Someone once told me, “A mother is only as happy as her least happy child.” When I became a mom, I realized that is one of the most truthful statements ever. When one of my children is sick or miserable, it’s impossible for me to focus and be 100 percent right with the world.
I have observed the same phenomenon with teams. Much is written about what high-performing teams look like: they communicate well, they are aligned, they are clear on their purpose and success metrics; and they hold themselves accountable.
However, rarely is it acknowledged that a team is only as effective as its least effective member. It’s like a chain being only as strong as its weakest link. A team cannot realize its full potential if one member is unhappy, working against the team’s vision and efforts, or is behaving inconsistently with what the company is trying to instill in its culture.
The multiplier effect
In mathematical terms, a team’s divisor should be one. The team is as good as it is, not compromised by any single variable. And, when the team is really rocking, there is a multiplier effect that makes its value greater than it otherwise should be. The multiplier comes when teams are hitting on all cylinders and become greater than the sum of the individuals.
However, a non-contributing team member — or worse, one who works against the grain of the team — is like having a divisor greater than one. This diminishes the size of the end product, no matter how large the starting number is. The team will always be less than what it could be.
This weakening of potential can manifest itself strategically, operationally or culturally.
Strategically, it shows up as a leader not supporting enterprise initiatives, not putting the best talent on companywide efforts that will drive major changes, or focusing on a single vertical at the expense of other verticals or the enterprise as a whole.
Operationally, it shows up as a leader running the business in a way that dishonors agreed-to strategies and priorities, or engages in practices that do not support company policy or commitments, or making decisions that favor the local to the detriment of the whole.
Culturally or behaviorally, we see things like not speaking up in meetings on important topics for which they have relevant input, or making/implementing decisions without gathering input from key stakeholders, or behaving in ways that don’t align with the company’s stated values.
Poorly functioning teams a hazard
The ongoing cost of a poorly functioning team can be high. So what can you do about an ineffective team member?
Always start by making the person aware of the effect that his/her actions are having on the rest of the team and the company — and do it in a way that enables learning on both sides. There may be factors not apparent to others that are causing the team member’s behavior.
The conversation must be about listening as well as telling. Feedback should be given by the person’s boss, a senior HR person, or an outside adviser who may be hired to do a 360 assessment. It is important that the dialogue be constructive to enable a more productive future.
If the feedback changes the behavior, that is wonderful. But if not, then ultimately you have to decide whether this individual’s value outweighs his/her cost. If you can’t change the person’s behavior, your behavior may be to change the person.
Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., MPH is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), co-author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” (2010), and author of “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits” (2000, 2007). Dr. Braksick and her team help executives motivate and inspire sustained levels of high performance from their people. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Jean-Paul Ebanga looks up at the sky, he thinks about the more than 3 million people who fly every day on airplanes powered by CFM International engines. In fact, every 2.4 seconds an airplane departs under the power of a CFM engine.
“That means our role today is far beyond delivering engines to the industry; it is also making sure people are traveling in a very safe way at a decent price,” says Ebanga, president and CEO of CFM International, a $15 billion aircraft engine manufacturer that is a joint venture between GE here in the U.S. and Snecma in France.
CFM — which gets its name from a combination of the two parent companies’ commercial engine designations, GE’s CF6 and Snecma’s M56 — combines the resources, engineering expertise and product support of these two engine manufacturers to build engines for narrow body aircrafts.
“Today, in the air transport industry, the narrow-body segment is the main segment of the industry,” Ebanga says. “Looking forward for the next 20 years, there will be a need for roughly 30,000 new airplanes; two-thirds of those will be narrow-body airplanes and CFM is currently leading this market segment.”
If being the industry leader in engine manufacturing wasn’t enough of a challenge, Ebanga also has the challenge of leading a joint venture company where compromise and collaboration is the key to success.
“If you are taking two parent companies with two different cultures and you try to blend them, this will generate some difficulties,” Ebanga says. “But the net result, because you have to find compromise, because you have to work between different cultures, will be more sound ideas and a much more efficient organization.”
Here’s how Ebanga utilizes both GE’s and Snecma’s resources to keep CFM the industry leader in narrow-body aircraft engine manufacturing.
Compromise and collaborate
While a majority of companies are focused on streamlining themselves, CFM has to take a different approach to its business. Its joint venture means CFM has to work to find compromise above all else in order to properly function at its best.
“The problem with the JV is because you have two different constituents, you have to make compromise,” Ebanga says. “There is no one voice saying this is the way and the rest of the team just follows without asking questions. In terms of leadership, it requires some things to be a little bit different than normal leadership.”
The existence of this additional challenge makes this kind of partnership too difficult for some leaders and companies. But Ebanga sees the glass as half-full.
“If you are able to find the sweet spot between the two company cultures and then work around these difficulties, you enable a new space of opportunities and strengths,” he says. “This is the essence of joint venture success.”
CFM has been known for a long time by its superb engine family, CFM56. Now the company is looking to release its next generation of engines called LEAP, for which compromise and collaboration will be key to its success.
“This new product will be designed based upon a very detailed and comprehensive market survey,” he says. “We spend more than three years asking the customer what they are looking for in the next 20 years and understanding in a granular way how the dynamics of the market can evolve, and then we define the product, which is the answer and the solution to that.”
