by Peter A. Arthur-Smith, Leadership Solutions, Inc.®
“I had an hour scheduled for each of them, and by the end I was really clear about the company’s DNA, and the values that were really important to everyone who works here.” Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss & Company, NY Times, Sunday Business, June 2017, Corner Office by Adam Bryant.
Chip Bergh was sharing the approach he took when he first joined Levi Strauss. In fact, he interviewed the top 60 people for one hour each – that’s 60 hours of work that he considered was so important for gaining a good feel of the company’s culture. For a company that started in San Francisco in 1853 and is still privately owned by the family, he had a lot to find out.
He sent out a listing of four questions in advance for those 60 people to answer. These questions were:
» What are the three things you think we need to change?
» What are the three we have to keep?
» What do you want me to do?
» What are you most afraid I might do?
Four great questions that open up to many possibilities. Similar to ones this writer has used during advisory assign-ments over the years, as a means of coming close to understanding the pulse of an organization. Bergh used them as his orientation to Levi Strauss; although, when you think about it, they are questions for CEOs or Presidents to ask at least every couple of years. Such questions, asked of the right groups of people, can definitely help put key executives in greater touch with their people’s mindset.
Without a doubt, there’s a strong case for asking such questions at two levels: 1) from a good sample across the entire leadership levels – that is, including first and mid-level leaders, where they exist. 2) From an appropriate sized, random group of frontline people. The second group provides a way of tapping into an organization’s thoughts beyond the leader levels. For small leader clusters, at least 50 % of them being interviewed should do the trick: likely by an out-of- the-hat’ drawing. When it comes to frontline staff, at least 30% random drawing would be a good start for a smaller entity. With a larger entity, maybe a 10% drawing of frontline people from across the board should be sufficient.
Quite apart from what the CEO or President would learn; just think of the likely accolades resonating from all organization levels: “Our leadership really cares to listen!”
To make such an exercise welcome on future occasions – bearing in mind the recommendation of doing it at least every two years, rather than just as a one-off – two things need to occur:
- Provide prompt, fair and balanced feedback to your organization after the initial question-interview phase, to confirm your understanding as President/CEO/ leader about what was heard.
- Establish initiative teams to act upon the information received, so as to reinforce ‘what’s going right’ and upgrade ‘what’s not going so well,’ especially with regard to people engagement.
Despite the potential number of issues being raised that need attention; don’t make the mistake of trying to address them all at the outset. Instead, pull your top echelons of leaders together, split them into groupings of no more than six in each group, and ask them to rank their top three: in terms of ‘what’s going right’ and ‘what’s not going so well,’ especially in terms of people engagement. Then reconcile from the total numbers of participant-groupings, the overall top three listings for both factors. An exercise like this will help induce buy-in.
Pair-up either six of your most trusted leaders or six pairs of people with the most future leadership potential. Then charge each pair to pick 2-6 members from across the organization to work with them on one of the top three ‘what’s going right’ and ‘what’s not going so well.’ Each team can come-up with two initiatives to cover both factors by indicating: WHAT? HOW? WHO? WHEN? WHERE (to go for advice or help)? Wherever relevant, these initiatives should be linked to people engagement. It helps, as the initiative teams are working through their strategies, for them to give themselves an interesting team name for the duration… it adds some spice to the team effort, particularly if the names are somewhat unusual.
By pairing-up certain people to move these initiatives forward; not only does it avoid everyone waiting for the CEO to act, but it also encourages others to get involved and help lead the way. It also enlists them to contemplate issues affecting the entire organization, rather than thinking only about their own smokestack. Furthermore, by drawing-in people from across the enterprise, it expands buy-in, enriches thinking, and exposes potential people talent to making important contributions.
Done well, everyone will be looking forward to the next round within the next 6 -18 months. This will be especially true, assuming the CEO goes out of his/her way to sincerely acknowledge all initiatives that have concluded on a positive note. You know: we tend to be rather quick to criticize or complain about our organizations, although are much slower to acknowledge a good job done. Why is that?
Whatever acknowledgements are made: they don’t have to be elaborate, expensive or time-consuming – as long as they appropriately relate to the merits of what has been accomplished. Be that from a token gift, a book voucher, a day-off, a personal thank-you note, an inexpensive lunch, etc…or a combination of these ideas. With such acknowledgements, not only will participants feel good about their participation, they will send the right positive signals for future teams to do the same. Hopefully, volunteers will be queuing up to participate in the future.
And so: in terms of getting your people more engaged; you learning more about the pulse of your organization; and in knowing more about its DNA: when do you propose to get started? It could be the most valuable organization investment you’ve ever made. Of course, it requires a degree of commitment and work on your behalf, but what could be more valuable than knowing that your organization will ‘watch your back’ and give its-all?
To learn more about workplace people engagement, talk with: