10 Sep. 2015 | Comments (0)
I began my tenure as CEO of Campbell Soup Company in 2001 with the mandate to turn around an iconic but struggling consumer products company. Soon after, I asked Gallup to conduct an engagement survey of our leadership to assess the level of personal commitment employees felt toward the organization and its goals. It’s an important thing to measure because companies with higher rates of engagement have been shown to meaningfully outperform those with low engagement. The results of Gallup’s initial survey of Campbell were very poor, among the worst they’d ever seen in the Fortune 500.
At the time, our Global Leadership Team (the top 350 leaders) had an engagement ratio of 1.67:1, meaning that for every 1.67 people who were engaged in their work, 1 person was not. This amounted to 220 leaders doing the work of 350 leaders in the face of one of the company’s toughest moments in its 125 year history. Over the next decade, I made it my mission to champion superior engagement at Campbell—and when Gallup did the same engagement survey of our Global Leadership Team 10 years later, in 2010, the engagement ratio had skyrocketed to 77:1, among the best Gallup had ever seen in the Fortune 500.
How did we do it? There were countless contributing factors to our successful engagement story at Campbell. But one unique practice that made an important impact, and that I believe can make a significant impact in other organizations, was our commitment to management development conversations that we called One-Over-Ones.
A One-Over-One was a discussion that would take place between me (the CEO), Nancy Reardon (my CHRO), my direct report (a senior manager), and that manager’s direct report (a subordinate). These meetings took place after the senior manager had already completed the traditional performance review of their subordinate. Nancy and I would review the evaluation and then prepare to have an intimate discussion between the four of us.
These were notably different than regular “performance reviews” because they were top-line conversations focused on the development of the leaders; they were not tedious rundowns of specific tasks or objectives. The focus was leadership itself. The benefits were tremendous in stimulating the engagement of our senior leaders.
There are three important reasons I believe discussions like this should take place in other organizations:
They show that you value people. It is imperative, particularly at the CEO level, to make time for what you say is important. When you proclaim that people are essential to the success of the organization—you have to support that statement with action. I would do an average of fifty One-Over-Ones a year, at about an hour each, and they were the most important 50 hours of my work year. Making the necessary time to have these discussions shows that you are devoted to people’s advancement and helps you stay connected to them in a more personal way throughout the year.
You further demonstrate that you value people by setting the appropriate tone for the meeting. These were not monologues where we would regurgitate the subordinate’s evaluation while they sat rapt and silent. One-Over-Ones at Campbell were informal, candid, two-way conversations that afforded both the manager and their direct report the opportunity to approach the CEO and CHRO honestly with whatever leadership quandaries, ideas, or questions they had. The conversations were an opportunity to learn more about how they were leading. What was working? What wasn’t? How could we help ensure they were poised for success in the coming year?
That information set the stage for meaningful follow-up and also created a forum for leaders to voice their career desires in a context where they knew they would be heard; they could nominate themselves for newly available leadership roles or ask for our support in exposure to new work experiences—like an international assignment or working on an acquisition team. This was valuable both for succession planning and for earning their trust by visibly championing their career goals. Overwhelmingly, both the manager and subordinate would leave these discussions feeling deeply supported and excited about their development agenda.
Everybody needs to grow. When having these conversations at the CEO level, even the subordinate of the manager is often the head of a huge business unit and is responsible for leading large teams of people. A problem we’d observed in the Fortune 500 community was that by the time a leader ascended to a very senior level, they no longer had meaningful evaluation and development discussions. The prevailing attitude was that they had reached a point where they were beyond that type of conversation. But that is simply not true.
No matter the level, all leaders need to further hone their skills, to stretch, to grow, to learn. You can’t rely on past successes to propel you forward in a fiercely complex world. What’s more, many senior leaders want to continue their development but they don’t know how to make the time amidst their extraordinarily demanding schedules—and their desire isn’t supported by the organization in any visible way, so it falls by the wayside. One-Over-Ones afforded high level leaders at Campbell the rare opportunity to reflect on their leadership and engage in productive development conversations that helped them do their jobs better.
They model desired behavior. As a leader, you must model the behavior that you want to see manifested in the larger organization. Often, the development plan in a traditional performance review is hastily scribbled at the end of the report, signed off on relatively thoughtlessly, and never followed up on throughout the year. This sends the message that it’s not important; it’s hard to engage with an afterthought. But it is essential that leaders be reminded that they are expected to reflect on their leadership skills—and to make the time to improve their leadership craft.
That’s why at Campbell the core focus of a One-Over-One was to actively develop leaders—to formulate a specific plan for doing so, and to provide any resources necessary to bring that agenda to fruition. This signaled to my direct reports, and the entire leadership team, that learning and development were very important to me—as was the notion of being closely involved with developing one’s subordinates. It also worked as a teaching mechanism. Our direct reports would watch how Nancy Reardon and I would talk through the review. They would see that we tried to deftly bridge the gap between being tough on the standards of performance and tender with the people involved. Through observing and participating, they learned how to lead their own One-Over-Ones. As people became more and more conscious of the benefits, the practice trickled down throughout the organization. We witnessed that modeling the importance of growth and leadership development at a high level translated to engagement with learning at every level.
I strongly recommend this practice to any leader who is looking for ways to better develop and engage their leadership team. It was certainly an important part of our turnaround at Campbell. These meetings, in tandem with a host of other strategic initiatives, resulted in superior employee engagement and cumulative shareholder returns in the top tier of the global food industry. One-Over-Ones provided an opportunity to lead by example, to give senior leaders development opportunities they might not get elsewhere, and to reinforce how important our people were to the success of the organization.
A traditional performance review can only go so far. To truly lift performance, all leaders must become more intimately involved in developing and engaging their leaders through candid development conversations.
This blog first appeared on Harvard Business Review on 08/24/2015.
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