Get Your Employees Engaged – View from the Top

Doug Conant- Former President and CEO, Campbell Soup Company

Arcus Innovation Leaders Series: How business leaders use innovative approaches to shape their strategies.

gender equityWhat does it take to innovate? Arcus Consulting Group has launched a major initiative to explore growth and innovation as key elements of corporate and business unit strategy. A majority of executives say it involves a pervasive corporate culture, deeper customer insight and a comprehensive strategy that will enable an organization to offer its customers important added value. They say such steps reduce costs, increase sales and achieve higher earnings. But how does one come up with new solutions, and can innovation really be part of a strategy plan? Arcus’ multi-industry survey of senior executives found that of all the challenges companies face in this area, the biggest challenge is finding ways to create a “culture of innovation”.


As Arcus research indicates, doing so means that you need to be surrounded by highly talented people.  It also means finding a way to transmit your passion to them, so they will buy into your vision of the future, perform at the highest possible levels, and come up with innovative solutions to the challenges of achieving the vision. No surprise, then, that the topic of innovation has been gaining ground as CEOs seek to incorporate concepts like a “culture of innovation” into their assessments of a company’s long-term value.


We were at the time, this was back in 2001, a very toxic culture where a lot of  people had been let go and we, we had a very low trust environment.  When I first started it was for every two people we had actively engaged in our company, we had one person who was looking for a job, so fundamentally we had  14,000 people working and 6,000 people looking for jobs.  And since I’d been there and since our  team has really tackled this issue we, we now have 17 people wildly engaged for every one person that’s not and ours are at world class levels.  So it’s been a wonderful story.  I think it’s been foundational for a high performance company. You can not expect to perform at a high level unless they genuinely believe that you are personally engaged at trying to make their lives better.”


Q: “What do you mean by that and how does that impact engagement?”


I think we have to realise that people aren’t mind readers.  They don’t know exactly what you’re thinking.  I think you have to tell them and sometimes we take that for granted.  Because we know so clearly what we’re doing and why we’re doing it but  people are not mind readers you have to tell them, and by declaring yourself saying okay.  We’re gonna emphasise employee engagement and we’re committed to making this a place where you’re personally attracted to working.  By declaring that you also hold yourself accountable to it, and so when you declare yourself you raise the accountability and you raise the expectations, that’s half of it, the other half is  you have to deliver so you have to be very careful.  Once you declare yourself you have to deliver against that agenda


Q: What’s the power of that?”


Well to frame the idea, I have a practice of writing ah 10-20 notes a day to employees in our company, um celebrating their successes.  You see in my line of work I’ve trained to find the busted number in a spreadsheet and find all the things that are going wrong and fix them.  Ah, my observation is cultures really don’t celebrate contributions of real significance like they can be celebrated.  So I developed this practice of writing notes to our employees all around the world and over the course of the 10 years and when we added them all up it was over 30,000 notes and we only have 20,000 employees and what’s cool is wherever I would go in the world, whether it is Shanghai or Lupec, Germany or Paris, France and Mexico City in employee cubicles you would find my handwritten notes posted on their bulletin boards.  It’s kind of celebrating their contribution and things that are important to them.

  • They were not gratuitous notes; they related to something specifically these people had done that had enhanced our company.
  • They were handwritten because I believe it’s important that you make it personal.


Ah to me it’s an email’s okay but it’s insufficient.  If I have the time, make the time to write

the note, it’s something that people will treasure.  You know unfortunately my first 25 years of my career I think I got about 2 notes you know and I saved both of them but I saw the power in it as I got started with Campbell’s and it was a way for me to emphasise the strategies were on, how important engagement was, to let people know I was paying attention and it sent a lot of positive signals to the organisation.


A lot of executives talk about management by walking around, ah you actually put on a pedometer.  “What did you get from that exercise?”


Doug:   Well, ah we were emphasizing years ago the notion of people getting 10,000 steps in

a day and we were ah, encouraging people to find ways to get exercise in and be healthy.  And my schedules just insane, but the one thing I could do inevitably in the middle of the day, a half hour would free up.  So I would put my pedometer on and I put walking shoes on so people would know I was doing my walk, and I would just start flying and walking all over the building.  Everyday would be a different half hour or an hour or maybe at the end of the day, but I was getting my 10,000 steps in but I also had a chance to connect with people and celebrate some of their contributions, and once again let them know I was paying attention, let them know I was all in and I believe it sent a lot of positive signals and I loved it, and I also got 10,000 in a day so I’m fitter for it.  So it was a win, win, win all the way around.


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