Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided by Kip Tindell, CEO of the Container Store.
Bryant: Tell me about your most important leadership lessons?
Tindell: I studied a lot of philosophy at Jesuit High School in Dallas. One of the things that really struck me was that most people seem to think that there’s a separate code of conduct in business from your personal life. And I always believed that they should be the same.
So we have what we call foundation principles. They are talked about and emphasized around here constantly. They’re all almost corny, a little bit Golden Ruleish. But they cause everybody to act as a unit because we all agree on our goals.
Bryant: Talk more about those principles.
Tindell: One is that leadership and communication are the same thing. We believe in relentlessly communicating everything to every single employee. There’s never a reason to keep information from an employee, except for individual salaries.
Bryant: What else?
Tindell: Another is that one great person could easily be as productive as three good people. So we try to pay 50 to 100 percent above industry average. That’s good for the employee, and that’s good for the customer, but it’s good for the company, too, because you get three times the productivity and only two times the labor cost.
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To read several of Bryant’s more recent interviews of other executives, please click here.
1. Walk and talk. Find someone else with a shared interest and discuss it while talking a regular walk together. “You’ll get mental stimulation, physical exercise, and social connection – the key brain strengtheners.” Feed your brain with oxygen generated by physical exercise.
2. Vary your routine. Try a different grocer, join a new club. “Novelty stimulates new neural connections.”
3. Get smart. Select a subject that fascinates you but about which you know little (if anything) learn as much as you can about it. The brain is a muscle that requires rigorous constant exercise.
4. Play. “Pick games with several different levels of difficulty, to master one by one. For quicker learning, try to beat the clock.”
5. De-stress. “Meditation, yoga, a walk in the woods: focus your mind and relax.”
6. Sleep. “Your brain is active when you sleep – it is consolidating memories from your day. Skip the late show and give your brain time to work.”
7. Imagine. “Paint, write a diary or novel, visit new web sites, or build your own.” One of my favorite exercises is to formulate interview questions for historical figures who interest me most: Homer, Socrates, Jesus, Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill.
8. Party. “Don’t be a loner – it can lull your brain into slowdown mode.” Those who have frequent contact with young grandchildren may need to increase their commitment to #6.
9. Eat right. “A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fish will help keep oxygen flowing to the brain.” We are what we eat, for better or worse.
10. Watch your numbers. “Work with your doctor to keep blood pressure, weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol in check.”
Dr. Doraiswamy concludes, “Most important, shun gimmicks. No product can build extra brainpower instantly or effortlessly. But with challenging new habits, you can make your mind steadily sharper and stronger – and for the rest of your life.”
In How to Be a Fierce Competitor: What Winning Companies and Great Managers Do in Tough Times, published by Jossey-Bass (March, 2010), Jeffrey Fox has this to say about Competitive Companies: “[They] are ethical, honest, compliant with regulations, and model citizens. They are sometimes feared and always watched by their competitors. They are loved by their customers. They are easy to do business with, but they never take it easy…The savvy, smart, well-led companies see bad times as a good time to gain market share, to out-fox the competition…aggressively pursue underserved customers, market to brand-indifferent customers and work mightily to make them brand-loyal, go after other companies’ dissatisfied, angry customers, buy under-priced hard assets, build capacity, hire newly available human talent, and acquire product licenses, anxious good suppliers, undermarketed products, new wholesalers and distributors, and core relevant acquisitions.”
It is no coincidence that most of the companies that are annually ranked by Fortune magazine among “the most admired” and “best to work” for are also among those annually ranked among those most profitable and that have the greatest cap value.
In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, published by Riverhead Books (2009), Dan Pink offers some excellent advice as to how to promote “goldilocks” for teams, “the kind [of tasks] that are neither too easy nor too hard, that deliver a delicious sense of flow. But sometimes it’s difficult to replicate that experience when you’re working in a team. People often end up doing the jobs they always do because they’ve proven they can do them well, and an unfortunate few get saddled with the flow-free [i.e. unsatisfying, unfulfilling, unpleasant] tasks nobody else wants. Here are a few ways to bring a little Goldilocks to your group”:
1. Begin with a diverse team. Members are cross-functional and from different departments or areas.
2. Make your group a “no competition” zone. Strongly encourage and generously support communication, cooperation, and especially collaboration.
