This is simply one of the best new business books I’ve read in a LONG time.
What if you ran your organization based on actually, genuinely caring for every single person in it? How would that inform strategy and leadership and how would it affect employees and the bottom line?
Bob Chapman’s leadership at Barry Wehmiller shows what that looks like and it is amazing.
Barry Wehmiller is essentially in the business of buying struggling production companies around the world and making them happier and more productive by introducing their processes and culture. They have 8,000 employees in 100 locations around the world in a large variety of businesses and they’re profitable and growing fast.
In this short speech, Bob Chapman explains their leadership philosophy:
The book contains a ton of powerful lessons that any workplace could learn from, but for me, these were the 2 most powerful things in the book.
1: Performance focus - with people first.
Of course the company cares about performance, but they realize that people come first. Chapman shares the story of what happened when a lean consultant came to do a presentation:
We scheduled a kickoff meeting in Green Bay with a group of senior leaders to learn about Lean and begin our continuous-improvement journey.
On the first afternoon, a consultant gave an opening presentation on Lean. After forty-five minutes, I stood up and walked out of the room in frustration. The presentation was all about justifying bringing Lean tools into an organization because they help add to the bottom line and get more out of people. “This will help you get more out of people.”
That’s when I left the room.
Brian followed nervously after me, glancing back to see if the presenter was still speaking.
“So, what’s going on?”
With fire in my voice, I said, “Brian, we are never going to have a Lean journey like that in our organization. We are not going to suck the life out of people and take advantage of them in that way. We are going to build a Lean culture focused on people or we’re not going to do it at all.”
I had made it clear that our version of Lean was to be about people.
Too many CEOs would never even catch that. They are steeped in the idea that results come first and processes like Lean are used as a tool for that purpose.
At Barry Wehmiller, Lean has become a tool to make work more fun and meaningful for the employees. And that in turn drives better results, than a direct results focus.
2: No layoffs
Your values are tested in hard times. It’s a lot easier to be nice and appreciative and people focused when the business is profitable but when revenue takes a hit and your company is losing money that’s when you get a chance to show if you take your values seriously of if they’re just pretty words that you don’t really mean.
In the book’s most interesting chapter (for me at least) Chapman discusses what happened when the recession hit them in 2008. They lost a large amount of business and were faced with massive pressure from their bank to cut costs.
Most companies around the world would not hesitate for a second before enacting layoffs. It’s just what you do, despite the fact that evidence shows it’s actually bad for business.
Chapman instead worked hard to come up with a plan that would ensure the company’s survival without laying off a single person – which they did.
I HIGHLY recommend this book. It’s a great read and shares not only a great business case but also Chapman’s personal story which is interesting in itself.
The book shows that happy workplaces can exist in any industry (even production) and that you can systematically transform bad, failing workplaces into happy successful ones. Provided you do so with some good structure, great leadership and the basic idea that people deserve to be treated well at work.