Friday, April 29, 2011

Leadership with a Growth Mindset

The landscape is changing and while nothing is ever certain, I am a deep believer that “change is certain, progress is not”. The economy has come a long way from the heights of 2007, the collapse of 2008 and the low lows of 2009. Certainly the recovery is tepid, with job growth (and in fact gdp) growing slower than anyone would like; yet the trends are still positive. In this “new” landscape of growth, I believe that we as leaders need to refresh our thinking, our priorities and our skills in order to be successful leaders with a growth mindset. Just a few years ago, I remember being in a meeting with a customer who was describing their overall flat revenue trends as “you know Bill, flat is the new up.” It’s hard to say whether that perspective was appropriate for that moment; what is not certain is that for today’s business environment, “up is the new up!”

In thinking about this dynamic, I want to share a few ideas that might be productive as we lead with an increasing “growth mindset.”

1) Raise Expectations. As leaders, we need to raise our own expectations for accelerating results in the business, capabilities across our organizations, along with our own skill sets. The last few years have been tough, really tough! With that reality there comes an understanding and possibly a tolerance for average performance. Ask yourself whether you have ever heard yourself (or other leaders) say that “with everything we’re dealing with, that performance is actually not that bad.” While tinged with compassion, I actually think it’s a disabler for an organization. We need to be vocal about raising our expectations for accelerating results AND our work performance. Think of it as the “what” and the “how”. We need to accelerate the results in the business (the “what”) and we need to improve our business practices (the”how”) across organizations. It’s my experience that if the leader doesn’t “raise the bar”, it often never gets raised.

2) Improve Talent. Over the past few years, the job market has been very tight. As business trends improve, the job markets should/will follow. In this changing landscape, we need to insure that our best, highest performing people are engaged/challenged in their roles and excited/energized to come to work every day. What is equally true is that we need to take action to remove underperformers quickly. Nothing is more de-moralizing to a high performer than a tolerated/accepted low performer. Every job opening should be thought of as an opportunity to raise the talent “bar” for the organization as a whole. I use the acronym of PTI (Progressive Talent Improvement) to remind myself that every new hire should have the capabilities/experience above the average level of the current organization. By utilizing PTI over time, you can (and should) be continually improving the organizations capabilities and potential.

3) Increase Speed, NOW! This improving business landscape is not only occurring for you and your company. It’s occurring for your competitors and their executive teams. When working on innovating new products or services, improving customer service, building new skills, or even filling open positions, do it faster. It’s dangerous to assume that you have the time to wait, time is a luxury that few businesses have!

4) Be Paranoid, competitively. I learned early on in business that competition never sleeps nor takes vacations; they’re always trying to take your business. Now I am a complete proponent of work/life balance, taking your vacation days, and getting a break from the business as an individual. My council is to be careful/paranoid as an organization. Never under assume an adversary’s capabilities and intent. If you operate with a constant “nervous itch”, you will be more likely to compete and win in any competitive landscape.

5) Increase your organizational listening and learning. As markets improve, there WILL be more innovation competitively. New products, new packaging, new technologies, etc have all been on the rise over the past few quarters. An improving business landscape will allow companies to take more risks than they have over the past few years. This reality is happening. Our opportunity as leaders is to work on ways to improve our organization’s ability to listen to, and learn from, the market place. Work to reinforce that all departments/functions could and should be more “outward” oriented; more tuned into the competitive landscape, hungrier at all times to capture and share insights and learnings from the marketplace.

6) Take care of yourself/take care of your team. As you can tell from the above topics, I clearly have the sense that the tempo and demands of business will be accelerating in the days/quarters ahead. As such, it is critical to insure that we are also taking care of our own health and the health of our teams. We all need to keep up with our sleep, our exercise, our physicals, etc. Keep an eye on your team members that are starting to work weekends and late nights regularly. Sure there will be moments when a key need/deadline requires extra-long hours, but week after week this behavior wears down an organization and ultimately reduces performance.

In closing, I want to reinforce the idea that growth is not inevitable! Certainly improving business trends are welcome (very welcome), but without a more growth oriented leadership approach, the “change” that is happening across our economy will not be translated into “progress” for you, your team, and your organization.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Best Job Ever?

Last Friday I had the pleasure to celebrate my one year anniversary as Chief Customer Officer of Bolthouse Farms. It’s been an amazing year; full of new challenges, an amazing team, and lots of learning. I have to admit that after a business career spanning more than twenty five years; it “feels” great to be learning so much. I am excited about the business, the customers and our team, and am looking forward to a great year (and years) ahead!

