When Kevin Hartman was a student at Niagara University, he took a clerical position with an organization called CNF Inc. Today, more than three decades later, he serves as president of Con-way Freight-Western Inc., a subsidiary of Con-way Inc. previously known as CNF a $4.2 billion transportation and logistics company. In the years since he graduated and entered a management trainee program, Hartman has held a number of positions within the organization, with increasing levels of responsibility, and in 2005, he was named to his current position. Now supervising approximately 3,500 employees serving 13 states, Hartman’s leadership philosophy stresses communication and feedback as the means to uncovering opportunities.
Smart Business spoke with Hartman about the importance of core values and how he prepares his organization for change.
Encourage collaboration. You have to surround yourself with people that are diverse with points of view and experience, and you have to ensure that various departments and that the employee and customer perspective are taken into consideration.
You have to allow people to come up with ideas and be free to give dissenting opinions, and you can’t kill the messenger. The intent is that employees come to work and feel that they can make a difference. They know their input is valued and that they had a piece in shaping the direction that we take.
As a result, we’re more adept at change. We can stay abreast of what’s going on. We’re in a very competitive marketplace. By having different points of view represented, we’re able to stay current and on top of things. We’ve created an ability to change and adapt. Change sometimes is very hard, but by having employees involved, you recognize why change is needed and what is changing in the marketplace.
Listening to customers is one of those things that helps us. We recently met with customers, and by listening to them, we found there was a product not being offered by our industry. A product that, by talking with them, by listening to customer needs, we were able to take an idea and develop it into a product that’s been very successful for us. If a company doesn’t listen to its customers, it’s at a serious disadvantage.
Develop culture around your core values. Our culture is strong and built upon our core values of safety, integrity, commitment and excellence. They’re more than words.
Early on, as this company was evolving, we determined that these four values were our cornerstones. It’s one of those things that has taken on a life of its own. We don’t have to force it.
We knew early on that the company was going to be successful and that it was distinct in our industry, and we shared our core values across our system. We all have one common culture, and we took great pains to catch people living the values. Whenever we could, we thanked them.
We took great pains early on, and today continue to always view those values in every decision we make.
Use values to guide behavior. We have an employee recognition program that is more positive affirmation than negative, and it is based on continuing to catch people doing something good.
We have a very simple process where employees can give each other a ‘star card’ for living our core values. It’s amazing how many are issued to each other on a daily and annual basis. There’s no quota system, it’s not forced, but it’s celebrated to the point that it’s comfortable and it’s not contrived.
What we also try to do is use our values as a guidepost to correct behaviors. If we have an employee who has had an accident or is mistreating a co-worker, we always go back to our values. We don’t beat them over the head with it, but we always try to say, ‘What you’re doing is wrong in relation to our values, and here’s what good behavior is.’
I thoroughly believe nobody comes to work wanting to do a bad job. You can use your values to say what is expected, and it always keeps your values alive as positive instead of a negative thing.
Prepare for change. Change is the most significant challenge a person in a leadership position faces. You have to have your radar out for what’s happening in your company, the industry and the economy.
Customer needs are ever-changing. If your business isn’t attuned to that, you’re going to get left behind.
It’s recognizing the need for change. The status quo is going to be harmful in the long run. The challenge is preparing yourself and your people so that change is not a harmful thing. Human beings don’t like change. You have to have an organization that is adaptive in reacting to change, and that’s the hardest thing a leader has to do.
Preparing for change takes honest communication, feedback, listening, and getting out and talking with employees, trying to communicate and listen. We try to continue to make examples of changes that we’ve made that have worked, and even changes we’ve made that we’ve had to learn lessons from.
You have to be open and honest in your approach so your employees recognize that change is safe and necessary.
Inspire passion. If there is one trait that all successful leaders share, it’s passion. To be successful at whatever you do, you have to believe in it.
You also have to be able to show that passion to your customers and employees so that they’re energized and comfortable, and they understand your purpose and why you’re doing it.
You have to then look to take that passion and pass it down. Employees truly want to belong to something. They like being part of a winning team. You’ve got to take the passion you have and communicate the vision and how your employees fit into it, why it’s important and what they’re contributing. If you can get employees truly understanding what they’re supposed to be doing and why it’s important, you have a formula that’s very successful.
HOW TO REACH: Con-way Freight-Western Inc., (714) 562-0110 or http://freight.con-way.com