A Good Leader Provides Continuous Improvement

A Good Leader Provides Continuous Improvement

Former CEO of Campbell Soup talks about managing through 'Touch Points.'

At any given moment there is an opportunity to lead and to make things better. This is Doug Conant's mantra. The former CEO of Campbell Soup explains that leaders add "magic to the moment."

His philosophy, honed from management positions at Kraft and General Mill and as the president of Nabisco Foods, is that "life is just a sequence of little interactions every day. If I take the approach and manage in small increments I will have a big impact over time."

He takes this continuous improvement process to the personal level in his book, TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments. TouchPoints take place any time two or more people get together to deal with an issue and get something done. They can be planned or spontaneous. They can take place in hallways, on factor floors, in conference rooms, on the phone, via email or instant messaging.

"Sadly leaders often see these interactions as distractions that get in the way of their real work: the important work of strategizing, planning and prioritizing. But in my experience, these TouchPoints are the real work. They are the moments that bring your strategies and priorities to life, the interactions that translate your ideas into new and better behaviors."

"Leadership is not about you - it's about them," says Conant. The question a leader must ask at all points in any TouchPoints interaction is: "How can I help?"

Conant has found a formula to determine the optimal way to deal with these interactions:
1) Listen - both to what is said and what is not said
2) Frame - is this my issue, yours or both
3) Advance - what are we going to do about this

An example of putting these practices into play was during Conant's time at Campbell Soup. When he arrived as CEO in 2001, the company was the worst performer of all of the major global food companies. The stock was falling, the core businesses were in bad shape and employees were "shell-shocked." He had turned things around at Nabisco and was tasked to do the same at Campbell. By 2009 the company was outperforming the S&P Food Group and the S&P 500. Both sales and earnings were growing and employees were highly engaged.

Conant says that using "positive sequences of interactions focused within a winning strategic framework to tangibly demonstrate to the employees that they cared; tough sequences to establish world-class standards; and teaching sequences to develop leader around them," is what did the job.

Campbell created the CEO Institute as way to formalize this leadership style. "It is helpful for companies to devote time to leadership development. Each company has its own challenges and leaders need assistance in creating common ground about how to address the various issues."

At the end of the day Conant says that a leader's job is to take people from where they are today to where they need to be tomorrow and do so as quickly as possible and in a way that is sustainable.

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