Sheldon Harris is a good friend of mine, a sought after coach at CEO Coaching International and a very successful CEO.
Last year he sat down with Forbes Contributors David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom to discuss how he’s led not just one, but two, large organizations through extreme growth. With such evergreen topics as these, I thought it would be good to revisit his 3 Promises to Drive Extreme Growth originally published here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidsturt/2014/07/29/3-promises-to-drive-extreme-growth-ceo-coach-sheldon-harris-spills-the-beans/
From 1996 to 2006, Cold Stone Creamery catapulted from a handful of corner ice cream stores to more than 1,400 international and domestic locations.
Opening its doors in 2004, Complete Nutrition, based in Omaha Nebraska, has grown from 15 stores to 180—making it one of the fastest growing franchises in its category.
What do these two companies have in common? It was their President/CEO. His name is Sheldon Harris.
Sheldon Harris shares his insight into growth that you won’t expect to hear—people strategy, built on three promises.
“Business is business,” said Harris. “Product is important. Timing is important. Service is critical. But, good people strategies grow companies.”
We sat down with Harris at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona where he teaches for the Ken Blanchard Executive MBA Program.
David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom: You have a history of taking small companies and turning them into global brands. Let us play devil’s advocate. Products, services and consumer trends aren’t the primary drivers of growth?
Harris: They’re crucial. But, no matter what industry you’re in, you’re really in the same business: the “people” business. Leading growth is about enabling your people to become the future.
Sturt and Nordstrom: A lot of companies are saying “get out of the way of people.” And, that makes a lot of leaders nervous. Is it a “hands off” approach that you’re suggesting?
Harris: No, it’s not. The biggest problem is that we’ve taken a “hands off” strategy in the wrong areas of leadership. Of course we need to get out of the way of people and let them be their best. That’s typically where management has tried to have a grip, and shouldn’t. Where we need to take a “hands on” approach is in the way we deal with conflict. We need to have the courage to do what it takes to bring out the best in our people, even if it isn’t always comfortable or convenient.
Sturt and Nordstrom: What do mean?
Harris: In my experience, I’ve seen one thing transform a culture and increase the productivity of an organization more than any other single factor—it’s something I call Integrity in Communication.
Sturt and Nordstrom: Integrity in Communication? Explain that.
Harris: Integrity can be nebulous. How do you “live” integrity? Sure, you can be honest, honor your word, and show respect to others. But, how do you make integrity truly actionable? The answer is to use humankind’s primary mechanism, communication.
Sturt and Nordstrom: Integrity starts with our words?
Harris: Communication is more than just words. Think about how most companies operate. Managers have been trained to document everything to build a case—if we ever need to sit down with someone and have a tough conversation, we’ll have enough evidence. We also document to avoid conflict. But, the documentation process, in reality creates conflict. It feels a lot less like conflict to simply make a note about something rather than sitting down with the person directly and bring the issue gently and respectfully to their attention. But this failure to address things in an open and transparent way actually creates a situation where people don’t trust each another.
Sturt and Nordstrom: Isn’t there value in tracking employee consistency?
Harris: Early in my leadership journey, I worked for Costco. At one point I held the position of Front End Manager. I’ll never forget an incident with a newly hired employee named Cody. Costco had a policy that three occurrences of tardiness within 30 days results in a written warning. Shortly after Cody was hired, I noticed that he clocked in late. I documented it, just like I had been trained. But, then I started watching for it. Sure enough, it didn’t take long before Cody received three strikes. I remember thinking, “I got him.” So, I wrote up a formal disciplinary notice and sat down with Cody to present it. Cody didn’t deny the tardiness. But, he did have one question, “Aren’t you going to ask why I clocked in late?” That’s a question I should have considered. But now I’m in a room with this guy and I’ve already built a relationship of conflict. “Why did you clock in late?” I asked. Cody explained that he had observed me picking up trash and cardboard in the parking lot every day when I was on my way into the building. “I assumed that if it was important enough for you to do, then I should do it too.” It was a big lesson.
Sturt and Nordstrom: …but wouldn’t the same thing have happened if you had called him out the first time?
Harris: That depends on how I approached it. If I had formed a conclusion that Cody was late because he wasn’t committed to the job, or it was a lack of respect, I would still have stuck my foot in my mouth. Instead, I should have shared my observation with him and asked why he clocked in late. You can share observations without placing blame. “Hey Cody, I noticed you clocked in late this morning, is everything okay?”
Sturt and Nordstrom: Share observations, not conclusions. What’s next?
Harris: Next are three simple promises that I have made every time I’ve entered a company. First, I tell my team, “I’ll never say anything about you that I’m not saying to you.” Second, I tell my team, “I expect the same from you—that you won’t say anything about me that you’re not saying to me.” Third, I challenge my team to make the same promise to everyone they work with.
Sturt and Nordstrom: Do most leaders assume that these three promises will create conflict?
Harris: Yes, and most leaders inherently fear conflict. But by approaching it correctly, there is no conflict. If you want to grow fast, you need to focus on people strategy and execution, which means eliminating things that distract from transparency. Without trust you will never achieve maximum performance, and there is no better way to build that trust than by practicing Integrity in Communication.
Today, Sheldon Harris is a Partner and Executive Coach with CEO Coaching International where he brings his extensive real-world experience to help clients achieve greater success as entrepreneurs and leaders.