When Paul Johnson took the reins of Kelley Blue Book Co. Inc. as president and CEO in 2000, he was the company’s first leader from outside the Kelley family.
But despite his outsider status, he faced the task of refocusing the 500-employee automotive valuation company on the meaning of the Kelley name. That required sharpening the long-term vision and mission statement of the company through communication with employees at all levels.
A company won’t be able to adequately carry out its mission or achieve its goals without a work force that is focused on those goals.
Smart Business spoke with Johnson about how to get your employees focused on your company’s mission and goals.
Q. How do you get employees to embrace a mission statement?
How you get people a part of the vision and mission is to establish a clear vision and a clear mission statement that people remember but that are also powerful enough to guide actions.
The core values and the leadership principles, you know they’re taking root and being embraced when you hear them being quoted in meetings and they become part of the fabric of what the company is and part of the nomenclature as you’re working through difficult decisions and strategic alternatives.
What I’ve done is build on a core of six values and how they translate into how we operate on a daily basis. So the next step in the core values is we created a set of fairly granular leadership principles that really focus around three things. Those are developing people, execution and performance, and achieving results.
I put those in place as I was building the leadership team here to really establish my expectations of what the company’s leaders were, but maybe even more importantly, to establish what employees should be expecting from their leaders. These are working documents and things for which I hold my leadership accountable.
Q. What are some of the keys to communicating core values?
It’s consistency in message, it’s being repetitive, and it’s also the fact that your actions need to speak much louder than your words. One of the things I’ve had to learn as a leader is that everything you do is being observed and is part of your communication. Whether it’s passing someone in the hall and how you greet them, interaction in the coffee room, your body language, people are looking to you for the signals you’re sending and how you are reacting to different situations.
For the culture I’m trying to build and cultivate, I tend to try to listen more than I do talk. I tend to try and show empathy toward our people and listen and learn about the challenges they are facing. By doing that, I find people are very open, and you can learn a tremendous amount just by asking some good questions or asking for their suggestions.
But that effort needs to be sincere. People will recognize if you’re just going through the motions, so sincerity is important.
As the leader, you also need to show confidence and conviction and passion for the vision and mission and what is being accomplished by individuals in the company.
You also need to get people involved in shaping the vision by dialoguing. What I encourage is positive conflict. I want to hear the diversity of ideas.
I encourage people, regardless of their position in the company, to share their ideas. I want to give people license to state ideas that might be contrary to my own or to popular consensus.
Q. Is simplicity of message a part of communicating core values?
It has to be very simple. It has to be intuitive and as black and white as you can get. The more complicated it gets, the more open to interpretation it gets. Our goals are centered on six terms, and the six terms we’ve used to describe our culture are fairly self-explanatory.
We can often talk about what those terms mean to us and to our partners. But if it becomes open to interpretation, it becomes a gray area, and when you’re holding people accountable to live up to those core values, the last thing you want to have is a debate on whether or not they’re living up to those expectations.
Our values have become simply stated through our communication, through part of our nomenclature and the way we talk. One validation of that is that we do an employee survey to understand how our employees view the organization so that we know what is important to them and know how we are communicating the core values.
But in some manner, you have to find out whether you are clearly communicating those core values.
How to reach: Kelley Blue Book Co. Inc., (949) 770-7704 or www.kbb.com