When you have two companies, the reading of the market dynamics will be different because each company has a different way of operating and a different culture, so they will analyze all the signals in a different way.
“Maybe the solution has some things shared, but the two won’t be exactly the same,” Ebanga says. “The whole key is how you bridge the two approaches. How can GE or how Snecma can make the necessary compromise to accept that the other guys also have a great idea and how can you work together to bridge ideas that make a great product.”
The trick is being able to step back from what you believe is the ultimate answer and being able to compromise with other ideas from another company that also thinks they have an ultimate answer.
“By bridging the two, you find out that some of what’s behind the idea of the other company you didn’t think about at first and vice versa,” Ebanga says. “At the end, the product you are putting on the market is far better than the one you could have done alone.”
Both GE and Snecma own their own technology. Snecma works on the front and back of the engine, while GE works on the middle of the engine. For LEAP, they both have been developing technologies for their respective parts of the engine, but the companies don’t unilaterally say, ‘Here’s our part of the engine.’ The other company has to accept and agree with the technology based on analysis. There are checks and balances that go into the process.
“Based on the other company’s remarks, you can improve your own part,” he says. “Snecma might make some comments about the core, which is the responsibility of GE and taking into account these remarks GE will improve its own part of the engine and vice versa. It’s a mutual cross-pollination.”
The level of compromise and collaboration that CFM has developed has been built up during more than 30 years and is now a major part of the joint venture’s culture.
“In our case, the different GE and Snecma leaders, over time, understood that CFM’s success is more important than their own success,” Ebanga says. “That is to say that if I’m trying to optimize my own interests rather than CFM’s interests, at the end of the day, I would lose the game.”
CFM and GE have been very successful at carrying out this approach even though the leaders have changed.
“One way to do that is we manage young leaders in the challenges of working in this strategic partnership environment,” he says. “If you are growing leaders in this environment, eventually when they are in the top spot, they will have the framework to deal with what makes up the success of this JV.”
A joint venture takes an investment in both people and process in order to make it work.
“In a strategic partnership, it is like being a couple — you could fall in love day one and it’s great for a couple of weeks, but if you are not investing in the relationship … it won’t be a great love story,” he says.
Plan for the future
One of the main challenges CFM has is that in the ’70s it was just a start-up company. Now it has become the leader of the aircraft engine industry, and in order to remain in that position, Ebanga and the company must be forward-thinking.
CFM has several matters it needs to focus on for the future of the company. No. 1 is executing on current commitments.
“This is a big deal because we are currently developing a new engine family called LEAP, and the start of this new program has been very successful,” Ebanga says. “We are the sole power plant for the next generation of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, one of the two engine makers of the Airbus A320 aircraft, and we are the sole power plant of the new Chinese COMAC C919 aircraft.”
Beyond making LEAP the next engine of preference, CFM also has to ensure that whatever changes the market goes through in a decade or two from now the company will be able to adapt and reinvent itself to stay in the leading position.
“When you are in this top-dog phase, it’s difficult,” he says. “It’s about working on a short-term basis and, at the same time, articulating a strategy to change the way we are running to make sure we will still have the appropriate fit 10 years from now.”
Planning for what the future has in store is not an easy task. You need to address the situation in a very humble way.
“You are already overwhelmed by the shop-time challenges and to find time and perspective to think about the long-term is rather difficult,” Ebanga says. “Being humble helps you to engage in this journey. Along the way, you will have a lot of reasons to give up for a while and stick with the short-term. I think this is a recipe for failure. You need to stay humble on one end but also stay engaged and not let things go away.”
You also need to understand your market but not in the way you understand your market for your short-term objective.
“When you are looking at the market on a short-term basis, it is to make sure you have the appropriate marketing and value proposition to get yourself up and make your numbers,” he says. “When you are looking at the long-term perspective, it’s really the ability to elaborate scenarios about the change in your industry.” ?
How to reach: CFM International, (513) 563-4180 or www.cfmaeroengines.com
Drive compromise and collaboration for best results.
Be able to reinvent your business to adapt to your market.
Develop plans for how the future of your market may unfold.
The Ebanga File
President and CEO
Born: Paris, France
Education: Graduated from École Nationale Supérieure d'Électricité et de Mécanique (ENSEM), France with a degree in engineering
What was your very first job, and what did you take away from that experience?
I was the leader of the photo club in high school. A lesson I learned from that time is that you can have some great ideas and be very fast in your head, but you have to have the ability to bring people up to speed. This is a great example of how a real organization works.
What got you into aviation?
It was the beauty and the exceptional achievement that this industry is all about. When I was in high school, I had two dreams—the first one was to be an architect and the second was to be an engineer to design great things. To imagine that I could generate some great things to enable this kind of achievement was absolutely fascinating for me. So I chose the engineering path and it still gives me great satisfaction. An aircraft engine is an absolutely amazing piece of technology, but also a piece of art.
Who is someone that you admire in business?
My first thought was the leaders and initial creators of Intel. Not only was this company able to start from nothing as CFM did and became the leading company in the microchip/microprocessor business. Initially they were the leader in the memory business and then they reached a point where they had to reinvent themselves. The reason Intel is the great company they are today is because they were able to reinvent themselves in the absolutely right way. So I admire this generation of Intel leaders.
Most leaders understand that it’s critically important to collaborate regularly on initiatives with their employees, but are they getting all they can out of these interactions?
