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How To Build A Company You Love

By December 9, 2015 One Comment

“I’m talking to my wife more.”

It was an unexpected answer, to an unexpected question.

Steve, a manager at the manufacturing company Barry Wehmiller, had been asked to attend a senior leadership team meeting at the organization to discuss the impact of, and lessons learned from, a recent “continuous improvement” initiative at a plant in Green Bay, WI.

By all accounts the project was a huge success – quality was up, costs were down – and Steve radiated with energy and pride as he shared the metrics and told his story.

It was, by all accounts, a typical executive briefing until the company CEO, Bob Chapman, asked Steve an a-typical question: “How did this project effect your life?”

Steve’s response surprised the executive team:

“I am talking to my wife more.”

Here’s how the rest of the conversation went (as described by Chapman in this powerful video):

Chapman: “I don’t understand”

Steve: “Do you know what it’s like to go to work…where you get ten things right and you don’t hear a word [from your manager]…and then you get one thing wrong, and you never hear the end of it?”

“You don’t feel very good about yourself…and when you don’t feel very good about yourself, you’re not very nice to your wife”

Steve continued: “Ever since we’ve embraced the ideas of continuous improvement…where I am able to make my role better…where people ask me what I think…I go home feeling better about myself.”

“And when I go home feeling better about myself, I find that I am nicer to my wife…and, believe it or not, when I am nicer to my wife, she talks to me more.”

Upon hearing this, Chapman had an epiphany: “We can change the world by changing how we treat one another every day.”

 

“SMALL GIANT” COMPANIES

Chapman has embraced the idea that a well run business will not only make money, but can also make the world a better place.

And he isn’t alone.

Author Bo Burlingham has a name to describe companies like Barry Wehmiller and other organizations who “choose to be great,” as opposed to simply big: he calls them “Small Giants.”

Among the examples cited in Burlingham’s great book on the subject: Anchor Brewing, Clif Bar and Zingerman’s (an historic deli and food company based in Ann Arbor, MI).

In addition to being companies with a sound, profitable, business model, “Small Giants” prioritize the development of symbiotic relationships with their employees, their suppliers, and the communities in which they do business.

Burlingham also observes that these companies are typically led by people who “know who they are, what they want out of business, and why.” They also have “a burning passion for what the company does.”

The strategies and practices that “Small Giant” companies use to balance the growth and profitability of their organization, with the well-being of their people, are inspiring.

One CEO with whom I shared Burlingham’s book summed it up succinctly: “they are building the kind of company that people want to work for…and every leader hopes to lead.”

I couldn’t agree more.

So…how do you do it?

 

HOW TO BUILD A COMPANY YOU LOVE: 4 STEPS

Whether you are an veteran business owner, early stage entrepreneur, or established manager or leader within a larger organization, here are a few ideas on what you must first build in order to create the company that you, and others, want to work for.

 

1. Build An Excellent Product (or Service)

First and foremost, do what you do, exceptionally well.

In other words, create a product or service that makes money, consistently, over time.

In his research Burlingham is quick to point out that every small giant operates a “sound, profitable, business model.”

Like Barry Wehmiller, make continuous improvement part of your company DNA. If you haven’t yet found a pathway to profitability stop reading (right now!) and get back to work.

 

2. Build A Better Dashboard

Revenue and profitability are the engines that make everything else possible.

That said, metrics like “Margin,” “Market Share” or “Cost Of Goods Sold” will never inspire the kind of love you hope to instill within your people and for your company.

The next step in building a company you want to work for is to identify (and track) the metrics that map back to the success and well-being of the employees, customers and community it serves.

Case in point: After the meeting in Green Bay, CEO Bob Chapman realized that much could be learned about the health of the organization from the health of the marriages of his employees.

As a result, the company began tracking the “Divorce Rate” of their employees, and worked to improve it.

Another example: Jet Blue Airlines’ “Employee Promoter Score.” This number measures the percent of employees that would recommend Jet Blue to friends and family as a “good place to work.”

Since beginning to track this metric Jet Blue has seen its employee engagement numbers – and business performance – improve dramatically.

In addition, they’ve come to better identify what drives employee satisfaction. Jet Blue “Promoters” say things like: “I feel proud;” “Jet Blue cares about me;” and “my growth is supported at work.”

As you build the company that you want to work for, consider what metrics would you be most proud to measure and share…with your employees, customers, friends and families?

 

3. Build A World-Class Hiring Process

When my wife and I were engaged to be married, we participated in a weekend-long retreat sponsored by our church.

The priest leading our retreat, Father John, was a smart, Bronx-born, no-nonsense, twenty-five year veteran.

As he set the agenda for the weekend he said simply: “As a priest, I am in the business of keeping married people married. The easiest way to do that is to ensure that the wrong people don’t get married in the first place”

Amen.

The same goes for building the company you want to work for. As a CEO, or senior leader of your organization, you too are in the business of keeping people together – specifically, your employees.

Great companies and great people go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other – so invest in creating a process that allows you to truly commit to the person you are hiring, and vice versa.

The easiest improvement you can make to the hiring process: improve – and standardize – the interview process.

When looking for people to be a part of the company that you want to work for, the interview process must drive consensus around these two critical questions:

  1. Can he or she do the work?
  2. Does he or she share our values?

While there are no “silver bullets” when it comes to hiring, every organization can get better by continuing to discuss and iterate on the process you use and questions you ask.

Note: When is the last time you’ve reviewed your company values? Author Jim Collins (Built To Last; Good To Great) suggests that company values should be reviewed at least every five years. I agree.

 

4. Build “Financial IQ” 

One final idea that many senior leaders with whom I speak intuitively “get,” but few are acting upon: Your employees’ money problems are your company’s money problems.

It’s hard to show up for work every day energized and excited if you are worried about paying your bills (I speak from experience). Financial stress is a fear that sucks the life, the fun and the creativity out of everyone it touches.

That said, the money-related problems of an employee is not the fault of the manager or leader.

Most financial stress is self-inflicted; the result of abysmally low levels of financial literacy and poor financial decision-making, as opposed to a lack of resources. (One telling statistic: 25% of people making $100,000+ live paycheck-to-paycheck.)

Though it may not be the company’s fault, if you want to build an organization that is a great place to work, consider investing some time and energy in building the financial intelligence and resilience of your team.

Give them the tools, knowledge and resources that they need to make better decisions with their money and improve their sense of financial security and well-being.

Not only will this lead to fewer “I need more money” conversations but, more importantly, it will liberate your team from the money-induced fear-state that undermines the creativity, productivity and well-being.

 

WHAT KIND OF COMPANY DO YOU WANT TO WORK FOR?

We all want to lead inspired teams.

We all want to work for a company we love.

Regardless of whether you own your company, or work as a leader in someone else’s, you can start building a company you love, today.

Start by first pursuing excellence in what you do, build, sell, provide.

Next, identify the other priorities in the organization and start measuring them.

And finally, invest in your people. Create a world-class hiring process (even if you’re small!) and help your team build the financial intelligence and resiliency that will allow them to stay at your organization for a long time to come.

In short, care.

Care about your product. Care about your people. Care about your customers. Care about your community.

And watch as others follow your lead.

What’s the first step you will take to create the company you want to work for?

Ben Sands

Author Ben Sands

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