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General Electric’s Jack Welch Identifies Four Types of Managers

Jack Welch's Four Types of Managers

Four Types of Managers

Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric Jack Welch, Chairman and CEO of General Electric from 1981 to 2001, described four categories of managers in General Electric’s year 2000 annual report.

Type 1: shares our values; makes the numbers—sky’s the limit!

Type 2: shares the values; misses the numbers—typically, another chance, or two.

Type 3: doesn’t share the values; doesn’t make the numbers—gone.

Type 4 is the toughest call of all: the manager who doesn’t share the values, but delivers the numbers. This type is the toughest to part with because organizations always want to deliver and to let someone go who gets the job done is yet another unnatural act. But we have to remove these Type 4s because they have the power, by themselves, to destroy the open, informal, trust-based culture we need to win today and tomorrow.

We made our leap forward when we began removing our Type 4 managers and making it clear to the entire company why they were asked to leave—not for the usual “personal reasons” or “to pursue other opportunities,” but for not sharing our values. Until an organization develops the courage to do this, people will never have full confidence that these soft values are truly real.

Live by Corporate Values

Keep the company values front and center in people's mind Organizations face the challenge of developing and sustaining a culture that is both values-centered and performance-driven. They begin by developing mission and value statements that, in due course, become little more than wall decorations because the organization’s leaders and managers fail to uphold these values.

Nothing hurts morale more than when leaders tolerate employees who deliver results, but exhibit behaviors that are incongruent to values of the company. For instance, an organization that thrives on teamwork will suffer, over the long term, if a manager habitually claims all credit for his team’s accomplishments.

Idea for Impact: Core Values Matter!

As a manager, drive accountability. Hold employees responsible for their behaviors. Reward employees for proper behaviors and publicly discourage behaviors that do not uphold values. Do not make exceptions—exceptions signify your own indifference to the upholding of values.

As an employee, understand that an essential requirement for your success in your organization is your fit. Your behaviors must be congruent with the character and needs of your organization. Even if you are talented, you will not fare well if your behaviors are inconsistent with the values of your organization. Reflect on your behavior. On a regular basis, collect feedback from your managers, peers and employees. Seek change.

Keep the company values front and center in people’s mind.

General Electric’s Jack Welch on Acting Quickly

General Electric's Jack Welch on Acting Quickly

Jack Welch, General Electric's former CEO Jack Welch was the Chairman and CEO of General Electric (GE) from 1981 to 2001. During Welch’s twenty-year tenure, GE grew into one of the largest and most admired companies in the world. Jack Welch is widely recognized as one of the greatest business leaders of our time. In 1999, Fortune magazine named him the ‘Manager of the Century.’

In an interview with Spencer Stuart executive headhunters Thomas Neff and James Citrin for the book “Lessons from the Top”, Jack Welch regrets not taking action quickly during his tenure at General Electric.

I think the biggest mistake I made is a fundamental one. I went too slow in everything I did. … If I had done in two years what took five, we would have been ahead of the curve even more.

You rarely do things too fast. If you think about your life and the decisions you’ve made, you can’t come up with too many where you said, “I wish I took another year to do it.” But you can sure come up with a list where you say, “I wish I had done a bunch of things six months earlier.”

Call for Action

Procrastinators sabotage themselves. However, procrastination is a learned behavior and therefore can be unlearned.

In all spheres of life, competition has transitioned from “big-eat-small” to “fast-eat-slow.” Good ideas are relatively easy to come up with. However, quick and efficient execution is primary to the success of these ideas. When a hundred people probably have the same idea, execution in a fast timeframe is just about the only thing that matters.

Are you holding back on your ideas? Do the tasks look daunting? Do you lack confidence? Are you uncertain of the direction or afraid of failure? How can you overcome these hesitations? Develop a set of ideas to reach your goals, prioritize them, and commence working on your ideas right away. Why delay?

Got tough choices to make? Use Suzy Welch’s 10-10-10 Rule [Book Summary]

'10-10-10: A Life-Transforming Idea' by Suzy Welch (ISBN 1416591826) In “10-10-10”, Suzy Welch offers a simple, straightforward thought process for decision-making.

The fundamental premise of Welch’s “10-10-10 Rule” is that our decisions define us. Each of our choices has consequences, both now and in the future.