What leaders may be missing is a new paradigm for employee engagement and competitive advantage.
Many of them are working from an old style of management in which business decisions are made at the top and leaders follow a hierarchy of authority. Senior executives must still set strategy and manage for results, but they can likely achieve better outcomes by letting go.
Authors Craig Schreiber and Kathleen M. Carley explain that adapting a participative-style leadership environment allows people and the business to co-evolve into higher levels, enhancing personal responsibility, accountability, collaboration, innovation and business outcomes.
To do this, leaders need to empower employees to collectively make decisions that drive results and train employees to work in this model.
Employees on the front line are often in the best position to see trends and market opportunities.
Leaders can help drive businesses in new directions and enhance their bottom line by giving lower-level managers and line employees the support and encouragement to assume a much higher level of accountability and responsibility.
Information creation and sharing based on trust are critical components of innovation, according to author R.E. Miles. As they feel more engaged, employees are also more motivated to contribute and add value.
To achieve this, leaders must create an environment where risk within certain boundaries is rewarded so that employees feel comfortable enough to act on their abilities and instincts.
Leaders can support employees by encouraging ideas to grow and flourish among employees rather than through the manager. This will allow employees to identify and pursue opportunities that benefit the company.
The most important — and often most challenging — aspect of leadership is constant follow-through. It is important to discuss leadership techniques with employees and provide training.
Talking through leadership strategies with employees calibrates the group to be more in alignment. It also increases follow-through from employees who feel a part of the process.
Leaders can do this by:
? Discussing best practices among participants
? Identifying leadership needs
? Generating solutions that fit with the needs of the group
? Sharing best practices of employee collaboration throughout the company
? Recognizing work among employees and outcomes
For example, a bank executive wanted leadership training for her front-line managers. Her goal was for them to be able to work out problems and challenges independently or as a leadership group without constantly seeking guidance.
For 10 weeks, we challenged the managers to take more risk and encouraged them to make more decisions at their level. Through group coaching meetings, the employees helped each other consider best alternatives and the executive learned how to manage by letting go. The managers reported feeling more encouraged and engaged, which considerably enhanced results.
Jay Colker, DM, MBA, MA is core faculty for the master’s in counseling and organizational psychology program at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. Colker also maintains a human capital consulting practice and may be reached at email@example.com or at (312) 213-3421.
Decent bosses typically try to lead by example. As a leader, you must model appropriate behavior to promote the greater good and to send a constant message with teeth in it.
The French term “esprit de corps” is used to express a sense of unity, common interest and purpose, as developed among associates in a task, cause or enterprise. Sports teams and the military adopt the sometimes-overused cliché, “One for all and all for one.” “Semper Fi” is the Marine Corps’ motto for “always faithful.” We commonly hear, “We’re only as strong as our weakest link.”
However, the real test of team-building and motivational sayings is that they are good only when they move from an HR/PR catchphrase to a way of doing business — every day.
As soon as you put two or more people in the same room, a whole new set of factors comes into play, including jealousy, illogical pettiness and one-upmanship, all of which can lead to conflicts that obstruct the goals at hand. Certainly, much of this is caused by runaway egos. Perhaps a little bit of it is biological, but most of it is fueled by poor leadership. Everyone has his or her own objective and it’s the boss’s responsibility to know how to funnel diverse personal goals in order to keep everyone on track. This prevents employees from straying from the target and helps avoid major derailments. Essentially, it all gets down to the boss leading by example with a firm hand, understanding people’s motives and a lot of practicing “Do as I say and as I really do myself.”
Communicating by one’s actions can be very powerful. A good method to set the right tone is stepping in and lending a hand, sometimes in unexpected and dramatic ways. This shows the team that you govern yourself as you expect each of them to govern their own behavior. In my enterprises, I constantly tell my colleagues that the title following each person’s name boils down to these three critical words: “Whatever it takes.” Certainly, I bestow prefixes to this one-size-fits-all, three-word title, such as vice president or manager, but I consider these as window dressing only.
After speeches, when I explain this universal job description, I always get questions from the audience about how I communicate this concept. I follow with a real-life experience that played out in the first few months after I started OfficeMax. As a new company, we had precious, little money, never enough time and only so much energy, which we preserved as our most valuable assets in order to be able to continually fight another day.
In those early days, too frequently, I would see what looked like a plumber come into the office, go into the restroom and emerge a few minutes later presenting what I surmised to be a bill to our controller. I knew whatever he was doing was costing us money and probably not building value. The third time he showed up, in as many weeks, I immediately followed him into the restroom (much to his shock and consternation). I asked him what in the world kept bringing him back. He then proceeded to remove the john’s lid and give me a tutorial on how to bend the float ball for it to function properly. That was the last time anyone ever saw this earnest workman on our premises. Instead, after making known my newly acquired skill, whenever the toilet stopped working, I became the go-to guy.
This became an object lesson to my team about how to save money. At that time, 50 bucks a pop was a fortune to us. It got down to people knowing that all of us in this nascent start-up were expected to live up to their real, three-word title. This was our version of how to build esprit de corps. Others began boastfully relaying their own unique “whatever it takes” actions, and it became our way of doing business.