Last week’s anniversary started me thinking about the many jobs that I have held since I was a boy, and I started to think about which one was the “best”. It’s interesting to think back over the many part-time, summer jobs, and full time roles that I have held over my life. I have written about at least one of those occasions in “The Story of Floyd” earlier in this blog. As I reflect over my many roles/titles, (Chief Customer Officer, Senior Vice President, Director of Marketing, Brand Manager, College Tour Guide, Janitor, to name a few) I think that my best job ever was as “Pot Washer” for Dick’s Diner in Murrysville Pa.

Dick’s Diner is a classic diner that has been in business in Murrysville for over fifty years. My family ate there pretty regularly when I was a boy; and after my mother passed away in 1974, it was a god-send for my dad, my sister and me. I started working there after I turned sixteen and worked there my junior and senior years of high school. I didn’t start as “Pot Washer,” having to begin as “Bus Boy,” then moving to “Dishwasher,” and finally achieving the “Pot Washer” role! The big difference about that specific job was that you didn’t have to work a specific time-bound shift. Instead, I had a set of defined tasks that were required to complete:

1) Clean all the pots from the days’ cooking (there was always a mountain)
2) Sweep and mop all bathrooms, replace towel rolls in all bathrooms
3) Help the dishwasher during the dinner rush
4) Bring up all the ingredients needed by the night bakers from the basement storeroom
5) 15 minute dinner break all food free except Steak, Shrimp and Cherry Pie (Free as long as you had finished your dinner in the 15 minutes!)

As I think back to that role, there are a few specific characteristics that made that job stand out from all the others:

Solid Skills for Success: After the previous two roles, I was very knowledgeable of how things actually worked at the diner and was I ready to succeed in the role. I knew how to manage my own time, accomplish the work that needed to be done, and work smoothly with the others working that same shift.

Clear Knowledge of Expectations: I knew what was expected and I knew what “winning “looked like. We never had to guess what the boss was thinking about, or wonder what was the latest “strategic priority” of the quarter! The diner was a 24 hour machine that never closed so if the pots didn’t get washed, of the baking didn’t get finished at night, the machine wouldn’t run, simple as that.

Strong Sense of Community: I was proud to work at the diner as a boy and still to this day, when I return to my hometown, I always stop by for a slice of pie, or a cup of coffee. On a recent trip, I stopped by for breakfast and saw a few waitresses that I had worked with back in 1978 and 1979. It was amazing; they were still waiting tables with vigor, and carrying plates of western omelet’s and home fries with grace.

Ability to Learn and Teach: In the “Pot Washer” role, I had the chance to work closely with the day cooks and the night bakers, always listening to tips and ideas on what made the chili so good (a bit of chocolate) or what made the rolls so fluffy (allowing a triple rise.) Also, the “Pot Washer” always took the new busboys under their wing, teaching them the ropes and the ins and outs of the Diner.

These four elements of job success/happiness, Solid Skills for Success, Clear Knowledge of Expectations, Strong Sense of Community, and Ability to Learn and Teach, all ring true today. Think about the role you’re in today, or the roles that you have had in the past. Doesn’t it connect that if you have had all four of these elements in place, you would be happier and more successful in the role? What’s also interesting is to think topic not from the vantage point of an employee, but as a manager. Ask yourself whether you are creating an environment where associates:

are building skills for future success?
have a clear knowledge of expectations?
have a strong sense of community?
have the ability to learn and teach?

Postscript: As I post this essay, I am excited to say that I am on my way to Murrysville and ultimately Dick’s Diner! I have had the pleasure to stay close to three of my childhood buddies, Rob, Jim and Dave, all three whom I have known since the seventh grade. This weekend is Jimmy’s fiftieth birthday party and we are all gathering to celebrate this momentous occasion. It’s hilarious to get back together with a bunch of guys that you first met in the midst of the Watergate hearings, and whom you have been telling stories to and about since the early 70’s! I am certain that we will stop at the Diner at some point over the weekend, and I am wondering if I will still recognize a few of the waitresses form the old days!

One of the specialties of the Diner, and one of my personal favorites, is their Swiss steak, served over Mashed Potatoes. While I have never been successful to get their recipe, what follows is the recipe for Robby’s mom, Mrs. Manning, which is a dead ringer! (I think the Diner added carrots to their recipe, great either way)

Swiss Steak Recipe