Welch advocates making decisions thoughtfully by considering the potential positive and negative consequences in the immediate present, the near term, and the distant future: or in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years.

… there is nothing literal about each ten in 10-10-10. The first 10 basically stands for “right now” as in, one minute, one hour, or one week. The second 10 represents that point in the foreseeable future when the initial reaction to your decision has passed but its consequences continue to play out in ways you can reasonably predict. And the third 10 stands for a time in a future that is so far off that its particulars are entirely vague. So, really, 10-10-10 could just as well be referring to nine days, fifteen months, and twenty years, or two hours, six months, and eight years. The name of the process is just a totem meant to directionally suggest time frames along the lines of: in the heat of the moment, somewhat later, and when all is said and done.

Welch reiterates that decision-making should involve a clear understanding of all the attributes and the long-term implications of your dilemma, crisis, problem, or question.

10-10-10 does have a way of galvanizing people into forward-thinking action and out of a fixation on the present. … The third 10 in 10-10-10 has a powerful way of mitigating that tendency. It helps us decide whether (or not) it’s worth it to endure short-term flame-outs in the service of our larger, more deeply held goals in life.

The bulk of the book offers trite, protracted, and tiresome examples of people using 10-10-10 to make decisions related to friendships, dating, marriage, children, work, and career and life planning.

Welch explains that the perspective that accompanies considering our decisions’ immediate and long-term consequences can be very helpful.

  • “By having us methodically sort through our options in various time frames, the process … forces us to dissect and analyze what we’re deciding and why, and it pushes us to empathize with who we might become.”
  • “The process invariably led me to faster, cleaner, and sounder decisions.”
  • “The process also gave me a way to explain myself to all the relevant “constituents”—my kids or parents or boss with clarity and confidence.”

Recommendation: Skim. If you must, read the first two chapters for a long-form description of what I’ve summarized. You’ll find little of value in the rest of the chapters. Alternatively, read The Oprah Magazine article in which Welch first introduced her 10-10-10 idea.

Postscript: In 2002, Suzy Welch was launched into spotlight after getting fired as an editor of the Harvard Business Review following a scandalous affair with former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, who was still married to his second wife. Subsequently, Jack’s enraged wife revealed embarrassing details of his post-retirement compensation from General Electric, claimed a significant share of his wealth, and divorced him. Suzy and Jack got married in 2004 and have since authored two best-selling books, “Winning” and “The Real-Life MBA”.

What it Takes to Be a Hit with Customers

  1. Be Trustworthy. One of the most important aspects of being effective at work is earning and upholding others’trust through your actions, not through your words. You earn trust slowly but can lose it in a moment—as Warren Buffett often reiterates, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” Idea for Impact: Earn trust by making and honoring your commitments. Do what you commit to. Act with integrity. Do the right things for the right reasons.
  2. Responsiveness in Customer Service: Respond immediately to requests unless there is a judicious reason to wait Be Responsive. We live in a time and age of “instantaneous gratification.” People want immediate results—without delay or deferment. They don’t expect to wait. And if they have to wait on you, their resentment grows. Alas, responsiveness affects how people perceive you. If you’re slow, your customers will suppose you are indifferent or incompetent. If you respond promptly, they’ll assume you’re proficient and on top of your work. Idea for Impact: Respond immediately to requests unless there is a judicious reason to wait.
  3. Be Strong, But Flexible. Respect the rules and traditions but be adaptable to changing conditions. Be watchful and absorb from whatever you can learn—as General Electric’s celebrated ex-CEO Jack Welch once wrote, “The desire and the ability of an organization to continuously learn from any source—and to rapidly convert this learning into action—is its ultimate competitive advantage.” Idea for Impact: Flexibility with rules can be pragmatic in its own right. Learn to make rational decisions by balancing facts and emotions.
  4. Be Realistic, Not Overly Optimistic. Self-help gurus and the media have endlessly touted optimism as the “winning formula to success.” This obsession with cheerfulness has reinforced a false sense of realism and pragmatism. Optimists tend to overlook the reality—they develop a false sense of hope and become too attached to the possibility of positive outcomes. Unfortunately, realists are branded as skeptics and skeptics are quickly shunned as outcasts. Idea for Impact: Take an honest and levelheaded view, no matter what the problem. Embrace the possibility of failure. Plan for the downside. Don’t get caught up in trivial details.
  5. Be Likeable and Interested. Highly competent but unlikeable people do not succeed as well as their fairly competent but likeable counterparts. The American poet and memoirist Maya Angelou aptly said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Idea for Impact: Be pleasant, enthusiastic, and friendly—make eye contact, smile, and say ‘hello’ more. Listen. Be open and approachable. Appreciate the individuality of people. Try to be interested, not just interesting.
  6. Be a Good Salesperson - Much of success in life is really about selling yourself Be a Good Salesperson. Much of success in life—from getting a Starbucks barista to make a special no-whip, extra-foam latte with half a packet of Splenda to finding a spouse—is really about selling yourself. Every selling situation involves making a connection with an individual who likes and trusts you. An anonymous sales guru once said, “All things being equal, most people would rather buy from somebody they like… and that’s true even when all things aren’t equal.” Idea for Impact: It is useless to work hard and be creative unless you can also sell what you create. Learn to be persuasive. You can’t just talk people into things.
  7. Be Visible and Communicate Candidly. How you identify and respond to a problem or a crisis is the ultimate test of your character. If you do not communicate frequently, people will develop their own perceptions of the problem and its implications. Knowing when to step up your communications efforts to the right levels during difficulties can be a powerful tool in problem solving. Idea for Impact: Keep your eyes open for customers’ inconveniences, difficulties, and troubles as creative problems to be solved. Focus on problem solving. Be visible. Communicate and lead from the front. Learn how to handle upset customers.

