People often ask me about the “a-ha” moment of Barry-Wehmiller’s leadership transformation: What was the big turning point that caused me to change my approach from traditional management to leadership that was people-centric? The realization of our profound responsibility to those under our care came to me through a combination of inspirational revelations and accidental discoveries.
It began when I was in the midst of raising our six children and focused on being a loving, caring and effective parent. I came to see the parallels between parenting and leadership. Like my own children, shouldn’t I treat the Barry-Wehmiller team members under my care in a loving, caring, concerned manner?
Curious by the significant change in attitude and performance, we stepped back and asked ourselves, “What is really going right here?” Many organizations are good at stepping back to understand what is going wrong, but at Barry-Wehmiller we have developed the habit of listening to our team members, in order to understand why things are going right. Then we can work toward amplifying and replicating our successes.
We gathered together a group of 20 people in a variety of roles from across the organization to talk about what motivates people and what great leadership looks like. We hoped that through purposeful dialogue we could begin to understand the success we were having with our new leadership techniques. As a result of that two-day session, we created our cultural vision, “Guiding Principles of Leadership.” The overarching statement in this document says, “We measure success by the way we touch the lives of people.” We believed that, going forward, we would be able to consider any leadership decision in light of how it would touch the lives of all our people–our team members and their families, our customers, suppliers, communities and shareholders.
Now that we had a powerful new vision statement, we knew it meant little if it remained words in a framed document on the walls of our company lobbies and conference rooms. We challenged our team members to take it down off the walls and make the words become the embodiment of their daily actions. To drive the principles deep into the corners of the organization, we held GPL (or Guiding Principles of Leadership) sessions and town hall meetings in which we sat down with small groups of associates to discuss these core values and how to live them.
Little did we know the power that inspirational statement would hold for our organization. It has become our moral compass, steering us time after time to approach challenges with this question: If we measure success by the way we touch the lives of people, then how does that relate to the problem at hand?
Since its adoption, our Guiding Principles have steered us to make sweeping changes in how we approach safety and layoffs (more on those in future posts) as well as a multitude of decisions—big and small—every single day. Each time we challenge ourselves to consider how we touch the lives of people through those decisions. Of course, we know that one of the primary ways we touch lives is by continuing to be a strong, viable organization that is a source of employment, security and fulfillment for our team members long into the future.
Last week I walked through the newly renovated sixth floor of our corporate headquarters in St. Louis looking at the redesigned offices and workstations. Our team members were busy unpacking and personalizing their spaces with their favorite items. Hanging there amidst the family photos and calendars and special mementos, I was pleased to see another very important keepsake–our Guiding Principles of Leadership. Ten years later, it continues to be our moral compass and a powerful daily reminder of how we choose to measure our success.