According to a recent article, “Inside Boeing’s Plan to Tap Workers’ Competitive Drive to Fight Off Airbus” (by Steve Wilhelm, Puget Sound Business Journal, May 12, 2016), today’s 21st century marketplace competitive environment has left Boeing little choice but to divulge vital company information to all of its employees (and suppliers) if it wants them to fully engage in the business and the cost-cutting measures they must take if they are to remain a viable industry player.
Explained Ray Conner, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, as quoted in the article: “We never talked like this to our teams. We have changed and we are changing. The competitive mindset you have to have is really critical. You have to share things you wouldn’t have shared before, bring the reality of the marketplace you were afraid to do, reluctant to do. These are not the kinds of conversations that we’ve had with work force all the way to factory floor. We’re bringing the whole game to them so they can understand exactly how they fit into the entire system.”
What do they hope to accomplish by doing this?
“When this place gets its head around what it takes to win, it’s an amazing thing that happens,” continued Conner. “Workers are thinking: ‘I’ve got to do my job better so I can help the company sell more airplanes.’ That’s the mindset we’re trying to create around this place.”
I’ve addressed this issue in many of my articles this year, starting with my Top 5 Leadership Predictions That Will Impact Business Evolution In 2016 And Beyond, and it’s an ongoing conversation I’ve had with a number of Fortune 500 executives before and since then. Most recently, I got a fresh take from Don Germano, president of Follett Higher Education Group, who gave me his perspective on the importance leaders being more open with its employees – and why.
Glenn: What’s your initial reaction to the article about Boeing, Don? Does the good outweigh the risk?
Don: I think so. It’s an exciting turning point, bringing the hearts and minds of everyone working for a company into the fold. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, the reaction from their workforce and the success that they start having once they share all of that information with their teams.
People spend a lot of time and give a lot of themselves to their job, so they want to win but they also want to feel like they’re part of something special, something bigger than themselves. As leaders, we owe it to our teams to share the facts and let them know where the company stands – even when it’s not great news. Knowing the truth empowers them to make the right decisions and be part of the solution. If they don’t know the truth, how can they add value and provide the valuable insights you need to be successful? If we’re not honest with them, how can we ask for their hearts and minds and expect more than their hands from them?
Glenn: How has this type of openness and transparency contributed to your own success?
Don: Interestingly enough, I first learned about this methodology in the Marine Corp. We called it “big picture-little picture.” Sharing our current situation with everyone, whatever it might be, enabled them to understand what was going on against the big picture, and how they and their unit fit into it, their role and responsibilities.
It creates a situation of empowerment, of being able to contribute to the success of the organization. Since then, I’ve seen it play out time and again in the business world. People really engage when they see the big picture and they’ll use whatever information you share with them to really help and be more successful.
Glenn: So why aren’t more leaders using this methodology? And what are the consequences of not doing so?
Don: It’s out of fear – that people will use company information to hurt instead of help. That they’ll use it for their own agenda. It’s not an unfounded fear; we’ve all seen situations where leaked information has been used against an organization. Where someone has gone to the press or online and used certain information to expose perceived weaknesses or offered up bad numbers as evidence of failure.
But in single-mindedly trying to protect the organization, you’re also missing the opportunity for the greater success that will come when all of your employees are on board; when they’re coming to work not just with their hands, but with their hearts and minds too.
Glenn: To evolve, you must share. To deploy any kind of change management strategy, you must be vulnerable. How would you advise leaders struggling with being vulnerable – which has traditionally been equated with weakness?
Don: I think being vulnerable professionally is similar to being vulnerable personally. That is, opening up and being vulnerable may expose you to the risk of being hurt – but you’ll also experience greater joy and satisfaction than you could’ve imagined, far outdistancing any hurt that might come with it.
Unfortunately, we’ve created this “zero defect mentality” that prohibits vulnerability. That’s not the case at Follett, and other like-minded companies, where we’re given room to make mistakes, and then figure out how to fix and recover from those mistakes. These have been my biggest learning experiences; most of all, they’ve taught me the upside of being vulnerable as the way to lead.
Glenn: But in today’s business climate, doesn’t the speed of change make it more difficult for people to fail? Or do you think we should be encouraging more of it anyway?
Don: We need to be encouraging more of it, despite obstacles like the speed of change and zero defect mentality – and perhaps even because of them. Because things are changing so fast, no one can control or possibly know everything that’s going on around them. More than ever, you’ve got to trust your team to see and react to change and unexpected situations. It’s an interesting cycle. The probability that they will make the right decisions in the future goes up if you allow space for them to make – and recover/learn from – their wrong decisions along the way.
Glenn: How practical is it though, to encourage vulnerability and allow mistakes to be made, when companies are in such rigid execution mode all the time?
Don: That’s the dilemma we face today. The answer is: you have to think longer term and you have to plan for the what-ifs and the contingencies. But you also have to find the right balance and not overthink it, because at the same time you have to operate fast to keep up with all of the changes and you have execute as flawlessly as possible to keep ahead of the competition.
Glenn: Let me share part of a survey my organization did. We asked people what was more important to them as a leader to most effectively serve the workplace and the marketplace: success or significance. Sixty-one percent said success; only thirty-nine percent said significance. Going back to what you said earlier…you said that it’s not just about using people’s hands, but engaging their hearts and minds too. Are we limiting our success because we’re so focused on the hands only, when we need people’s hearts and minds to be significant?
Don: As someone who strives to drive significance, I would have hoped for different results – and that more leaders would see their role that way too. People work for success, but they do their best work when they think it has significance. Like a good coach, the ultimate job of a leader should be to help others achieve things they dare not dream; to create opportunities for them to grow and challenge themselves and be better than they thought possible – to be significant.
Glenn: What I surmised from this data point is that people do what they are supposed to do – to be successful – but they don’t go above and beyond it – to be significant. In a business climate that clearly demands courageous leadership, why do we stay in our comfort zone and not have the courage to do what it takes to be more significant?
Don: It can only be explained with the argument that it’s short-term vs. long-term thinking. In other words, if I don’t make my numbers and have a certain level of success first, I’m not going to be around long enough to have the opportunity to drive significance in the workplace. So you have to strike a balance, where you first show that you can hit your short-term numbers, if you want to ultimately achieve your long-term vision and goals.
Glenn: That’s a great way to end our conversation and leads me to my last question. What is your vision and what are your ultimate goals as president of Follett Higher Education Group? Where do you want to take it and what impact do you want to have?
Don: We want to help enable learning for higher education across the globe. We believe that education is the gateway to a better life. Our role in that is making it easier for schools to run, for professors to teach, and for students to learn. And on the inside, for our employees – our team members – we want to create a culture where people want to do their best work, where they can do their best work – and by seizing that opportunity they can achieve their personal and professional goals.
This article was written by Glenn Llopis from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.