Postscript: This Harvard Business Review article argues that, more than anything else, customers want just a reasonable solution to their expectations. Delighting them by “exceeding their expectations” hardly enhances customer loyalty.

Inspirational Quotations #682

Dealing with people is probably the biggest problem you face, especially if you are in business. Yes, and that is also true if you are a housewife, architect or engineer.
Dale Carnegie

We are all excited by the love of praise, and it is the noblest spirits that feel it most.
Cicero

The people who get into trouble in our company are those who carry around the anchor of the past.
Jack Welch

The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity.
Rollo May

It takes patience to appreciate domestic bliss; volatile spirits prefer unhappiness.
George Santayana

To have a grievance is to have a purpose in life.
Eric Hoffer

Idleness is an inlet to disorder, and makes way for licentiousness. People who have nothing to do are quickly tired of their own company.
Jeremy Collier

Sin is sweet in the beginning, but bitter in the end.
The Talmud

Anger is a great force. If you control it, it can be transmuted into a power which can move the whole world.
Swami Sivananda

If you want to clear the stream get the hog out of the spring.
Common Proverb

In three ways may we repent: by publicly confessing our sins, by manifesting sorrow for sins committed, and by good deeds, which are as sacrifices before the Lord.
The Talmud

What’s past is prologue.
William Shakespeare

No amount of charters, direct primaries, or short ballots will make a democracy out of an illiterate people.
Walter Lippmann

Don’t Blatantly Imitate a Hero: Be Yourself

Heroes are very useful—they embody a higher plateau of truth, knowledge, and accomplishment that you can aspire to.

While admiring and drawing inspiration from heroes can be productive, blatantly imitating them is simply foolish.

Lei Jun, the Steve Jobs-mimicking chief of Chinese consumer electronics company Xiaomi

The black turtleneck syndrome

Consider Lei Jun, the Steve Jobs-mimicking chief of Chinese consumer electronics company Xiaomi. Jun has not only made Xiaomi the world’s fourth-largest smartphone maker by copying Apple’s products but also cultivated a blatant Jobsian likeness—right down to wearing dark shirts and jeans in the vein of Steve Jobs and mimicking his presentation style.

Lei Jun is not alone in taking this admiration of Steve Jobs beyond inspiration to blatant imitation. After reading Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography of Steve Jobs, many people started to actually think and act like Steve Jobs. Some have even embraced catchphrases like “one more thing,” the expression Jobs used in his presentations prior to introducing new Apple products.

You aren’t Steve Jobs, your company isn’t Apple, so why try to be Steve Jobs?

Steve Jobs-mimicking Lei Jun of Xiaomi Undoubtedly, Steve Jobs was a determined and ambitious leader who created renowned products that transformed many industries. He intuitively understood what makes a compelling product, in both concept and design. He was a visionary and brilliant innovator who integrated insights from diverse disciplines and paid great attention to the design-details of Apple’s products and services. He was intensely focused, committed, confident enough to take risky leaps, and charismatic enough to enlist legions of employees and customers in the inexorable pursuit of his aspirations.

