"It's okay for you, Laura, you live in the happy clappy training world."
These are words I hear pretty often as people are concerned about how well the methods we advise will translate into their own place of work. Let me tell you right away that they do. They always do. Because people are people wherever they work and they always respond better to the techniques we encourage our leaders to try.
Well, last month I had the opportunity to go and see a new friend I had made through LinkedIn. Michael Dann, Vice President - Europe at BW Flexible Systems, had invited me to come along to one of his sites, in Nottingham, to see their Leadership style in practice in the "real" world. Michael and I became LinkedIn friends as we discussed leadership and our similarity of approach. Michael told me about Truly Human leadership that was in practice in all the Barry-Wehmiller businesses across the globe and advised me to read the CEO Bob Chapman's book Everybody Matters. It was a fantastic book! I was delighted to read that the kind of thing we advise can truly be incorporated into a global business and in the gritty manufacturing world, at that.
BW Packaging, where I met Michael, makes large machines for flexible packaging systems. I arrived just before 9am to witness the daily huddle, a 15 minute meeting where the business of the day was assessed. From this moment on I was inspired by the way they do business.
I go into a lot of workplaces, of all different types. We work with a huge range of businesses from accountants to oil and food manufacturers, from multinationals to micro businesses. I have never been into a workplace that was so serene. There was a real air of zen about the whole place - even in the warehouse and the factory. People were smiling and laughing and just calmly and happily getting on with their work. The ‘boss' wandering around with a visitor phased no one and Michael left me alone to talk to various people about their roles as we went along. What I was really interested in though, was how Truly Human leadership worked in practice. What I expected was that some people would say it did and some people would say it didn't. And that my questions would be met with a degree of scepticism by some. As if to say, well they say it's important but they don't actually adhere to it...
But that wasn't the case at all. Everyone told me about how it worked. How they went on courses about Communication and other leadership topics, about how the ethos was everywhere. Yes, they said, some people buy into it more than others, but it's not forced down anyone's throat. I had expected huge posters about leadership and behaviours all over the place but there were none. People can just adopt it at the level with which they're comfortable and they all get along with it. It's in the air! I have honestly never seen a workplace where it's okay to be so calm. No one appeared to be looking really busy just because the boss was approaching. No one had their busy face on. Don't misunderstand me and think that they weren't busy, they most certainly were, but everyone had the time to give me and it made me feel like a VIP.
I remarked to Michael on this in our parting comments. That he had made me feel like I was all he had on that morning. When he was with me, 95% of an entire morning, he was 100% with me. If he's doing that with me then he's doing it with his people too. No doubt he had emails clocking up on his laptop and phone but both were firmly out of sight for the morning while he focused on me. I wasn't even bringing him business. He had no reason to treat me like this. And I'm sure he had many more commercial things to attend to. But that's the thing with a method of leadership such as Truly Human, it becomes you. In order for it to work, you have to live and breathe it. And at BW Packaging, at least, they absolutely do.