3. Try a little task-shifting. For example, “if someone is bored with his current assignment, see if he can train someone else in the skills he’s already mastered. Then see if he can take on some aspect of a more experienced team member’s work.”
4. Animate with purpose, don’t motivate with rewards. “Nothing binds a team like a shared mission. The more people share a common cause [e.g. creating something that Steve Jobs characterizes as ‘insanely great’], the more your group will do deeply satisfying and outstanding work.”
C-level executives would also be well-advised to keep in mind what William L. McKnight observed in 1924 when he was chairman and CEO of 3M: “If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.” Also sufficient resources, constant encouragement, and — when necessary — full protection.
“One thing is for certain: government is not the prime mover in Great Resets. Government can certainly take action to mitigate the most onerous effects of a [financial] crisis and to establish regulatory frameworks to prevent future ones…Great Resets evolve organically: new innovations emerge, new systems of technology and infrastructure are put in place, and new patterns of living and working gradually take shape and begin to remake the economic landscape. Government’s central task is to enable and accelerate these shifts by helping create the fertile environment in which they can grow and develop. Resets – like most everything else – are a delicate combination of nature and nurture.”
In my opinion, there is no one else who generates more and more valuable insights concerning the evolution of the U.S. culture than does Richard Florida.
He is the author of previously published bestsellers that include The Rise of the Creative Class (2003) and The Flight of the Creative Class (2007). He also serves as the director of the Martin Prosperity Institute and professor of business and creativity at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. He is also a correspondent to the Atlantic and writes frequently for The New York Times, the Financial Times, and the Globe and Mail. In addition, he is the founder of the Creative Class Group. You are cordially invited to check out the resources at http://www.creativeclass.com/.
I keep writing on this blog about the jobs problem. It captivates my thinking. I don’t know the answer. And I think it is a big, big problem.
The evidence is all around us. It has now become a commonly understood fact that companies look for ways to get rid of jobs – they outsource, they go in for the newest technology, they replace workers with cheaper workers from anywhere and every-where, and they perpetually cut workers.
In Bob’s interview with Dave Ulrich, (the interviews conducted by Bob provide a rich business education), you find this little tidbit:
A second shift was finding technology-based ways to do the transaction work often affiliated with legacy HR. The work ended up in service centers, being outsourced, or on line for employee self-sufficiency. This freed up HR professionals to focus on the more strategic and transformational parts of their job.
Yes, this does free up HR professionals to focus on other things, but it also frees up a whole lot of people from their jobs.
And so the number of jobs declines. Seemingly continually.
ABC News is broadcasting a multi-night series this week on the disappearing middle-class. The middle-class is disappearing because the jobs are disappearing.
And then I simply think about the hints all around me about the lost jobs. Take the shopping center near my house. There used to be a thriving TCBY (I miss TCBY!). It’s gone. The last owner was pleasant, prompt, responsive, delivering good customer service. The workers were all pleasant. It was, for a while, a great place for work for the local teenagers, at night or on the weekends. The product was good. But I showed up less and less often. As did apparently everyone else. It’s gone. And there are other shops gone, and the shopping center is basically a ghost town.
I’ve seen a lot of shopping centers like that.
And I think about how I pay my bills. I now pay most of my bills on-line. It is free to do so. If I mail the payment, I pay postage. If I call it in, I pay an over-the-phone fee. But if I do it on-line, there is no cost. So, the post office faces job cuts. And, I assume, the companies are trying to cut the phone center workers.
The big companies cut jobs as technology improves. And the government always trumpets small businesses as the source of jobs in the future, yet the evidence is that most – the vast majority of – small businesses fail. Depending on which source you use, between 50% (the optimistic number) and 67% of small businesses fail within two years. And, most small businesses stay really small – just one person, or at best a handful.