The lesson I learned in those early days was that it wasn’t always what I said that was important but rather what I did that made an indelible impression. A leader’s actions, with emphasis on the occasionally unorthodox to make them memorable, are the ingredients that contribute to molding a company’s culture.
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Nearly four years ago, when Tom Salpietra joined EYE Lighting International of North America Inc. as its president and COO, a woman approached him interested in operational development at the company.
Since Salpietra was a new leader, it was expected that he would make changes within the company to improve EYE Lighting International while keeping the best things about the company intact.
“Everybody is going to have things wrong, but if you preserve what’s right, that’s where the secret is in organizational development and implementing change,” Salpietra says. “If you screw up the things that are right, that’s where you go wrong.”
Salpietra worked with her to develop questions to interview the employees about what they liked at the company. Since this was an appreciative inquiry the study only focused on what the employees thought was sacred about EYE Lighting International, not about what needed to be fixed.
The study found that every employee was extremely engaged in the company and its business.
“This was how we developed the four basic principles around the customer,” Salpietra says. “We made the customer the center of the business and did process improvement to all the things that we do on a day-in and day-out basis.”
EYE Lighting International is a nearly $100 million U.S. division of Iwasaki Electric of Japan. The company designs and manufactures high performance lamps, luminaries and lighting-related products that serve major commercial, retail, industrial, utility and specialty application lighting markets in North and South America.
Since Salpietra’s arrival at EYE Lighting, he has been focusing on efforts to develop new technology and to keep the organization’s sights on the next big thing in the lighting industry all while maintaining employee engagement levels.
Progress your company
EYE Lighting International’s unique competitive advantage is how the company doses the arc tube of its lighting products (dosing refers to the mix of metals inside the arc tube). The market is currently producing a lot of high intensity discharge (HID) lighting but soon the market will move to LED lighting. While LED works in certain applications, it is expensive, and there are still kinks to work out in other applications where it’s not ready for prime time.
“We’re trying to shift the company from just making HID lamps to offering broader solutions in our market segment,” Salpietra says. “We’re not going to stray from our core competency, which is dosing the arc tube and making unique types of lamps. The challenge we have is if we don’t move in that direction, our years and decades of existence will start to decline.”
As a management team, EYE Lighting knew that the company didn’t have to change too much to succeed, but if it didn’t start changing and moving in a certain direction, it wouldn’t be in that same kind of comfort zone it has been three, six or 10 years from now.
“We’ve taken it very seriously that what we do today will impact the company years down the road,” Salpietra says.
With the lighting industry making a slow transition into LED, Salpietra and his team had to look for opportunities that better suited EYE Lighting’s general lighting purposes until LED is ready for the applications where the company would primarily use it.
“The merging of the two traditional technologies into ceramic metal halide gave us the ability to continue to do what we do, which is making lamps,” Salpietra says. “If that technology wasn’t there, we’d be lost and everybody would be rushing to do LED more quickly.”
What EYE Lighting has been able to do is make the regular technology much more efficient and deliver white light, which creates good color rendering and color temperatures to be able to see both in the day time and at night.
“It’s been proven that white light versus a yellow light or a blue light make a big difference in being able to see,” he says. “If you can make your light create the spectrum that matches the way the human eye wants to see the spectrum and discern it, you’ve just enhanced the way you do it.”
On top of developing new technology to enhance the company’s core offerings, EYE Lighting has been looking for broader applications to its technology and has its sights on potential partnerships that could benefit the company.
“When we do our strategic planning, we look heavily at our core competencies and what we think we can do with new technologies,” he says. “Part of every good company’s strategy has to be looking at the M&A side of things as well; you want to grow organically, but what should you do to augment that growth with outside skills and services?”
Salpietra and his team are keeping their options open for potential strategic alliances, mergers, joint ventures or buying a company outright.
“In order to grow and thrive and create jobs and create value for our customers, shareholders and employees, we’ve got to look at the overall business and determine what we can be looking at to expand our business beyond what we do day-in and day-out,” he says.
A big move that EYE Lighting made in November 2012 was the acquisition of Aphos Lighting LLC, which expedited EYE Lighting’s move into LED. The products acquired are LED-based luminaires that carry with them 14 different design patents for their optical, mechanical and thermal management performance. EYE Lighting will maintain the Aphos name for this new line that will expand its business by introducing LED luminaires to municipalities, utilities and industrial customers.
“As we’ve looked in the general lighting market space, we ask ourselves what’s our core competence and where do we want to go. We get involved in a lot of unique things that stem from our core technology.”
The other areas in which EYE Lighting participates, in addition to the general lighting market, are institutional, educational and hobby markets.
“Because we dose that arc tube differently than anybody else in the world, we’re able to recreate some spectral distributions of light,” he says. “Not just the color of light, but the intensity and what light rays are being emitted from the lamp.”
Due to this ability, EYE Lighting can make lamps that enhance plant growth, as well as lamps that can simulate solar power for use by companies or universities doing solar tests. The company also makes solar aging equipment for businesses such as Sherwin-Williams, Behr paint, automotive companies that make windshield wipers, roofing companies, and anything that’s outdoor-oriented.
“Those types of companies want to test in a lab whether or not they’re going to get a 30-year warranty, but they don’t want to test for 30 years,” Salpietra says. “The equipment nowadays has you test six to nine months to be able to project a 20- or 30-year lifespan.
