Everybody Matters by Bob Chapman

Ask any leader and they will tell you that their people matter. Not just as instruments to produce business results, but as human beings. That their people come first, not profits.

Bob Chapman – the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller (along with his co-author Raj Sisodia) – asks us to take a step back and contemplate why we don’t act like it, and in the process create cultures that are toxic and counterproductive.

Chapman’s story and business is unique. It’s obvious even just by visiting their website, where you’ll encounter this description: “We’re more than just a successful capital equipment and technology solutions firm. We’re the kind of company at which you’d like your children to work.”

Here’s how they describe their primary purpose as a business:

At Barry-Wehmiller, our primary purpose is crystal clear to us: We’re in business so that all our team members can have meaningful and fulfilling lives.

This becomes even more surprising when you realize that this isn’t some startup with naive ideals – this is a business that was founded in 1885, has 11,000+ employees, and has $2.4 billion in annual sales.

This is a real business, and if this model of putting people first was going to fail, it would have failed a long time ago.

In fact, they’ve proven that it can work in any business. They’ve successfully acquired and integrated 80+ businesses since 1987, all of whom originally thought going into the merger that this was a crazy approach.

But for those of us who believe that making a difference in the lives of people is not only more important than the bottom line, but can help drive it, what follows should give us the courage to try and make our own businesses a little more human.

Let’s dig in.

The problem with leadership today

When you start referring to humans as capital – as an abstraction on a spreadsheet – bad things start happening.

You start to get people talking about replacing “B players” with “A players.” Jack Welch famously mandated that the leaders at General Electric fire the bottom 10 percent of their employees every year and replace them with better people.

Or, you get seemingly positive strategies like “getting the right people on the bus” – like Jim Collins asks us to do in his best-selling book Good To Great.

The team at Barry-Wehmiller believe that it’s far more important to have a safe bus.

And to make sure the person driving the bus (the leader) knows how to take the people to a better place. The goal isn’t to remove people from the bottom and replace them at the top, it’s to bring everybody up.

So the question the authors want us to think about is summed up perfectly in this quote from the book:

The questions we’re going to address are: “How can I make it happen in my organization? How can I change my profit-driven, product-focused, management-heavy, low-engagement business into one in which everybody matters, where success is measured by the impact we have on the lives of people, where nearly everyone is a leader and hardly anyone is a manager, where our people are passionate, committed, and inspired every single day, where office politics and petty gossip have given way to truly caring for every person as a precious human being, as well as recognizing and celebrating their innate goodness?”

Envisioning the Ideal Future

It should come as no surprise that a business like Barry-Wehmiller focuses on vision. Having a crystal clear direction they want to head is critical, especially when you are going to do things differently than 99% of the marketplace. It’s very easy for old habits to creep in.

This in itself isn’t unique. But what is unique is the process they use to keep their vision alive.

Cultural Visioning

First, they do two different kinds of visioning – business visioning and cultural visioning.

Business visioning is probably what you think it is – dreaming about what the future of the business could look like, and creating a road map to get there.

The second type of visioning is cultural visioning, which is about their “why.” It’s dreaming about their values and behaviors. They ask themselves questions like “how should we treat each other so we can all go home truly fulfilled?”

This isn’t some workshop that’s run when morale is down, but a disciplined process that has been applied in areas like safety and continuous improvement. In other words, it’s treated very seriously.

Here are the four elements they have found to be critical for cultural visioning success: