Mike Bradley Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007
While celebrating successes comes naturally to most, Mike Bradley has learned that mistakes can be just as rewarding. In building a culture aimed at empowering employees and collaborating on strategic decisions, the president of Wonderware understands that hiccups occur — and he chooses to use them as opportunities to improve. Wonderware, an automation software producer and business unit of British-based Invensys plc, employs more than 600 people worldwide. And while Bradley encourages all of his employees to be forthcoming with problems or issues that arise, he also insists that they speak up if they feel he has made a judgment error. Smart Business spoke with Bradley about how he uses delegation, collaboration and communication to build a strong team.

Delegate to make time for strategy. I have a great management team, and I delegate a lot. We make decisions collaboratively, and I can pass on a lot of the day-to-day operations to the management team. That frees me up to be strategy-driven and data-driven.

What that means is it gives me a chance to look at the broad landscape of our market. What’s happening? What are the potential opportunities or potential threats? I tend to be very data-oriented in terms of trying to quantify strategic opportunities. I’m able to do that because of our great management team.

Otherwise, I would have to get involved in a lot more of the day-to-day operations.

Collaborate to build buy-in. A true leader has a vision, but he builds that vision collaboratively with a team so that they have buy-in. The true leader almost becomes a cheerleader and communicates the vision such that people become passionate.

The true leader has a responsibility for building that fire in the belly in all the people, so that managers and everyone all the way down has the fire in the belly. That’s quite a challenge. Some people are there just to earn a salary and do a good job. Other people want to win.

You have to build that desire to win in as much of the organization as possible. That’s my job.

In general, collaboration in agreement on strategies gets people to buy in to it. People can actually kill strategies, not necessarily by taking overt action but just by sitting back and saying, ‘Well, I don’t agree with this so I’m not really going to work hard to make it happen.’ So, collaboration really gets people to buy in to a strategy and a vision. Collaboration brings cohesiveness to the team to work together and buy in to the direction of the company.

Learn from mistakes. You have to make people feel comfortable with hearing, ‘Look, if I’ve told you to take that hill, or we’ve agreed that hill needs to be taken and you’ve agreed to take it, I don’t need to check with you every 15 minutes to see how you’re doing on your way to the top.’

That’s when you know you’re there.

When you can assign complex tasks to people, they understand how those tasks fit in with the overall strategic direction and they feel comfortable executing those tasks and coming back and saying, ‘I’ve gotten to the top, what’s the next challenge?’

It doesn’t happen overnight. People have to learn and grow. Basically what has to happen is, you define your direction and you start giving people responsibilities and you watch and measure if they come back and routinely perform, or if they make a mistake and there’s interactive discussion about, ‘Let’s go back and understand what created the issue or the problem.’

It’s something where you agree with a person and say, ‘Here’s your mission, here’s your goals. Let’s talk about problems that surface, or if you have a problem on your way up a hill, what is that problem, and how can I help you?’

Connect individual tasks to the overall goal.

There has to be two parts to communicating. There has to be a formal process. We have a very formal, strategic process that is very collaborative, and we agree on our strategic goals.

Then we have a process of fleshing those goals out and driving those goals deep into the organization so every last person understands the part they’re working on and the part it plays in the overall company goal.

We typically have our goals broken down into two or three major goals. One might have to do with leveraging our install base. Another big strategy might be becoming a more significant player in the manufacturing execution systems space.

Then each department, whether it’s sales or marketing or research and development, we break it down and say, ‘OK, sales, in terms of this new product area, we expect so many dollars out of Europe,’ and it goes all the way down to the individual. They are told exactly what we expect from them.

In terms of development, if we expect to announce or launch a product in July, then the milestones have to be set for the individual product components that have to be ready to be tested by such and such a time.

You work backward. You say, ‘OK, we’re going to hit this target, and here’s what the milestones are.’ That’s the kind of process we do, and it happens in every department, whether it’s sales, marketing, research and development, or human resources. Everybody gets assigned their task that is tied to the overall goal.

Err on the side of being too open. In terms of communication, you can do two things. One is you cannot communicate at all, which is probably the worst thing. People don’t understand. They’re kept in the dark.

If you work in a vacuum, you don’t achieve the synergy that you’re obviously looking for. The dangers of telling everybody everything are that you have no secrets and your competition might learn what you’re doing. There has to be a balance, but I would tend to argue more for the open than the closed. I would rather take a chance on overcommunicating and maybe letting some information slip out, because a strong team that has bought in to a set of goals and visions is much better than possibly keeping it a secret and not having that strong team and keeping information away from people.

HOW TO REACH: Wonderware, www.wonderware.com or (949) 727-3200