And then I keep thinking about the work ethic question. Common wisdom, common sense will tell you that if you work hard, you will succeed. I do believe that. But there is a morale component, and a hope component. When people who work hard are laid off because of industry change, technology change, forces beyond the control of their own work ethic, it creates a downward spiral, effecting work ethic and hope and morale…
Last November, I wrote this post: What I’m Not Reading – and why I’m bothered by it (should companies focus, much more, on nurturing jobs?), in which I wrote:
But there is one theme that is not being written about. At least, if it is, it has not made it close to anyone’s best-seller list. It is this theme: how can we build companies that nurture and protect the jobs of the people who make those companies successful?
And I’m just reflecting what is written practically everywhere I read, like this:
Where will the jobs come from? Wall Street can produce another bubble, but that won’t put the 15 million without jobs to work, one third of which have been out of work for at least six months.
So – where will the jobs be? I think this is the most serious challenge of the era, and I think our best business leaders need to move this question to the highest priority for their thinking and planning time.
I just read this column by Bob Herbert, about Toyota’s decision to close a plant in Caifornia. It is worth reading. Note this paragraph:
What we’re dealing with here is the kind of corporate treachery toward workers and their local communities that has ruined countless lives over the past several decades and completely undermined the long-term prospects of the economy.
He is Professor of Business Administration at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan where he is on the core faculty of the Executive Program, Co-Director of Michigan’s Human Resource Executive Program, and Advanced Human Resource Executive Program. His teaching and research addresses how to create an organization that adds value to customers and investors. He studies how organizations change, build capabilities, learn, remove boundaries, and leverage human resource activities. He is also a partner at the RBL Group, a consulting firm focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value. He studies how organizations build capabilities of speed, learning, collaboration, accountability, talent, and leadership through leveraging human resources. He has helped generate award winning data bases that assess alignment between strategies, human resource practices and HR competencies. Ulrich has published over 200 articles and book chapters as well as authored or co-authored over 20 books, including Results-Based Leadership , The HR Scorecard, The HR Value Proposition and The Workforce Scorecard , Beyond HR, Leadership Brand, HR Competencies, Leadership Code: Five Rules to Lead By, and then HR Transformation: Building Human Resources from the Outside In.
Morris: Before discussing a few of your books, first a few general questions. At what point in your life that you realize that you wanted to focus on understanding what maximizing human development requires and then how to help individuals as well as teams and even entire organizations to achieve that?
Ulrich: Eons ago in college, I wanted to go to law school. It was my boyhood dream. I took a course called “organizational behavior” from a master teacher who captured my imagination. He asked us to examine how organizations work and be alerted on how to improve them. He challenged us to see organizational issues in where we worked, what we read, and how we lived our lives. I ended up writing a 15 to 20-page paper every week for 15 weeks. He told me afterwards that I had found my niche. Decades later I figured I had “OCD” … organization compulsive disorder … where I constantly look at finding how to organize better. This torments family and friends when I go to restaurants, airplanes, churches, or other organization settings and offer unsolicited advice.
Morris: Looking back over (let’s say) the last decade, what have been the most significant changes in HR operations and management of them?
Ulrich: About a decade ago, HR began to serious focus on outcomes not activities. It was not enough to hire someone, but to make sure that you are hiring the right person. As HR aligned to strategy, the focus was less on what HR activities were done (e.g., how many leaders received 40 hours of training), but on the outcomes of what was done. A second shift was finding technology-based ways to do the transaction work often affiliated with legacy HR. The work ended up in service centers, being outsourced, or on line for employee self-sufficiency. This freed up HR professionals to focus on the more strategic and transformational parts of their job. Finally, line managers began to realize that competitors can more easily copy price, product, and technology, but the way to manage people and organization was a unique advantage that competitors could not easily copy. HR has become more strategic not because HR wants to be strategic, but because line managers need insights that good HR professionals can offer.