Trust and Speed: Lessons from Percy Barnevik

Percy WP

How do you get a large, multinational company to move fast? You do what Percy Barnevik did at ABB in the late 80’s and early 90’s. You push decision making to the lowest level and embed a culture of decisiveness at all levels.

What seems like a simple idea is actually very difficult. For large companies, the desire for certainty as well as a need for command and control tends to force decision making to the top. Companies then add layers of bureaucracy to ensure compliance with the orders from headquarters. The result is a slow moving, cumbersome organization where employees are not encouraged to color outside the lines.

Barnevik did not want this for his new company. In 1988, when he created ABB by pulling off the largest merger in European history, he quickly moved to embed a culture of decisiveness. He did this by keeping operating units small, limiting the decisions coming out of headquarters, and preaching the value of decisiveness.

I was running one of those operating units in ABB at the time and it was one of the best jobs I ever had. As I discussed in Barnevik on Decisiveness, I loved working for Barnevik. He got things done. He was decisive and he expected the same from his employees. The company culture at that time reflected his personality. We moved fast and we fixed it along the way.

The main thing I remember from that time is that Barnevik trusted us to make decisions. He had faith in his business unit leaders. He knew that we would occasionally make mistakes but he trusted us to always make it right. There was a culture of speed, decisiveness, and forgiveness. If you made a bad decision, it was not the end of your career. You were expected to fix it and move on.

What do you think? Have you worked in a similar fast-moving culture where there was trust at the top? What was it like? Have you worked in a heavily bureaucratic organization? How was that experience? How does the company culture affect your attitude towards your job? Let me know in the comment section below.



The Four C’s of Leadership


“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” Douglas MacArthur

Douglas MacArthur, arguably one of the greatest military leaders in U.S. history, points out the four C’s of leadership in this famous quote.

Confidence. Great leaders are confident. They are able to rally their team around a vision of the future that doesn’t yet exist. Even when the odds are stacked against them and the goal seems impossible, a true leader will stand alone, if necessary, and provide hope.

Courage. It takes courage to make tough decisions. The best leaders have the guts to be decisive even when the facts aren’t clear. As I wrote about in Fail Fast & Fix It Faster, being decisive as a leader is critical, especially in the “fog of war.”

Compassion. Leadership is about people. As I wrote about in an article called 3 Questions You Should Ask Before Taking a Leadership Job, leadership is a people business.  Your entire job is to motivate people towards accomplishing a goal. You need to love people and have the compassion to listen to the needs of others to be a great leader.

Character. Being a person of integrity is critical for leadership. A leader is being watched every day by the team. They will see every inconsistency in the leader’s behavior and actions. What is accepted by the leader is embraced by the team. A leader without character will have a team without integrity.

What do you think? What are some other characteristics of great leaders? What leaders have inspired you in your career? What is the difference between a good and a great leader? Let me know in the comment section below.

10 Culture-Changing Ways to Honor Employees

Jim Goodnight quote

My Dad is awesome. As a retired high voltage electrician, he loves the fact that I run a business producing medium and high voltage products. He has always been interested in what I am doing with the company. He is especially attentive to the things I do for my employees. What’s even better is he suggests ideas from time to time. Last weekend, he made me laugh.

“You should implement Wiener Wednesdays,” he said. “Get all the employees together on Wednesday afternoon and have hot dogs. It would be good for morale and to build up the team.”

Despite the funny name, it’s a brilliant idea.

I’m a huge proponent of doing the little extra things to celebrate employees. In fact, I wrote about it in an article called Do Something Memorable for your Employees. I have had the honor to lead 9 different manufacturing businesses in my career and I’ve found that honoring employees, celebrating successes, and treating people with respect leads to improved job satisfaction, morale, and engagement.

“Treat employees like they make a difference and they will.” Jim Goodnight

Over the years, I’ve done many things for employees. Some of them were big and required significant planning, others were small, just a simple way to say thank you. Regardless of the size, each conveyed a message, “You are important, respected and appreciated.”

Here are ten examples of things I’ve done over the past 20+ years. It’s not a complete list but just a sampling of some of the things you can do for people. I hope it inspires you to think of new ways to honor your team.

Lobsterfest. During an all employee meeting, I once promised a factory workforce a lobster dinner if we reached 1,000,000 hours of safe work. When we hit the milestone, we had a huge celebration which included steaks and flying 400 lobsters in from Maine.