Those are all fine traits in the right context, but simply lifting them from Steve Jobs’s biography and imposing them on your employees will not necessarily yield Jobs-like results. You could sink your business if you blindly use Jobs’s or any other celebrity manager’s leadership style and behaviors in the wrong context, product, strategy, or market.

Imitation will not conjure success

'Winning' by Jack Welch, Suzy Welch (ISBN 0060753943) Long before Steve Jobs was Jack Welch, whom Fortune magazine dubbed “Manager of the Century” in 1999. Between 1981 and 2001, as General Electric’s CEO, Welch became a cult figure among American managers and leaders. By means of intellect, energy, and straight talk, Welch transformed the sleepy giant of General Electric (GE) into an international business powerhouse.

Jack Welch was widely regarded as the transformative manager’s archetype. Managers read his leadership playbook religiously and tried to imitate everything he did at GE—from his 20-70-10 “rank and yank” process to adopting six-sigma methods. These imitators often failed to realize that a number of factors contributed to the success of Welch’s techniques, not the least of which was the strong organizational culture and leadership philosophy he had established at GE. Managers simply will not successfully imitate Welch’s techniques without first establishing the organizational context that allowed for his initiatives’ success.

Idea for Impact: You can learn a lot from your heroes, but don’t emulate it all

Most intellectual, cognitive, and people skills are situational. That is to say that there is a time for Jack Welch’s techniques, another time for Steve Jobs’s techniques, and still other times for others’ techniques. The real skill lies in accumulating many ideas in your “brain attic” and then diagnosing your situations to apply the appropriate technique at the appropriate time.

You can learn a lot from your heroes, but don’t pattern your lives after them. See if some of the things they did will work for you. Develop your own style by focusing on what matters to you in your context. Don’t become second-rate versions of people you admire; instead be first-rate version of yourself.

Leadership Lessons from the Spectacular Rise and Fall of Avon’s Andrea Jung / Book Summary of “Beauty Queen” by Deborrah Himsel

When companies do well, their CEOs are often heralded as outstanding visionaries and brilliant innovators. In particular, when macroeconomic conditions are favorable, these CEOs are sheltered from scrutiny because the spoils of their success deflect attention from their leadership shortcomings (see my previous article on how success often conceals wickedness.) When the tide turns, however, the leadership deficiencies are exposed for all to see. The CEOs are the first to get the blame, even if they may not merit it.

Deborrah Himsel’s Beauty Queen offers an insightful tale of the spectacular rise to the top and the tumultuous fall from grace of Andrea Jung. Beauty Queen divides Jung’s tenure as the CEO of cosmetics company Avon from 1999 to 2012 into two halves: Jung led six consecutive years of double-digit growth initially and then presided over a series of operational missteps that led to her resignation. Alas, Avon has never since recovered—its numerous restructuring efforts have failed, and its strategic and financial performance has severely deteriorated.

The Rise of Andrea Jung and Avon (1999–2005)

'Beauty Queen: Inside the Reign of Avon's Andrea Jung' by Deborrah Himsel (ISBN 113727882X) Promoted at age 41, Andrea Jung brought glamour, charm, and personal style to her CEO’s role. She quickly reshaped Avon’s image and articulated a powerful purpose for the company. She injected energy into a decaying cosmetics brand and pushed Avon into new profitable markets in China, Russia, and other countries. When Jung became CEO, 60% of Avon’s sales were in the United States; by 2011, only 17% of sales were in the United States and 70% were in developing markets.

Jung’s revival of Avon’s fortune catapulted her fame; she became one of America’s most recognized chief executives. Fortune magazine named her one of the most powerful women in the world. Jack Welch recruited her to General Electric’s board of directors.

Beauty Queen attributes this initial success not only to Jung’s inherent strengths in marketing and branding, but also to her right-hand person Susan Kropf. Kropf was a brilliant operations person, who balanced Jung’s acute lack of skills in running the day-to-day operations of a global company.

The Fall of Andrea Jung and Avon (2005–2012)

Avon’s sales started to slow down in 2005. And, Susan Kropf’s exit in 2006 corresponded with the dawn of Avon’s misfortunes. Andrea Jung never replaced Kropf; Avon was left without a chief operating officer.

