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Oct 30 2013

Be Patient With Stormtroopers

“What about the people who don’t get it?”

I’m amazed at how often I get asked that question as I share Barry-Wehmiller’s journey of Truly Human Leadership.

Whenever I describe our people-centric culture to a new audience, they go straight to the negative. Certainly there are some who resist a work environment where care, concern and emotion are commonplace. What do you do about them, they ask?

We focus on the positive. We focus of those who get it.

The truth is, I am an optimist, so I tend to spend my energy on what’s going right. I always tell people that I am sure there are people who don’t get it, but I couldn’t tell you who they are. We simply don’t concern ourselves with them and hope they come around on their own terms.  We realize that when we acquire a company, the people within that company are a product of their experiences. They may have experienced great leaders in their past or, more likely, they have had some negative experiences. Consequently, some have difficulty trusting our leadership message.  That’s okay.  We’re all at a different point on this journey, and we have to be patient and trust that the skeptics will eventually see the transformative power it can have—on both their work lives and their personal lives.

That’s what happened with Randall Fleming.

Randall worked in the fabrication area of our MarquipWardUnited facility in northern Wisconsin. At six foot one, this ex-Special Forces soldier was an imposing figure.  “People used to say I had two emotions: mad and angry,” Randall shared. “I was like Darth Vader back in my area, and all the other guys were my Stormtroopers.  I wouldn’t say you didn’t want to meet me in a dark alley, but if you were in a dark alley, you’d want me nearby.”

Randall had a great deal of talent and key technical skills. He was a craftsman, excellent at what he did.  Moreover, Randall was a leader.  He may not have been leading people toward our leadership and cultural vision, but he certainly had many followers.

Instead of identifying Randall as a “problem,” one of our continuous improvement leaders (what we call Living Legacy of Leadership, or L3) made it a regular practice to stop by Randall’s area to talk to him.  He applied constant but subtle pressure, encouraging Randall to consider opening up to what we were doing.  Randall resisted. Eventually, he reached a turning point.  He had had enough, and was considering leaving the company.  At this, the Manufacturing Leader recommended he talk to a couple of people in the organization whom he trusted to get a better understanding of the L3 journey. Randall decided to give it a try and ultimately made the decision to stay.  He embraced continuous improvement events, eventually attending two weeks of training to lead these events himself.

“I had come to a point in my professional life where I wanted to do more than rolling frames together.  I felt called to help people. I saw a path to do that as a leader through our L3 program. So I went to my leader and he said ‘We have been waiting for you to ask.’”

Today Randall is one of the highest rated professors in Barry-Wehmiller University, teaching his peers the power of inspiring passion, optimism and purpose.  He is a valued member of our L3 team, leading continuous improvement events throughout the organization.

“Once I made the decision to stop fighting the culture, to embrace it, my leaders opened the door for me to achieve what I want. They didn’t tell me how to do it. I had to determine my path but they gave me the freedom to make changes.

“It has affected me so positively that it is difficult to remember the way I used to be. My daughters still can’t believe the change in me. It has made our relationships so much better.

“I don’t think about retiring anymore because helping people grow, helping my team members be their best selves—just helping people—this is what I want to do every day.”

Welcome aboard, Darth Vader! May the force of Truly Human Leadership be with you.

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Truly Human Leadership is found throughout Barry-Wehmiller Companies, where Bob Chapman is Chairman and CEO. A $1.7 billion global capital equipment and engineering consulting company, Barry-Wehmiller prefers to measure its success by the way they touch the lives of people.

4 comments

  1. R. GUNZELMAN

    Dear Mr. Chapman.

    You should be commended for your efforts with the crusade you are endeavoring… Your Words are not only being heard by those around you. They are ringing home.

    Thank you…

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  2. John Trester

    Good Morning Bob-

    Perhaps I am stuck in a rut, here. I build machines; that is what I do: I build stuff. I love working with metal and wood, and creating something solid that really makes a difference in people’s lives. After taking advantage of several of the courses, exploring my role in the greater all, becoming closer to my family in understanding and communication skills, recognizing the value of my fellow employees and working really really hard at touching other people’s lives…I still like building machines, and that is what the company pays me to do, why they hired me in the first place. I love coming to work and watching these metal monsters rise up out of the floor by the sheer strength of our skills and abilities. It is a beautiful thing, building stuff. I know you understand that, because you are trying to build people. I get that, and it can be a beautiful thing.

    However, there is a very dark side here that I have to deal with inside myself every day. It is not the Stormtroopers that I see as a problem; they are generally busy doing what they were hired to do. I have a problem with the people who do nothing. They are paid the same as I am, and I have to pull their dead weight because they will not pull their own. Day after day, I see them as I go about my business, they are sitting, talking, chatting, shelling peanuts, laughing, joking, and having a good old time. The machines pay our bills, but we need to build them in an efficient manner, at a reasonable cost to our customers, and thousands of hours in labor is washing down the drain as these people laze the day away…and “management” does not seem to care, in fact they discourage anyone who says anything to these people because we might hurt their feelings and make them feel bad. This is the dark I see. This is the dark I feel. This sucking away of my strength that could make things move forward but instead is used to prop up these people who do not pull their own weight. I work with people who have illnesses such as Parkinson’s who struggle each and every day to keep going, keep living, keep working, and when they fall back, I am only too happy to help them stand up and continue because their spirit is an inspiration to me. It is the people who do nothing simply because they are permitted to exist that way, and no one challanges them; these are the drags on our lives, the parasites of society.

    My question has been, to rather high management people, what can I do to reconcile my feelings towards these people who are dragging me back? These grasshoppers who fiddle and expect to be fed?

    Your discussions do not answer this question for me. What can I do to reconcile this issue in myself?

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  3. Ganesh

    “We’re all at a different points on this journey, and we have to be patient and trust that the skeptics will eventually see the transformative power it can have—on both their work lives and their personal lives.”

    This is a very valid and a strong message for people to do the right thing and focus their energy (which always tend to reflect) on the right people. We do not want negative energy to bounce back at us.
    Positive energy can create positive vibes in the ecosystem and has a strong viral impact for sure.
    This obviously does not mean we stop working with people who do not believe in the system. We have to all the more work with those people so as to improve the chances of positive impact on the ecosystem.

    Larger the people-centric culture circle, stronger the company. It is more an “effective value” and people who have adopted the culture should not have doubts or get bogged down by one or two non-believers.

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  4. Brian Brisbane

    What a great story….I can relate to this…everyone walks by and my facial expressions give off a serious unhappy look….so now I make sure I smile and say Hi to everyone…..a lot of this came from going thru the Culture of Service Class….which I definitely recommend!
    Good Job Randall for sticking it out and showing interest.

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