“We make a machine which is called a super UV. You can put samples in the machine and within three weeks we can equate 10 to 15 years. We can also put more than just UV rays on it; we can also put water on it and chill it.”
These types of broader offerings are due to the highly engaged employees that EYE Lighting has been able to keep around the business over the years.
Keep employees engaged
With a Japanese parent company, EYE Lighting puts a lot of focus on lean manufacturing and kaizen events, and 130 employees are quick to recommend how to better the business.
“What is unique about us is that every employee on the factory floor changes positions at least once a day,” Salpietra says. “Everybody is highly cross-trained and capable of performing at least two different jobs.”
Some employees remain in the same department and move upstream in the process versus downstream. Others will go from one department that transforms the raw material, and then they go to the end of the line to do packaging.
“It allows us a tremendous amount of flexibility,” he says. “The employees love it because they don’t get bored in their daily job. Ergonomically it’s good for them because they’re not doing the same repetitive task day-in and day-out when they come here. It helps keep them alert and safe, especially when they know different jobs and how to behave around different pieces of equipment.”
One thing missing from EYE Lighting that most other manufacturers utilize is a suggestion box. Salpietra says his employees will come forward with ideas on their own, making a suggestion box unnecessary.
“Everything emanates from the floor,” he says. “When the employees change jobs by going upstream or to another department, they see the product of their work or the beginning of what comes to them to pass on to somebody else. So they inherently get together to have a kaizen event over a particular issue.”
To aid in employee’s abilities to help the company further its growth and development, Salpietra and his team implemented four core principles: customer-centric, process improvement, financial focus and talent development.
“We did this rather simplistically to make sure that it was easy for everyone to recite and keep it close to them day-in and day-out,” Salpietra says. “We keep our customer at the center of our business. We deal with process improvement, which is part of our DNA as a Japanese-owned division.
“And everyone in every organization wants to improve and enhance the skill set of employees, so we push our people to get out of their comfort zone.”
Develop your talent
To keep EYE Lighting employees on their feet and thinking about different aspects of the business, Salpietra made talent development a big part of the organization’s core principles.
“We added talent development because that captures what we do on the factory side that we want to do throughout the whole organization, which is work out of your comfort zone,” Salpietra says. “You’re going to become more knowledgeable and more valuable for yourself.”
To allow your employees to grow and develop, you have to be willing to give them the tools and resources to do so.
“You need to have an open-door policy,” he says. “The leadership, especially new leadership, has to develop two things primarily — trust as a leader and then respect comes. Then you can develop the feeling of hope. If the employees see that there’s hope in things and they become a part of that, it will help engage them.”
That engagement will also help when your company has to make a tough decision or make a change in direction.
“It’s very important that you get a lot of group interaction so that when you go to make a decision or implement a change, everybody is onboard with that,” he says. “If you engage your people and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to move in this direction and we’re going to need your help. We do not know all the answers.’
“They love to hear that because they will have questions and suggestions for the company. As much as you engage your employees, they will become engaged on their own. All of a sudden ideas and suggestions will start surfacing.”
How to reach: EYE Lighting International of North America Inc., (440) 350-7000 or www.eyelighting.com
Keep yourself in tune with your industry and where it’s going next.
Always think about ways to broaden core offerings.
Develop talent and keep employees engaged in the business.
Steve Phillips doesn’t understand why customers in today’s world wouldn’t want help from a salesperson. But he’s not so stubborn that he refuses to believe it is true.
“My son keeps talking about stranger danger, that customers don’t want to be approached by salespeople anymore,” says Phillips, president and CEO at Phillips Furniture Co. and six Ashley Furniture HomeStores in the greater St. Louis area.
“As a leader in my position, this is where I’m going to have to rely on these young people to make decisions that will put us in a great position for younger customers.”
Phillips Furniture is a family-run business that launched in 1937. Phillips doesn’t see things the way his father did. His son, Michael, the company’s vice president of advertising and merchandising, doesn’t always agree with his father’s point of view.
But it’s their ability to respect each other’s differences and then reach a consensus on how to operate the business in today’s world that allows the company to succeed.
“I’m hearing what they want, and I’m OK with what they want,” Phillips says of the younger generations that are becoming a larger part of both his customer and employee bases. “It’s just foreign to me. But as a leader, I have to be willing to let them try things that I’m not familiar with.”
Phillips says it’s not always easy to move away from behaviors that you’ve grown up with and used to achieve success. And he doesn’t always believe it’s necessary to shift away from something that has become a proven success. But if it is necessary to change, doing so beats the alternative every time.
“It is tough,” Phillips says. “But it’s tougher if you fail. If I keep dictating policy and how we’re going to do things based on how we did it in the past, I know we will die and that’s not good. So I just really trust these young people, and I trust the organization. If we truly have the customers’ best interest at heart, we’re going to do what they want, not what we want.”
It’s that idea of constantly seeking a better way to please customers that drives Phillips and his 330 employees.
Set a foundation
Perhaps one of the reasons Phillips is more agreeable to accepting new ideas is that he has been reluctant to follow the crowd when it comes to furniture salesmanship.
“The furniture business has not had the greatest reputation for integrity,” Phillips says. “A lot of people give false high prices and fake savings, and I didn’t want to do business that way. We have one price on a piece of furniture.”