“I’m convinced that celebrating wins does more to clarify the vision than anything else.” Andy Stanley

 Family Day. In one business, we invited employees and their families to an annual family day at a large amusement park. Employees spent the day in the park with their families and then gathered for a group lunch in the pavilion where we held a raffle and gave out gifts.

Fridays on the Floor. At several of my plants, the first Friday of the month was reserved for the management team to work on the shop floor. This gave us a chance to get to know people better and to learn ways to make things easier for them.

 Open House. Over the years, I have held factory open houses for the friends and family of employees. These were fun events with food, activities, and a chance for employees to show off where they work and what they did.

Letters Home. One of the things I like to do is send a letter to the home of an employee who has done something above and beyond. I think it’s more powerful than just giving it to them at work. At home, the employee’s family can see the letter as well.

“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” Stephen Covey

Buddy the Elf. At one business, I had the annual Christmas tradition to dress up like Buddy the Elf. I would climb on the back of a Cushman with another manager dressed as Santa. We would ride around the plant and give out candy to all the employees.

Wall of Fame. I started a tradition at one plant of hanging pictures in the lobby of employees who received a patent and those who had qualified as a Six Sigma black-belt. Every customer coming to our plant knew who our rock stars were.

Veterans Day. Being a veteran myself, I have always made a point to celebrate Veterans Day with all our veteran employees. It usually involves a small celebration with cake, a gift, and a ceremony to replace the American flag in front of the plant with a new one.

Team Pride. At one business, we had employees hang flags of their favorite sports team throughout the offices. We also had jersey days where the employees were encouraged to wear sports team jerseys to work.

 Swag. People like to belong and everyone loves logo-wear. Getting a shirt, a cup, or a hat with a company logo gives you a sense of pride and belonging. I love seeing employees wearing shirts they have received as gifts over the years. I’ve given out backpacks, coffee mugs, water bottles, jackets and even coolers to say thank you to employees over the years.

This list is just a small sampling of some of the fun things I have done to celebrate and honor employees. As a leader, I want to create an environment that is both safe and fun. I want people to actually enjoy coming to work each day. I believe in a workplace where talented employees are respected, empowered, and provided opportunities to fully serve the needs of our customers. In truth, honoring and respecting employees is not difficult or expensive but the payoffs are incredible.

For those who were wondering, I did take my father’s advice. We had our first Wiener Wednesday last week!

What do you think? What kind of activities have you used to honor employees? How has that changed your company culture? Is there a direct relationship between respect and employee engagement? Let me know in the comment section below.

Photo Credit: Huffington Post

Barnevik on Decisiveness

Percy Barnevik

My first CEO was hardcore. And it was awesome.

In 1994, I left the U.S. Navy to work for the global engineering company, ABB, as a design engineer. Our CEO at the time was the legendary, hard-charging Swede, Percy Barnevik. In 1988, Percy created ABB by pulling off the largest European merger at the time, bringing together two engineering powerhouses, ASEA and Brown Boveri Ltd.

In his 17 years as CEO, 8 with ASEA and 9 with ABB, the company increased its stock value 87 times, an average of 30% per year, and became a leading global player.

What I loved about Barnevik was his bias towards action. He got things done. He was decisive and he expected the same from his employees. The company culture at that time reflected his personality. We moved fast and we fixed it along the way.

I learned a lot from his leadership style and it affects how I lead today.

How about you? Are there leaders in your past that affect how you lead today? Did you work for Barnevik during those early years? I’d love to hear your stories. Let me know in the comment section below.

Simon Sinek on Loving your Company

Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek is an author, speaker, and marketing consultant.  He has written three books including the 2009 bestseller Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. His TED talk on How Great Leaders Inspire Action is listed as the third most popular TED presentation of all time with close to 32 million views.

When he speaks, people listen.

I love this quote from him, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” 

As an entrepreneur and business leader, I’m working hard to create a company my customers love to do business with. I completely agree with Simon. The secret lies in creating an environment where employees are safe, treated with respect, celebrated and empowered to make decisions.

I want my employees to love their jobs and the company they work for.

What do you think? Is Simon correct? Can customers really tell when employees love their work? Is it possible to fake it? How do happy employees translate to happy customers? Let me know your thoughts.