As the holiday season is upon us, messages abound encouraging us to display a generosity of spirit to those we know – family and friends and the people we meet along our journey through the holiday season. Giving, forgiveness, and bringing a kind disposition to others is a seasonal message during the highly celebrated month of December, but what has this got to do with creating good ROI and being a successful leader?
Former CEO of Campbell’s Soup, Douglas R. Conant understood that civility throughout the year; acknowledging others, thanking people, sharing credit, taking time to listen to others attentively, asking questions with humbleness, or just giving people a smile could boost performance.
By understanding how to effectively apply these concepts in a structured, planned, and measurable fashion, Douglas Conant turned the flagging Campbell’s Soup business from an organization that was at the bottom of its class, with declining sales and an extremely toxic culture in 2001, into one that by 2009, became the highest performing in its class, both the S&P Food Group and the S&P 500. By 2009, sales and earnings improved to the point that all the core businesses were prosperous and flourishing.
The focus and actions Douglas Conant had taken through his measures to create a culture of civility also led to world-class employee engagement levels. This in turn led to higher productivity and innovation.
Conant understood that although his training was to examine numbers and spreadsheets and find where the problems lie on the spreadsheet, turning around the Campbell’s organization meant focusing on valuing people, relationships, and communication. He recognized that he needed to repair trust with his leaders and their teams, redefine how employees and leaders interacted and communicated at all levels of the business, and integrate and measure these new expected behaviours of civility.
So what tangible and measurable actions did Douglas Conant take to achieve this turnaround? Here are a few of the highlights:
- As described in a Harvard Business Review article from October 2017 and coauthored with Christine Porath, Associate Professor of Leadership, Conant started the turnaround at Campbell’s by developing the Campbell Promise: “Campbell valuing people. People valuing Campbell.”
- Douglas knew it was important that he exhibit this new respectful, people centric culture, so he started the ball rolling by pledging to his top 350 leaders at his first global leadership meeting as CEO that “we will treat you with respect and dignity.”
- The concepts of trust and civility became a critical expectation from his senior team. These actions were just the beginnings of setting into motion the foundation for a performance oriented culture and detoxifying a highly toxic work environment.
- Inspiring trust in others became the number one leadership competency that Conant put in place with the expectation that managers build trust with employees. Valuing and honoring employees was living the Campbell promise.
- Daily “touchpoints” were added where Conant took time to listen to his employees, then mirrored back their communication to confirm his understanding and then offered his support.
- Conant created a safe environment by declaring specifically that employees could challenge the status quo and that the organization welcomed new innovative perspectives.
- Christine’s Porath’s poll of 20,000 employees globally validated Douglas Conant’s approach as her findings described in the HBR article note “being treated with respect had a more powerful effect on employees than more celebrated leadership behaviours including recognition and appreciation, communicating an inspiring vision, providing useful feedback-even opportunities for learning, growth and development. The employees who felt respected by their leaders reported 56% better health and wellbeing, 89% greater enjoyment and satisfaction, 92% greater focus on prioritization, 26% more meaning and significance, and 55% more enjoyment.”
Setting a tone of civility, integrating it with intention and measuring it by leaders holding themselves and others accountable led to significant improvement in productivity, sales and employee engagement at Campbell’s that proved that respect and good will towards all really can improve ROI.
For more information on this topic check out Touch Points: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments by Douglas R. Conant and Mette Norgaard; and Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace by Christine Porath, Associate Professor of Management at Georgetown University.
Salina Williams is a Senior Consultant with Feldman Daxon Partners.
- On December 19, 2017