The problem for Phillips is that many employees who have worked in the industry for a number of years were trained to take the misleading approach.
“There was a very specific way we wanted to do things that was not normal in the furniture business,” Phillips says. “That’s why we don’t necessarily want people who have been in the furniture business because we don’t know what their training background is.”
The solution for Phillips was to create a training program that new employees must go through before they are allowed to speak to a customer.
“So everything that we do structurally and integritywise is ingrained before they talk to their first customer,” Phillips says. “As a matter of fact, we probably don’t spend enough time talking about product. It’s more about how we do things. We have leadership round tables every month also. We have our leaders come in and we just go through what’s important to our customers.”
The goal is to have a sales team that doesn’t just talk a good game when it comes to pleasing the customer, but they can actually show how they’re going to do it.
“They have to role-play to show us, not just tell us, but show us they know how to service customers the way we want them to,” Phillips says.
That’s the end result. The steps for getting to that point where employees have the ability to display those skills must be dutifully followed if training is going to work.
“You can’t train or correct anything until you can measure it,” Phillips says. “We know how many pieces per hour some of our furniture assemblers can do and what the standard is. We know how many pieces per hour one man can unload on a truck. You can’t manage and train until you know what the issue is, which is only done through measurement.”
Once you have that data to work off of, you’ve got to put what you want to do in writing and then make sure you do it.
“If it’s not in writing, it’s not real,” Phillips says. “So everything is in writing, and you just go over it step by step. They can’t be promoted until somebody observes and there is a physical check-off that this is what they can do.”
If you don’t believe you have time to conduct training with an already cramped schedule, you’ve got to find a way to make it work.
“Training has to be a priority,” Phillips says. “If you get caught in the treadmill of doing business all the time, you’ll never get off the treadmill and start training. If you train and make it part of your culture and your business religion, you don’t think about it as being a disruption of your normal process. It is your normal process.”
Take a visible role
Many leaders will talk about how important a training program is, but then they personally move on to other things and leave the team to figure out the best way to make it work.
Phillips says you have to do more than that as CEO.
“Every training class we have for salespeople, I’m the first presenter,” Phillips says. “I take the first hour or so and tell them about the company and what we stand for.”
The company’s COO tackles the next segment and then training responsibility shifts to Phillips’ brother, Matt, who heads up training at Phillips Furniture.
“What we want these people to see is that everybody at the top also believes in everything we do,” Phillips says. “The fact that we spend so much time with them, we certainly hope that’s what they believe.”
As a way to encourage leaders to want to take part in the training process, Phillips suggests rewards for leaders whose direct reports receive promotions.
“A lot of leaders withhold knowledge or training for fear of somebody rising above them,” Phillips says. “Our managers are rewarded for having someone promoted from beneath them. We love store managers who want their assistant managers or their team leaders to be promoted. They don’t feel threatened by it.”
Focus on core values
The other piece of the puzzle for Phillips is core values. While he is open to changing training methods and operational policy, he leaves no wiggle room on his commitment to the company’s core values.
“No matter what processes or changes you make in your business, you can still hold tightly to your core values,” Phillips says. “That’s the one thing I will never negotiate — how does it look with our core values. You have to keep that out there in front.”
Arriving at the three core values that define Phillips Furniture was no easy chore. Phillips and a team of more than a dozen leaders left the company’s headquarters and headed to a remote cabin in the Ozarks. Once they arrived, it took three days to finish their work.
“There were a lot of great ideas,” Phillips says. “I just didn’t want a lot of them. We could have had 10 great core values, but I wanted to be able to sink our teeth into three or four. Once you get past three or four, they start becoming a little redundant. These were three that nobody could ever argue with.”
The three core values they decided on were “integrity above all else, honesty in all we do and service to others first.”
“If you can get your entire organization to buy in to those three things, you have a much easier time finding great leaders because leaders want to buy into something greater than a dollar,” Phillips says.
Some companies consider “making a profit” a core value and Phillips says he understands, even if he doesn’t agree with it.
“We think that’s the result of doing the first three,” Phillips says. “So we wanted the core values to produce the results that we were looking for.”
Phillips says his company wants to make a buck as much as anyone. But by focusing on other things, such as the customer experience, employee readiness and job satisfaction and giving back to the community through charitable efforts, everybody comes out ahead.
“It’s imperative that a company stand for more than a dollar,” Phillips says. ?
How to reach: Phillips Furniture, (314) 966-0047 or www.phillipsfurniture.com or Ashley Furniture HomeStore, (314) 845-3084
The Phillips File
President and CEO
Phillips Furniture Co. and Ashley Furniture HomeStores/St. Louis
Born: Dayton, Ohio
Education: I went to the University of Missouri for three years. I got married when I was 20, and I got tired of being broke, so I quit school and took a job.
What was your very first job?
Raising vegetables and selling them door-to-door. I’m an avid gardener, and I still am to this day. My first full-time job was in the furniture store while I was going to school at Mizzou.
What got you into gardening?
My dad had an extra lot next to the store. I always wanted to be a farmer my whole life, and now I do own two farms. There is something really neat about getting your hands in the soil. He gave me this plot of ground, and I had a wagon. I would load it with vegetables I grew and picked and I would take them door to door to our neighbors. I didn’t have prices. I always said pay me what you think they are worth and I got taken advantage of quite a bit. So I learned not to do that the next year.
