Sunday, July 18


Leaders have always been positioned between serving corporate suits and advocating employee needs. The balance has been a part of the corporate landscape for over 50 years. For some companies, this tight-rope act is creating opportunities for fierce conversations with customers, employees, and owners alike.

I worked for a major furniture company where I had to keep the company profitable while serving my employees and their roles. The challenge was extremely difficult because the company did not have a mission or strategic goals for the entire enterprise to follow and work towards. This was difficult because often, I was serving two sets of values and principles for one specific event. The person who was ultimately affected by this: the customer. It was not secret that the customer could feel the shift in the decision-making process from one team member to another.

Enough was enough. The tug-of-war needed to end. So after much failure, I attempted to create a plan to improve our operations. Here is what I learned:

1. All aboard. We had to  distribute our vision, mission, and values to the entire organization. I spent time learning the culture, customers, previous successes and failures, and created a mission to serve our customers while providing profit to our owners. The message had to be carried to all employees of the business. The biggest opportunities happen when you are not around. I worked in several locations so it was up to each functional manager to carry out the plan. This was tough because of #2.

2. The right people for the job. I remember reading the book NUTS, and also seeing a quote from Herb Kelleher saying, "Hire for attitude, train for skill." It made all sense in the world. But we didn't lay that framework first. It took almost a year to begin living this discipline. Sure, we had turnover, but the mission remained the same. And having the right attitude was part of that plan. Were we following our advise or was there another obstacle?

3. Is your grass greener than the other side? The hardest part after creating a culture for our teams to follow and then finding the right employees to fill each position was understanding how our company compared to others. We were privately owned and the benefits were not as healthy compared to other major competitors. Sure, we could sell potential employees on the opportunities to grow and develop, our mission and focus, but we had a hard time selling the "green grass. In hindsight, our ownership and senior leadership together, should have made this priority # 1.

Leaders today are in the middle of major battles for customers and employees. How they position themselves in this battle is critical for buy-in from front-line employees and support from senior management and ownership.

How are you positioning yourself as leader? Do you feel like you play both sides of the fence? Is this barrier one that is real or a creation of poorly run organizations? What are your thoughts?

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