As Avon started to struggle, Jung’s inadequate operations experience became a serious liability. A streak of self-inflicted problems resulted in strategic and operational disasters that took a huge financial toll and resulted in a flight of Avon’s top talent. Jung failed to deal effectively with failures of computer systems in Brazil, inadequate inventory and supply-chain management, poor management of working capital, and a staggering bribery scandal in China.

Jung’s lack of expertise to deliver results went up against her bold projections about the business’s future. Straying from Avon’s door-to-door direct selling roots, Jung experimented with a direct-selling channel, but quickly abandoned her strategy of running Avon retail stores. Her attempts to start baby-goods and other new product lines foundered after just two years. Avon’s many acquisitions failed; a silver jewelry company (Silpada) that Jung bought for $650 million had to be sold back to the original owners for $85 million.

Avon never recovered from the blunders that Andrea Jung presided over

Avon Beauty Products After Jung’s several turnaround efforts had failed to take hold, she resigned in 2011. Her replacement, former Johnson & Johnson executive Sheri McCoy, has since struggled to turn the company around.

The bribery scandal in China impaired Avon. In 2014, Avon settled the case with the Justice Department and the SEC for $135 million. To boot, Avon not only spent $350 million on legal fees, but also lost ground in the burgeoning cosmetics market in China.

Avon’s market value fell from $21 billion (1-Mar-2004) at the height of Jung’s success to $1.1 billion (15-Jan-2016). The company’s stock price fell from $44.33 to $2.50.

Lessons from Andrea Jung’s Leadership Style at Avon

Some of the most instructive leadership lessons from Beauty Queen are,

  • “Studying the trajectory of the Avon CEO is a great way to learn leadership. Andrea’s career … offers invaluable lessons about finding the right balance between substance and style.”
  • “Her story is a cautionary tale, one that suggests the critical importance of being aware of your weaknesses and how they can sabotage you.”
  • Leaders should know when to go. “If Andrea had departed in 2008, she would have left with her reputation and halo fully intact … CEOs that are successful early on often err on the side of staying too long.” [See my previous article on why leaders better quit while they’re ahead.]
  • Companies should pair up their leaders with deputies who have complementary skills to offset the Achilles’ heels of the leaders.

Recommendation: Skim through the first six chapters of Beauty Queen for an informative quick read on Andrea Jung’s rise and fall at Avon. Thumb through the next five chapters for an uninteresting discussion of broad leadership lessons and action lists in dry PowerPoint style.

Five Principles of Career Success from Intel’s Andy Grove

Andy Grove of Intel, born András István Gróf in Hungary

Andy Grove (1936–2016,) the illustrious cofounder and CEO of Intel, passed away earlier this year. Grove was arguably the most influential tech executive the Silicon Valley has ever seen. He achieved fame and success in his adopted country and provides an outstanding modern-day immigrant success story.

Modern-Day Immigrant Success Story

Born András István Gróf to a middle-class Jewish family in Hungary, he survived the Nazi occupation by taking a false name, hiding with Christian families, and escaping the heartbreaking fate of half a million Hungarian Jewish people. After the war, when the Russians occupied Hungary and installed a repressive Communist government, Grove’s father was forced to take up menial work despite having been emaciated from torture at a Nazi labor camp.

During the brutal response to the anti-Soviet 1956 Hungarian Revolution following Stalin’s death, Grove’s family hid themselves in a coal cellar whilst Soviet artillery shells destroyed their neighborhood. Grove joined a flood of people who took advantage of the pandemonium to walk across the border into Austria. He fled to the United States in 1957, arrived in New York with less than $20 in his pocket, and settled in with relatives.

Andrew Grove with Intel Founders Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce As a child, Grove was afflicted with scarlet fever and an ear infection that left him nearly deaf. In spite of his hearing impairment and an inadequate knowledge of English, he studied chemical engineering at the City College of New York and graduated at the top of his class. Grove learned to lip read and then deciphered his notes after class. He recalled to The New York Times in 1960, “I had to go over each day’s work again at night with a dictionary at my side.” He then earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Berkeley and joined Fairchild Semiconductor. When his managers Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce left Fairchild to start Intel, Grove went with them as director of engineering.

