Bob Chapman has a lot of experience turning around failing companies, and he says asking employees a particular question from the start is vital to his success.
During most of his company’s nearly 80 acquisitions, the CEO of manufacturing company Barry-Wehmiller tells Business Insider, he has asked employees, “How does this make you feel?“
“When you ask people thoughtful questions and listen to them, they feel valued, and they put forward very good ideas that they have to make the business better,” Chapman explains. “In so doing they own the future and share amazing skills and passion to achieve the vision.”
The co-author of “Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family” has been praised by purpose-based leadership gurus like Simon Sinek for championing the idea that caring is a competitive advantage in business. And Chapman says there’s proof to back up these beliefs: his company has enjoyed 15% compounded growth over the past 25 years and is worth an estimated $2 billion.
After inheriting his father’s struggling bottle washer business in 1975, Chapman has grown the business through strategic acquisition and the commitment to his employees to a more than 8,000-person company.
Chapman says he goes into every acquisition believing in the people who already work there, “because they often see the values and the vision that the old owners never did.”
While he says he doesn’t know why exactly he started asking, “How does this make you feel?,” the value in soliciting feedback is clear when you really listen to what your team is saying and they share with you how your strategies and culture impact them.
“A key to leadership is to ask the right questions, which surface amazing thoughts and feelings — and then do something about it,” he says.
Chapman says he didn’t always think this way: After getting a degree in management and getting a management job, he thought management was telling people what to do. It took really interacting with his people to realise that, as a leader, he is entrusted with the lives of all his employees and that leaders have an obligation as stewards of those lives to ensure they’re everything they’re meant to be.
“I have learned that ‘leadership’ is about grounded optimism and about creating a vision of a better future by engaging people in purposeful dialogue,” he says.
The challenge going into an acquisition, then, is to transform the managers in these failing companies into leaders.
“The problem is not the people — it is usually the leadership that is lacking,” Chapman says. “When leaders become stewards of the people, the organisation thrives.”
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