I recently heard Marshall Larsen, CEO of Goodrich Corporation, speak. Goodrich is commonly known as a manufacturer of auto tires, although the company spun off its tire and rubber business in the late 1980s and has since become a nearly $7 billion Fortune 500 powerhouse in the aerospace and defense industry.
Mr. Larsen detailed the various divisions and aspects of his company and then spent a significant portion of his talk focusing on the efforts Goodrich has made to treat its employees better. He mentioned a shift from "Thou shall not"-style HR management, where employees were admonished against every conceivable improper behavior, to assuming the majority of employees would do the right thing in areas like sick leave and bereavement absences.
In addition to this frank assessment of human decency, Mr. Larsen detailed a sweeping effort to better identify, grow, and leverage internal talent. In many large companies, internal positions might be filled from an executive's small pool of "known talent" or put out for an external hire, all while a highly qualified person who would be perfect for the role sits undiscovered in a different division or branch down the org chart. Under Mr. Larsen's tenure as CEO, he developed a sweeping talent management program that offers up qualified candidates from across the organization whenever an opening occurs. He also "walks the talk," spending significant time evaluating people across the organization, including his direct reports and "rising stars," to ensure each are thoroughly and fairly moved up the ranks of the company and provided the appropriate tools and coaching for success along the way.
While none of these initiatives are revolutionary, the candor and evident belief in the value of these policies struck me as Mr. Larsen spoke. Many companies have fine, glossy posters and flowing speeches extolling these types of programs, yet few invest the effort to make them successful across the organization.
As a consultant I have spent a good portion of my career advocating changes like these, and the key factor between success and failure is the involvement and passion of the executive sponsor. It's all too easy to write a check to a vendor, provide some training, or buy in to the "methodology du jour" and pat yourself on the back for moving the team or company forward, but far more difficult for a leader to embrace a change and become visibly and personally vested in its success. As I listened to Mr. Larsen I began to wonder what ignited his passion for Goodrich's people and how that might be applied to other companies.
I spoke to him briefly after his presentation and posed that very question, expecting perhaps that some management treatise had inspired him or a particularly effective internal or external personality had lit an intellectual spark. He reflected for a moment and said that he had spent the better part of three decades working up the ranks at Goodrich, and as CEO wanted to treat others with the respect he would like to have been treated with on his journey to CEO; in effect using the "Golden Rule" as a guiding force to drive HR policy. The simplicity of the answer struck me, as well as the subtext that this was obviously the right thing to do, and even asking the question was a bit odd.
We've made unfortunate strides toward dehumanizing the workforce and our policies toward our people, ranging from the various euphemisms for firing people (right-sized, RIF'ed, decruited, etc) to putting a great technician or salesperson into a management role without any training or assistance, only to watch them flounder and be fired or leave. In this environment, management according to the Golden Rule is refreshing for its instant accessibility, combined with a high standard of excellence.
While I can almost hear the eyes rolling and thoughts of "that would never work here", consider that Goodrich is a $7B company with a wide-ranging product portfolio, global reach, and massive global workforce of over 25,000 employees. When a simple, core value like treating others with the respect you'd like to be treated with guides your operating principles, great things can happen at any organization.
Patrick Gray is the founder and president of Prevoyance Group and author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. Prevoyance Group provides strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at email@example.com, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.