High Performance Management and Paranoia

'Only the Paranoid Survive' by Andrew S. Grove (ISBN 0385483821) Intel evolved swiftly. As President and later CEO, Grove brilliantly led Intel’s strategy and operations, established a near-monopoly on CPUs, and played a central role in the PC revolution. During this tenure as CEO from 1987–98, Intel’s stock price rose 32% a year. After relinquishing his role as Intel’s CEO in 1998 and as Chairman of the Board in 2005, he mentored prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

Grove was famous for his rigorous, no-nonsense, confrontational, non-hierarchical management style; his approach still dominates the Silicon Valley culture. He zealously demanded high performance. In 2004, the Wharton School him the most influential business leader of the past quarter-century, over Microsoft’s Bill Gates, General Electric’s Jack Welch, and Walmart’s Sam Walton.

Grove was a conspicuous voice for reason in the immigration, offshoring, and jobs-creation debates. He was also a prolific author and public speaker. His autobiography Swimming Across (2001) recounts the first 20 years of his life—from childhood in Hungary up until his move to California. His other autobiography, Only the Paranoid Survive (1996,) describes how companies should deal with emergent competitors, transform themselves, and perhaps change the nature of the industry itself. Forbes magazine calls it “probably the best book on business written by a business person since Alfred Sloan’s My Years with General Motors.” High Output Management (1995) explained how to maximize productivity and has become a cult classic in Silicon Valley. One on One with Andy Grove (1988) compiles his “Dear Abby”-style newspaper Q&A column on work- and career-advice.

Five Principles of Career Success

'One-on-One With Andy Grove' by Andy Grove (ISBN 0140109358) Wrapping up One on One, Grove summarized his advice on career, management, and leadership with five suggestions:

  • FIRST—and this is very important—enjoy your work. It’s impossible to like all of it. Sometimes you’ll chafe under its unrelenting nature, other times you’ll be bored, but overall you must enjoy it. I am convinced that most people will like their work if they can see that what they do makes a difference and if they approach their work with a bit of zest, maybe even playfulness. Doing so introduces a bit of levity when it’s most needed and leads to camaraderie.
  • SECOND, be totally dedicated to the substance of your work, to the end result, the output; not how you got to it or whose idea it was or whether you look good or not.
  • THIRD, respect the work of all those who respect their own work, from vice presidents to sales clerks, from maintenance technicians to security officers. Nobody is unimportant: It takes all levels and all jobs to run a functioning organization.
  • FOURTH, be straight with everyone. I hate it when people are not honest with me, and I would hate myself if I weren’t straight with them. This isn’t an easy principle to stick to. There are always many reasons (better to call them excuses) to compromise a little here or there. We may reason that people are not ready to hear the truth or the bad news, that the time isn’t right, or whatever. Giving in to those tempting rationalizations usually leads to conduct that can be ethically wrong and will backfire every time.
  • And, ALWAYS, when stumped, stop and think your way through to your own answers!

Ten Rules of Management Success from Sam Walton

Sam Walton (1918–1992,) the iconic founder of Walmart and Sam’s Club, was arguably the most successful entrepreneur of his generation. He was passionate about retailing, loved his work, and built and ran Walmart with boundless energy.

'Sam Walton: Made In America' by Sam Walton (ISBN 0553562835) “Made in America” is Walton’s very educational, insightful, and stimulating autobiography. It’s teeming with Walton’s relentless search for better ideas, learning from competitors, managing costs and prices to gain competitive advantage, asking incessant questions of day-to-day operations, listening to employees at all levels of Walmart, and inventing creative ways to foster an idea-driven culture. “Made in America” is also filled with anecdotes from Walton’s associates and family members—in fact, some of their opinions are less than flattering.

Former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch once said, “Walton understood people the way Thomas Edison understood innovation and Henry Ford, production. He brought out the very best in his employees, gave his very best to his customers, and taught something of value to everyone he touched.”

Here are ten insightful management ideas from “Made in America” with the relevant anecdotes from Walton or his associates.

