somebody off at the pass, you’ve got to call them out on that — obviously in a constructive manner and in a respectful manner — so the person who made the comment knows you insist on having that open and inclusive environment,” Grier says.
That’s sensitive territory; so many leaders prefer to privately pull the violator aside later. If you can do it constructively though, as Grier does, call the person out in the meeting to make a point for everyone.
“I would probably say, ‘Bob, I think that Jim was about to share a perspective that I would find very valuable,’” she says. “‘Before we move on to the next point that you were going to make, I want to make sure that he has an opportunity to complete that thought.’”
The more diverse viewpoints you draw out, the more perspectives you have to keep straight. Managing and synthesizing those is the key to leveraging diversity.
To keep track of what her employees think, Grier records it all.
“I take copious, copious notes,” she says. “It sounds so fundamental, but I will take notes of every one of these conversations. Very quickly, you see themes emerge. They’re not exact replications of one another but there are common threads through these conversations. It really does become apparent after having several of them and reflecting on, ‘What were the key themes and how do I then coalesce those messages into one message that will resonate with everybody?’”
Writing gives Grier something to reference and ensure everyone’s voice is represented. By synthesizing opinions inclusively, you’re setting yourself up for buy-in later on.
For example, Grier spent the first 90 days as managing partner of the Chicago office on a listening tour, meeting one-on-one with partners, senior managers and various staff members as well as with groups of employees. All she did was ask questions about moving the company forward — and listen. Then she melded several perspectives into the vision she conveyed to employees later.
Sure, you won’t satisfy every person’s wishes every time, but weaving every perspective through your thought process will show employees you listened.
“People are more inclined to buy in if they’ve got some skin in the game and they’ve been a part of crafting that vision,” Grier says. “Having that upfront engagement — my 90-day listening tour — people could hear the words that they had said to me in the messages that I then conveyed in a more synthesized fashion afterward. They knew that I had listened to them and they know that their perspective was part of the strategy, and they were on board in driving toward that strategy.”
Another benefit of drawing diverse opinions out during your meetings is exposing members of your team to them. Those discussions can build buy-in by enhancing understanding of the issue, potentially turning employees on to ideas they initially shoot down.
“For example, when a company launches a new internal development program, members of its team may jump to conclusions about what that program means to them,” Grier says. “Team members could make assumptions based on their previous experiences with similar development programs, which impacts their engagement. To maximize results, leaders should elicit a diversity of perspectives right away, debunk misconceptions and incorporate relevant suggestions. Those steps should greatly improve the participation of your teams and the program’s success.”
If you make those steps habitual, you’ll extend the power of diversity into the fabric of your organization. When Grier compares the business world that she witnessed overseas a decade ago with today’s environment and then projects another 10 years into the future, she realizes the importance of continually harnessing all perspectives in an ever-expanding global paradigm.
“You can’t rely on just saying the right things; you’ve really got to experience a mind shift,” Grier says. “Most companies have a stated objective of having an inclusive culture and really celebrating diversity. But first of all, it needs to be grounded in the fundamental imperative, which is that the world is different today than it was a decade ago, and it will be profoundly different a decade from now. We need an entire paradigm shift to be able to not only survive but really thrive in that changed global environment.”
How to reach: Ernst & Young LLP, (312) 879-2000 or www.ey.com
Chicago Managing Partner
Ernst & Young
Born: St. Cloud, Minn.
Education: B.A. in accounting from St. Mary’s College at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana
Favorite travel destination: Italy or France
What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?
My very first job was as a babysitter. I certainly learned the importance of being responsible and communicating well. I actually had a wide set of experiences when I was young: I worked at this Dairy Queen-type shop. I also worked at a machine shop, if you can believe that, for a period of time as I was putting myself through college. I’d say you can probably take all of those experiences together and one of the key lessons learned is just respect — respecting everybody for what they bring to the table, having a bit of humility to how you approach the people that you work with at all spectrums of the work environment. I have a great deal of empathy and support for the people who come in and empty my trash bins because that’s very much aligned with a job that I would have been doing to put myself through college.
Your workday is off to a bad start. How do you turn it around?
I truly don’t have many days that start off on a bad note. I actually just love what I do. There’s array of challenges or issues that I’ve got to deal with, but rarely does that actually cause me to perceive that as a bad start. My workday is also very dynamic. What I do from 7 to 8 and then what I do from 8 to 9 and thereafter is very different. So it would be difficult for me to get mired in any particular issue because I’m so quickly on to the next.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
It’s got to be being able to clone myself to be a multitude of places at the same time. I feel like I’m trying to do that on any given day, anyway.
If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be and why?
I would say Martin Luther King. He was such a dignified leader and was so committed to his values and faced such incredible adversity. He could have gone down a path of conflict and destruction and he didn’t. He was so committed to his values of what’s right and what’s wrong that he was able to really galvanize this whole sweeping nation of change in a way that was still aligned with his values. That’s difficult to do. It would be easy to become frustrated and angry and try to force change in a way that is perhaps not aligned with your core values. Somehow, in the face of adversity we can’t even imagine, he was able to do it. As a leader, that’s a quality that I greatly admire, that ability to galvanize and inspire others to do good and to carry out the mission without losing your way from a core value perspective.