I also thought that we could be much more productive with open and transparent communication. For example, I distinctly remember receiving a phone call from someone who had been one of my classmates in the MBA program at Kellogg. After exchanging pleasantries, he informed me that he was now working for a consulting firm that was handling a big project for the company. Then he told me that he was sending me a fifty-page fax with questions that I needed to answer in order for the consulting firm to gather in-depth information to present to my boss’s boss’s boss.
The phone call took me by surprise. I wasn’t annoyed that I had to do the paperwork. Rather, it seemed ridiculous that I was filling out these fifty pages for a consulting firm, which would then package the information and present it back to my bosses — and charge a hefty fee! Why couldn’t someone in my company call me for the information directly? Twenty years later when I was the CEO, when someone would ask me if we should hire a consultant for a particular project, I would reply that I was open to obtaining an objective third-party analysis. However, remembering my time in the cube, I would ask if it was remotely possible that one of the fifty thousand team members in the company already knew the answer that the consultant was supposed to give us. If so, we could not only save time, energy, and dollars but also avoid causing frustration for someone in a cubicle somewhere who was going to ask himself exactly what I wondered twenty years ago!
Little did I know back then that my lessons from the cube would become valuable as I was promoted, from my first job as a manager all the way to the C-suite. By following the principle of genuine humility, I remembered and appreciated the many good ideas and the great perspective in the cubes.
Throughout my career, up to and including when I was CEO, I benefited from the fact that I worked with a number of amazing people who were willing to prevent me from doing things that did not make sense. In other words, they kept me from becoming one of “those guys.” I can recall sending memos or e-mails within the company about what needed to be done. Although I would base my final decision on the best information I had at the time, there were often additional details of which I was not aware. I can imagine five or six people standing by their cubes discussing my latest decision after reading my memo. They probably knew that my decision did not make much sense. In fact, they knew that if they did what was asked in the memo, it would make the current situation worse, not better. If I had become one of those guys who thought he had all the answers, the people in the cubes would have shrugged their shoulders and said, “He’ll find out.”
Instead, because they knew I invited feedback, they told me exactly what they thought. They knew that I was the same guy I always was, and I truly valued everyone in the company. My view was that we were all in this together. Because of my attitude, it was a no-brainer for them to call or send an e-mail to me, letting me know that my plan could have some unintended consequences.
— Harry M. Jansen Kraemer Jr.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons Inc. Copyright © 2011 by John Wiley & Sons Inc. All rights reserved.