  1. When hiring employees, look for passion and desire to grow. Having the right skills and qualifications is no doubt essential in a potential employee, but a better predictor of long-term success and career advancement is his/her passion for learning new things, commitment to a task, and a drive to get things done. A former Walmart executive recalls, “Sam would take people with hardly any retail experience, give them six months with us, and if he thought they showed any real potential to merchandise a store and manage people, he’d give them a chance. He’d make them an assistant manager. They were the ones who would go around and open all the new stores and they would be next in line to manage their own store. In my opinion, most of them weren’t anywhere near ready to run stores, but Sam proved me wrong there. He finally convinced me. If you take someone who lacks the experience and the know-how but has the real desire and the willingness to work his tail off to get the job done, he’ll make up for what he lacks.”
  2. Delegate and follow up. Delegation is indispensable; yet it remains one of the most underutilized and underdeveloped managerial skills. One element of effective delegation is consistent follow-up. Far too often, managers will delegate a task and then fail to follow up to see how things are going. Such failure to follow-up is tantamount to abdication of accountability for results, which still lies with the manager. Former Walmart CEO David Glass recalls, “As famous as Sam is for being a great motivator … he is equally good at checking on the people he has motivated. You might call his style: management by looking over your shoulder.”

Management Ideas from Sam Walton

  1. Persist and rally people to the cause. Passionate managers demonstrate the energy and drive needed to rally their teams around a shared vision. They engage their employees with the same messages over and over, escalate their sense of urgency, and get their vision implemented quickly. Former Walmart CEO David Glass recalls, “When Sam feels a certain way, he is relentless. He will just wear you out. He will bring up an idea, we’ll all discuss it and then decide maybe that it’s not something we should be doing right now—or ever. Fine. Case closed. But as long as he is convinced that it is the right thing, it just keeps coming up—week after week after week—until finally everybody capitulates and says, well, it’s easier to do it than to keep fighting this fight. I guess it could be called management by wearing you down.”
  2. Mentor, critique, and inspire employees. Mentoring employees is an effective way to improve employee performance and build trust and loyalty. Effective mentoring is not merely telling employees what to do. It is helping them broaden and deepen their thinking by clarifying their goals and asking the right questions. Effective mentoring is also about supporting employees as they learn and practice new skills and habits. Walton writes, “I’ve been asked if I was a hands-on manager or an arm’s-length type. I think really I’m more of a manager by walking and flying around, and in the process I stick my fingers into everything I can to see how it’s coming along. I’ve let our executives make their decisions—and their mistakes—but I’ve critiqued and advised them.”
  3. Invest in frontline employees for better customer relationships. Much of customers’ opinions about a business come from the myriad interactions they have with customer-interfacing frontline employees, who are the face of any business. If a business doesn’t get these customer experiences right, nothing else matters. Walton writes, “The way management treats the associates is exactly how the associates will then treat the customers. And if the associates treat the customers well, the customers will return again and again, and that is where the real profit in this business lies, not in trying to drag strangers into your stores for one-time purchases based on splashy sales or expensive advertising. Satisfied, loyal, repeat customers … are loyal to us because our associates treat them better than salespeople in other stores do. So, in the whole Wal-Mart scheme of things, the most important contact ever made is between the associate in the store and the customer.”
  4. Treat employees like business partners and empower them by sharing information. Effective managers foster open communication by treating employees as co-owners of the business and sharing operational data regularly. Managers empower employees by helping them understand how their contribution makes a difference, discussing opportunities and challenges, and encouraging them to contribute to solutions. Walton writes, “Our very unusual willingness to share most of the numbers of our business with all the associates … It’s the only way they can possibly do their jobs to the best of their abilities—to know what’s going on in their business. … Sharing information and responsibility is a key to any partnership. It makes people feel responsible and involved …. In our individual stores, we show them their store’s profits, their store’s purchases, their store’s sales, and their store’s markdowns.
  5. Never be satisfied. There’s always room for improvement. Effective managers never rest on their laurels and are persistently dissatisfied with the status quo. They possess a pervasive obsession for discovering problems and improving products, services, and people. Home Depot founder Bernard Marcus recalls, “If you ask Sam how’s business, he’s never satisfied. He says, ‘Bernie, things are really lousy. Our lines are too long at the cash registers. Our people aren’t being helpful enough. I don’t know what we’re gonna do to get them motivated.’ Then you ask some of these CEOs from other retail organizations who you know are on the verge of going out of business, and they brag and tell you how great everything is. Really putting on airs. Not Sam. He is down to earth and knows who he is.”

