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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Positive Leadership: Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

Douglas Conant is an introvert.

But when he took over as president and CEO of struggling Campbell Soup Co., he realised he had to break out of his comfort zone, get in front of his staff, and make some bold declarations from the get-go……
Campbell was in rough shape when Conant joined the company in January 2001. …Conant took a good long look at staff morale and didn't like what he saw.

"We had a toxic culture. People were understandably jaundiced with management," he said. "It was hard for me to imagine that we could inspire high performance with no employee engagement."….

To improve the culture in the workplace, Conant started at the top. He held weekly staff meetings and used a scorecard that evaluated each leader's performance. He created a leadership model that outlined expectations. The number one expectation was inspiring trust--and that meant managers had to have a certain level of both "competence and character," he said.

"You have to know what you're doing, and you have to do what you say you're going to do. Before you have the moral authority to lead your team, you have to inspire trust," he said. "Trust is the one thing that changes everything. In a high-trust culture, it's so much easier to get things done."…… How could we be a higher-ambition company if we didn't have higher-ambition leaders?"……

Many people weren't cut out for the job. In the first three years, 300 of the top 350 leaders at the company exited. Conant focused on making those who stayed and were committed to the mission feel good about their work. In fact, he went so far as to write 10 to 20 handwritten personal notes to employees at all levels of the organization each day to recognise those who were performing well. During his 10-year tenure as CEO, that added up to over 30,000 notes to his 20,000 employees. Conant started to feel a change in the work atmosphere……..

Conant established two performance metrics to measure progress, one based on economic value, measured by shareholder returns compared to competitor companies; and the other based on social value, measured by the Gallup Employee Engagement Index……

The company made steady progress in both areas. For the six years preceding July 2010, Campbell's cumulative total shareholder return was 64%, nearly five times the 13% return of the S&P 500. And by 2010, the Gallup Employee Engagement Index showed that for every 17 engaged employees, only one was disengaged, a ratio that exceeded Gallup's "world-class" benchmark of 12:1. More impressively, the engagement ratio for the top 350 leaders was an amazing 77:1…..

……And ultimately, Conant found that as CEO, taking centre stage and leading the efforts made all the difference. Perhaps just as importantly, he knew his company subscribed to what he preached.
"CEOs must lead from in front. And we have to behave our way to more credibility," said Conant, who retired from Campbell in 2011 and is now founding CEO of Conant Leadership. "It's not what you say, it's what you do."  

For the full article, see: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7133.html