Every day we have the opportunity to show people we care. In fact, Bob Chapman (with Raj Sisodia), author of Everybody Matters and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, a global manufacturing firm, argues the most powerful energy in the whole universe is caring; and the more we combine work and caring, the more fulfilled we’ll be. But it wasn’t always easy for Chapman – he was thrust into the role of CEO and Chairman at the age of 30 when his father suddenly died from heart failure and he had to navigate a tsunami of business challenges, including addressing a weak financial positon, keeping shareholders happy and a growing workforce engaged. Chapman describes how he re-shaped an entire culture by focusing on the human side of its business, or what he refers to as truly human leadership.
As someone who is passionate about creating positive, purpose-driven workplace cultures, these are the areas in the book that inspired, and made an impact on, me:
Caring has no hierarchy. This may seem like a blinding-flash-of the-obvious, but don’t look at your employees (or refer to them) as numbers or functions or assets or talent. It’s important to see each employee as full human beings, somebody’s precious child or relative. Chapman says, “We have a deep responsibility to be good stewards of that life.”
Fill airwaves with goodness. I’ve always believed you reap what you sow, so I agree with Chapman that you need to focus on building constructive, positive relationships with your employees. He makes the point that if more than half of your communication is negative, it becomes an oppressive relationship, so it behooves us all to focus on the positive. Chapman also argues that if people felt more fulfilled by the work that they did they would be more equipped to handle life challenges like marriage and parenting.
Your people can be your purpose. In 2002, Barry-Wehmiller created its Guiding Principles of Leadership (GPL) which are an articulation of beliefs on how leaders should treat employees. At the heart of its GPL, is the company’s vision or purpose: We measure success by the way we touch the lives of people. I found this interesting because most companies today are developing their purpose statements around how their products or services make an impact on our broader society. But Barry-Wehmiller took a different approach and focused on what matters most to them; their people.
Fire-lighting vs. fire-fighting: Chapman and Barry-Wehmiller place an emphasis on – and recognize employees for – sustained excellence (fire-lighting) versus acts that ‘save the day’ (fire-fighting).
(And my favourite gem and important reminder) Lead with values and recognize employees who embody them. Barry-Wehmiller’s principles are embedded in the culture and highlighted through various programs, including a highly coveted peer-led recognition program. At the first recognition ceremony in Northern Wisconsin, Chapman had a whimsical idea to let the winner drive around in his bright yellow SSR Chevrolet convertible for a day. It was such a hit that the car has now become the main ‘trophy’ – employees get to drive it for a week – and a very visual and powerful symbol of recognition, particularly in smaller communities where the car is instantly recognized. Chapman also sends a letter to the family of the winner, acknowledging their important contributions. Chapman has said that he has spoken to hundreds of winners over the past few years. The first thing they tend to do is call their spouse to tell them they won. The second thing they tend to do is take their mother for a ride. (Melt!) Employees also said it was the most profound recognition they have ever received because it was a recognition by their peers. Why does Chapman and Barry-Wehmiller go to great lengths to recognize employees? He says it simply: Celebrate people not to get more out of them but to recognize that they matter.
As a result of his approach to human-centred leadership, Chapman has built a thriving multi-billion-dollar business, has led the company through almost 90 successful acquisitions, and has been recognised as a change agent and one of the top CEOs in the word. Most importantly, he uses his platform Truly Human Leadership to help build a better world, while lifting people up along the way.