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strategy and business
 / Summer 2010 / Issue 59(originally published by Booz & Company)


Leading Outside the Lines

As part of this effort, the team also needed to adjust the perception of StockPot. It was already viewed as a quality soup. Food Engineering magazine singled it out in a 2008 article, citing its “local farms providing fresh, pre-cut vegetables; meat, seafood and poultry producers shipping in the protein; dairies delivering milk and cream every day; and a selection of spices and herbs from all over the world. StockPot makes soup using the same layered approach restaurant chefs do.” But StockPot also wanted to be thought of as a good eat-at-home meal.

It was a smart strategy — and it would be rewarded when tough economic times arrived. The pressure on people’s wallets, starting in mid-2008, would drive them away from restaurants and into supermarkets looking for prepared foods to eat at home.

It was also a strategy that required some significant changes in the way StockPot did business. To serve world-class grocery retailers would mean meeting their demands in terms of competitive costs, high quality, and great service.

Values that Drive Performance

One of the keys to driving the change was Carolan’s focus on metrics that matter and motivate. To that end, he needed to make the organization more values-driven than it had been, and that required an understanding of how employees currently viewed the values of the company. So Carolan and several members of his team conducted a series of small-group roundtable discussions that involved almost all of the 350 people employed at the plant. In the groups, he learned that people worked in routines that they had followed for years. They had made little or no attempt to improve those routines. As far as they knew, the company did not have a clear strategy. No one discussed performance results openly or even knew much about them. As a result, morale was poor, collaboration was minimal, and teamwork was virtually nonexistent.

Carolan and his team synthesized the input from the roundtable discussions, made a list of proposed values, distributed them to the employees, and asked people to vote for the ones they thought were most important. The team then analyzed the results and boiled the values down to a short list. They then went through another round of discussions with all 350 employees to refine the wording and make sure that the values they had selected were the ones that really mattered.

This broad and inclusive process proved to the StockPot employees that their opinions and feelings mattered. They developed a greater sense of ownership of the values than they would have had with a list created by the leadership. As in most value-shaping efforts, the process itself was just as important as the specifics of the result, if not more so.

On our tour, Carolan pointed out one of the posters that hung throughout the facility. “Do what you say you are going to do,” it read.

“Maybe that sounds a little wordy,” he said, “but it’s what everybody wanted. We started with, ‘Do what we say,’ which felt fine to me, until someone asked, ‘Who is we?’ It was a great question. People felt the ‘we’ might just be the leadership team! The dialogue we had about accountability and commitment helped us all understand each other better, and we ended up with perhaps a less elegant, but more meaningful, statement. ‘Do what you say you are going to do’ applies to everybody. And it really helped drive performance.”

With these values in place, Carolan shaped a straightforward strategy with just a few essential elements. For each element, he identified one or two metrics to track performance. For example, in the supply chain — a function often managed with many hard-to-decipher metrics — he had only two: service to our customers and pounds of soup per day (which the company abbreviated to lbs/day).

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  1. Andrea Gabor, The Capitalist Philosophers: The Geniuses of Modern Business — Their Lives, Times and Ideas (Three Rivers/Crown, 2000): Introduction to business thinkers on the hard (Taylor, McNamara), soft (Maslow, McGregor), and integrated (Deming, Drucker) sides.
  2. Jon R. Katzenbach and Zia Khan, Leading Outside the Lines: How to Mobilize the Informal Organization, Energize Your Team, and Get Better Results (John Wiley & Sons, 2010): More ideas and tools for helping both sides of an organization work together well.
  3. Zia Khan and Jon R. Katzenbach, “Are You Killing Enough Ideas?s+b, Autumn 2009: Making innovation more effective by rethinking your informal and formal practices.
  4. Harold J. Leavitt, Top Down: Why Hierarchies Are Here to Stay and How to Manage Them More Effectively (Harvard Business School Press, 2005): Formal structures exist because they fulfill basic human needs — and thus we’d better learn to manage them humanistically.
  5. Douglas McGregor, The Human Side of Enterprise, Annotated Edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006): The classic on escaping the tyranny of the formal — and reconciling the two sides of the corporate personality.
  6. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at:
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