Conant knew that in order to get productivity out of his 20,000 employees, that number needed to change. Today, 10 years after he took on the role of CEO, that ratio is 17:1 - above the world class employee engagement ratio of 12:1.
The Big Idea
How did he do it? It started with one simple belief about people:
“They’re not going to be personally engaged unless they genuinely believe that you are personally engaged in trying to make their lives better.”
One very important characteristic struck me about Mr. Conant as I watched the interview. The three strategies he laid out came from a place of pure intent and humanity. There was nothing in his strategies or in his character that would have been learned in business school.
What he did came from a deep understanding of and connection with people. One that he learned not through academics, but from experience and from his own personal evolution and values as a human being.
His three strategies were purely human. Here is how he described them:
1. Declare Yourself and Delivery on Your Promises
Don’t assume people can read your mind. Declare your intentions out loud, and be clear about what you want and what you are going to do. By declaring it out loud, it solidifies your accountability to it. All that is left to do is to act on it.
2. Celebrate Contributions
In the first 25 years of Conant’s career he received 2 handwritten notes of acknowledgement. He saved them. In his time at Campbell’s he distributed over 30,000 handwritten notes personally acknowledging a specific contribution or achievement he observed. He only had 20,000 employees. Many kept his notes.
3. Walk Around
Those of us who are well-read or educated in management have heard about Management by Walking Around. Well, Conant took it to a new level. He literally put on walking shoes and a pedometer and went around talking to people when he had 30 minutes to spare in his day. What gets measured gets managed… and it produced remarkable results.
Employee engagement at Campbell’s went from 70% to 95% in the time that Conant was President. Profitability in that period was strong, and the company continued to be the world’s largest producer of soup. Now, with engaged employees and a new CEO, the company is poised to take on the world as it looks to become profitable in Russia and China over the next few years.
There was nothing particularly magical or extraordinary about it. Conant simply set an intention and acted on it. He managed with kindness and humanity.
How will you take over your world?