Who has been the most influential person in your life?
It would have to be my mother and my father. From a business point of view, it would have to be my father. He was the most patient and kindest man you ever met. I never saw him raise his voice ever. I don’t know that I got those traits from him, but I’ve always admired those traits. My mother had six kids and she’s a phenomenal woman.
Don’t be afraid to change.
Make the time to do training.
Don’t choose too many core values.
One of the patterns I often see are highly talented employees who plunge from being the likely successor to the CEO, the company’s best salesperson or the best hire ever made (aka: the hero) to being questioned whether they have what it takes to remain in the company (aka: the dog).
How does this happen? How can employees who earn such superlatives bottom-out? Can they really be so great and then become so terrible? Were their initial contributions and potential misread or overstated? How can someone plummet from “Second Coming” to “How do we move him or her out?” And why does this happen so often?
When I see this hero-to-dog pattern, I attribute it to three not-so-obvious factors.
Losing your perspective
When a person is selected for a new job, we often see very high levels of performance and potential. We see them doing things we’ve long wanted, at a level we only dreamed about. We attribute all kinds of greatness and possibility to the individual.
However, this may actually be more illustrative of the low baseline they started with. If we become accustomed to an underperforming incumbent, the new hire seems super human by comparison.
You have to set clear criteria for what you expect a fully performing person in the role to look like. Measure the person in the new role against these criteria, not against the predecessor.
You may find you finally have a strongly performing person in the role, doing a great job. That’s what you hired for. By all means, recognize and reward their impressive performance, but don’t exaggerate their incredibleness until you are sure they are truly exceeding expectations.
As executives, our business success depends on the performance of our leaders and key performers. We can’t win with mediocre performers, and we can’t succeed unless our key performers do.
Therefore, although we hate to admit it, we would gladly welcome a person to come along and save the day. Consequently, we often overstate and overinflate greatness from a high performer. We are so hopeful that we start believing that one person can actually save the day.
Don’t burden a high performer with your desire for someone to save the day. Praise and reward the person’s great performance, but don’t allow yourself to believe you are seeing anything other than high achievement by a hardworking person with high standards of excellence.
Reading too much into the start, not the finish
Running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace will burn out the runner before the finish line. A new person may overachieve early, looking like the greatest hero to walk the earth. However, the pace may not be sustainable and holding the person up as an example of best ever only makes the fall harder.
Starting great is extremely important, but finishing greater is what really matters. You want to help sprinters run their best times but at a pace they can sustain to the finish line. Don’t decide the really strong athlete is Olympic material until they win a few races. Better they are noticed for how they finished, in addition to how they left the gate.
Your credibility with the board and the organization can be harmed significantly when a hero-dog situation occurs or, worse, becomes a pattern. Your judgment of people will be questioned and trust will be weakened.
Remember: Keep perspective and skip the superlatives. Success comes from hardworking people, engaging in the right behaviors, sustained over long periods of time. Don’t be lured into believing otherwise. ?
Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), co-author of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010), and author of Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2000, 2007). Dr. Braksick and her colleagues help executives motivate and inspire sustained levels of high performance from their people. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or email@example.com.
Think of the best leader that you have ever known. What is it about this person that made him or her such a great leader? It is very likely that we are all describing someone who is highly passionate, respected, driven, caring, servant-minded, ambitious, motivating, knowledgeable, confident and who gets things done.
What is it about that person that motivated you to put forth extra effort to perform? Better yet, how can we each be leaders or be that person who others want to follow?
Actually, leadership does require those traits described above or those exhibited by the person you thought of as the best leader. Those traits are often inherent, although they can also be enhanced through experience, mentoring and education.
Let’s understand the important qualities and behaviors that demonstrate successful leadership.
Leading by example. Whether it is working hard, making the difficult choices, taking risks or sacrificing personal time, a successful leader needs to consistently lead by example. It’s the key to authenticity.
Integrity. Leaders are honest and dependable. Others need to count on you to not compromise on your principles. Others need to see that you can and do take the tough road through a situation to “do the right thing.”
Solid goals. Know your goals and what you are seeking to achieve. A leader needs to have a solid objective. A successful leader has direction, and when others know what it is, they know the expectations, catch the vision and seek to work with the leader to achieve it. It is difficult to get others to do what you want if you don’t know what you want.
Knowledge. Know and understand your obstacles, competition and risks. You need to leverage yourself and your group for the best chance of success. This may mean that you need to consult an expert.
Provide for autonomy. Those working with a leader need to understand the defined goals and from there, individuals need to have the ability to be creative and have the ownership to decide how to achieve the goal. Successful leaders encourage people to think, innovate and own the solution.
High standards. Leadership should expect a high level of excellence. People want to be proud of what they are doing. High standards should not be ones where the goal is perfection. The standards should be high but still maintain the allowance and the realistic expectation that people will make mistakes. Good leaders minimize the lessons learned through errors and oversight, although they take optimal advantage of these opportunities to learn.
Humility. Leadership is not about you; it is about others and reaching the goal. As one has more successes, this trait may become more challenging to maintain. Leadership focuses on what was accomplished and acknowledges those who accomplished it. Humility understands that the accomplishment came through those you lead. Humble leaders encourage others and give them credit.