Insightful Management Ideas from Sam Walton

  1. Appreciate employees and give honest feedback. A key determinant of employee engagement is whether employees feel their managers genuinely care. Do the managers provide regular, direct feedback, both appreciative and corrective? Do they coach employees in their learning and career growth? Walton writes, “Keeping so many people motivated to do the best job possible involves … appreciation. All of us like praise. So what we try to practice in our company is to look for things to praise. … We want to let our folks know when they are doing something outstanding, and let them know they are important to us. You can’t praise something that’s not done well. You can’t be insincere. You have to follow up on things that aren’t done well. There is no substitute for being honest with someone and letting them know they didn’t do a good job. All of us profit from being corrected—if we’re corrected in a positive way.”
  2. Listening to employee’s complaints and concerns could be a positive force for change. Effective managers provide their employees the opportunity to not only contribute their ideas, but also air concerns and complaints. By fostering an environment of open communication, managers who handle employee opinions effectively not only boost employee motivation, performance, and morale, but also benefit from learning directly about problems with teams, organizations, and businesses. Walton writes, “Executives who hold themselves aloof from their associates, who won’t listen to their associates when they have a problem, can never be true partners with them. … Folks who stand on their feet all day stocking shelves or pushing carts of merchandise out of the back room get exhausted and frustrated too, and occasionally they dwell on problems that they just can’t let go of until they’ve shared it with somebody who they feel is in a position to find a solution. … We have really tried to maintain an open-door policy at Wal-Mart. … If the associate happens to be right, it’s important to overrule their manager, or whoever they’re having the problem … . The associates would know pretty soon that it was just something we paid lip service to, but didn’t really believe.”
  3. Learn from the competition. Effective managers understand that keeping tabs on competitors, copying their innovations as much as possible, and reaching out to customers the way competitors do is a great strategy for growing business. Sam Walton’s brother Bud recalls, “There may not be anything (Walton) enjoys more than going into a competitor’s store trying to learn something from it.” A former K-Mart board member recalls, “(Walton) had adopted almost all of the original Kmart ideas. I always had great admiration for the way he implemented—and later enlarged those ideas. Much later on, when I was retired still a K-Mart board member, I tried to advise (K-Mart) management of just what a serious threat I thought he was. But it wasn’t until recently that they took him seriously.”

The Truth Can Be Bitterer than a Sweet Illusion

Bitter Pill - The truth can be bitterer than a sweet illusion

In 1998, as CEO of 1-800-Flowers.com, Jim McCann could not bring himself to let one of his senior executives go. McCann and the rest of his leadership team understood that this senior executive was neither right for the job nor performing well.

For McCann, the biggest hindrance was that he was friends with this executive and had spent time with his family. McCann agonized over being heartless to a friend and couldn’t bring himself to dismiss the executive.

Unexpectedly, McCann met General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch at a dinner party and discussed this dilemma. Welch advised, “When was the last time anyone said, ‘I wish I had waited six months longer to fire that guy?’ Always err on the side of speed.”

Urged by Welch’s counsel, McCann deftly dealt with the situation. Initially, McCann felt that being tough was unjustifiable and was pained by the loss of a friendship. He was hurt but relieved because firing the executive was the right decision for everyone.

On a happier note, the former executive soon got a new job that better suited his background. Their friendship stood the test of time and they eventually made up.

Firing is awful—indeed, it’s the most difficult thing managers have to do, especially for those who encourage camaraderie and treasure loyalty. As in McCann’s case, if you think an employee isn’t up to par and you may fire him/her within the next year, it’s always better for management, the employee in question, and other employees to take the right actions promptly.

Idea for Impact: Don’t Be Conflict-Avoidant

Confront the Bitter Truth The truth is that the truth hurts sometimes. Even if the truth can be bitterer than a sweet illusion, delaying action will only make things harder.

Making the right decision and taking the action may involve unpleasant confrontations. Though conflict can be emotionally distressing, being decisive and doing what’s best eventually works out well for everyone.

Instead of being hyperconscious of other’s possible judgments and avoiding conflict, do difficult things as soon as practically possible.

When dealing with difficulties involving others, there is nothing more insidious than unresolved conflict and inaction. Read “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” (by Patrick Lencioni) to understand how to engage in conflict in a way that nurtures (rather than harms) relationships. Also, read “Crucial Conversations” (by Kerry Patterson, et al.) on how to conduct effective discussions by stating the facts, speculating possible remedies, and then skillfully leading the other person to a course of action. Stick with facts to reduce defensiveness. Have the other person develop and commit to a course of action on his/her own.