Execution. Execution requires discipline to get things done. Many leaders have the ability to define great strategies but often there is a gap between what is desired and one’s ability to achieve it.
True leadership is a demonstration of all the characteristics listed above. To some extent, they are inherent in each of us and it is our choice to develop them. We each have the opportunity to search ourselves for these characteristics and step up to be the leader for someone in our lives.
Sue Chase is COO of Clinical Research Management Inc., www.clinicalrm.com. She is filling in for quarterly columnist Victoria Tifft.
When significant change is on the horizon for your business, it is important to recognize how people react to the unknown.
In an article by David Rock, the co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, two broad themes are discussed.
The first is that each of us is driven by an “overarching organizing principle of minimizing threat and maximizing reward.” Those immersed in the drama of an acquisition are biologically driven to wondering and worrying about what will happen to the existing social order.
The second theme is that there are parallels between the way we respond to how well our social needs are met and how we respond to the meeting of our physical needs. He cites a study indicating that it hurts just as a much to be left out as it does to experience a hammer meeting our thumb.
Rock proposes a model, SCARF, which includes these two themes as a way to help us navigate what can trigger reward or threat behaviors in social situations. The model, in short, is as follows:
Status - This refers to how important we are or perceive we are within a particular group. When a company is acquired, employees may believe they will be viewed as lower on the totem pole than employees within the acquiring company.
What can you do?
Promote a culture of respect in which everyone’s opinion is valued in ways appropriate for their areas of expertise. When discrete events occur (e.g., promotions, acquisitions, etc.), be proactive in communicating how and why personnel decisions have been or will be made.
Certainty - Certainty refers to the need our brain has to respond to recognizable patterns. When we can’t, error messages akin to a “flashing printer icon” go on.
What can you do? Be clear. Be as specific as possible. For big projects, break them down into specific steps. In individual interactions, remember that the level of clarity necessary will be different for each person. When details are pending, promise that more details will follow, communicate a timeline for the additional information and deliver on that promise.
Autonomy - The third point refers to how much choice and control we perceive we have over our lives. As a leader, do you find yourself telling others what to do in their area of expertise? If so, you may be restricting their autonomy.
What can you do? Don’t micromanage. Enough said?
Relatedness - This refers to whether or not someone is “in” or “out” of your group. We’re all familiar with the student who doesn’t have an “in” group and sits by himself at lunch. His brain is firing the message that he’s on the outside looking in.
One way to promote relatedness is to encourage affinity groups. These could be either related or unrelated to workplace initiatives. Be a role model. Make an effort to relate to people that may be on the outside looking in.
Fairness - The fifth and final point refers to the belief that others aren’t being treated preferentially. Think executive elevators, executive washrooms, etc.
What can you do? Be clear about your reasons for decisions you make and changes that must be made. Be clear about the “why” and “how” of your decisions. There should be no hint that you’re trying to hide an unfair process by not being transparent about your reasons.
Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect, Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to promote organizational sync by minimizing threat responses, you may reach Andy Kanefield at (314) 863-4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear CEOs, managers, sales presenters and meeting facilitators:
My name is Y.A., (short for Your Audience). You may think you know me well, but you probably would be surprised at how little you do. See, all those things you do incorrectly when you make a presentation or run a meeting are not fair to me. Yet, I’ve come to realize that while you’re not being fair to me, I’m not being fair to you either. I mean, how would you know where you could do better unless I tell you?
The things that make me pay attention, influence my decisions and help me perform more effectively are what can make you successful when you speak, but you’ve got to inspire me to stick around to listen to you. So, it’s time to give you the gift (seven gifts actually) that will help you become a much more successful presenter. After all you’ve put me through, it’s the least I can do. So here you go:
? Identify who you are and why you are here so I’m not asking myself these questions while you are moving on to the next point. Create alignment right from the start so we’re on the same page.
? Explain up front what you hope to accomplish in two to four points because if you think I want to listen to pointless rambling tangents, I will fall asleep with my eyes open right in front of you. Keep it simple and none of us will be stupid.
? Look at me when you talk because when I feel included and valued, I’m less likely to drift off and more likely to want to listen. Comfortably move your eyes and body throughout your presentation and I will stay engaged.
? Explain how I benefit because I want to know “what’s in it for me?” Like you, I operate out of self-interest first. Even if there’s not a direct return on listening to you, at least let me know how I play a role in the topic you address.
? Speak with genuine passion because falling asleep in my drool is not fun for me and certainly doesn’t build you a group of loyal followers. By speaking loudly and with enthusiasm, you become contagious, and I want to hang around and listen to what you to say.
? Remind me what I should be doing before you leave because I’m more likely to retain your message. Even better, if you can provide action steps for me to put into practice, your message might stick around and make our organization a better place to be.
? Be confident when you speak. If you want me to believe in you, you must believe in yourself. The biggest heckler in the room is not me; it’s you. Own your value and think positively even before you walk in the room to greet me.
I certainly hope you consider these suggestions because I want nothing more than for you to succeed when you present to me. If you do, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Joe Takash is the president of Victory Consulting, a Chicago-based executive and organizational development firm. He advises clients on leadership strategies and has helped executives prepare for $3 billion worth of sales presentations. He is a keynote speaker for executive retreats, sales meetings and management conferences and has appeared in numerous media outlets. Learn more at www.victoryconsulting.com.