THE FOLDING TABLE CULTURE
In the early days, everyone had folding tables and chairs. When it became clear that the uncomfortable furniture was affecting company morale, we bought a truck full of comfortable chairs that had been discarded by a big IT company because they were hideous. Everyone was happy.
Eventually, we decided to hire a CEO to run day-to-day operations. After a long meeting in our conference room full of folding tables and reject conference chairs, one candidate told us that the office furniture made him uncomfortable. Success! We had just screened out a candidate who would never fit our values.
Several years later, we replaced most of the folding tables with ergonomic standing desks, but we’ve hung on to the folding table culture. There are no grand offices in our organization. CEOs don’t sit in corner offices with secretaries perched outside. They interface with the customer. They sign for packages. Occasionally, they take out the trash.
We are a scrappy company.
We don’t care about titles.
We don’t care about offices.
We don’t tolerate bureaucracy.
We keep administrative personnel to a minimum.
We keep communications direct and straightforward.
Every leader should take the scrappiness test: When was the last time you spoke with a customer? How many people stand between you and front-line employees? Are people in your organization focused more on titles or on outcomes? After a company meeting or event, who takes out the trash?
WE FAIL AND LEARN FROM OUR FAILURES
One of the most important questions to ask in a leadership interview is “Tell me about your greatest failure.” In an Pelton company, anyone who points to a modest failure fails the test. We want to hear about a spectacular disaster that changed the candidate’s life.
When we coach employees, the first question we ask is “Where did you fail this quarter?” The next question is “What did you learn from this failure?” Anyone who can’t point to a personal failure with a related lesson will never succeed.
Credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is not effort without error or shortcoming.
WE THINK LONG TERM
Some people think we look like a private equity company. While it’s true that we invest in companies with potential and turn them around, there is one big difference: We don’t sell. We’ve never sold a company, and we don’t plan to do so in the future. We have a 20-year plan for every company we buy.
Because we have no outside investors, we can focus on creating long-term value. The founder and the employees own 100 percent of the company. We will never go public.
We are building a diversified group of businesses worldwide. We have strong cash reserves, strong cash flow, and we invest for the future. We will invest in insurance assets.
We will also invest in great people. We invest in A-players who are coachable, can grow beyond their comfort zones, and don’t rest on past accomplishments. C-players are off the bus. For those who are willing to grow and learn, the company offers infinite possibility.
WE HIRE GREAT PEOPLE
The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.
If you hire people with the potential to grow and hire other great people, you’ve unfettered your potential for growth.
We also focus on great people. The company works meticulously to find great leaders and excellent employees. With an extreme investment in acquiring talent, we can spend less time managing them. Less micromanagement leads to a more successful, satisfied work force.
Leaders create leaders. The first focus of a Pelton leader is to invest in people with great potential. A great leader can point to a trail of successful people behind them, and at Pelton that trail is more than 9,500 staff members strong and spans the globe. They are all proud to be successful at what they do—and even more proud of the failures they’ve conquered along the way.
The biggest mistake most leaders make is not hiring people who will challenge them. Spend time on the front end making sure you know what you want in the position. If you don’t find the right person at first, keep looking or try another recruiting firm. Don’t settle.
Great leaders develop great leaders. Less confident leaders don’t because they fear being surpassed.
How many people have you developed who have gone on to do great things? You get bonus points if they’ve been even more successful than you. If you are a great leader, we have one great leader. If you create great leaders, we have dozens.
WE EMBRACE AND NOT OR
Here are some “ands” we embrace:
Profitability and growth:
Most managers say they can turn a profit or invest in growth. We ask all of our leaders to do both.
Customer-focused and employee-centered:
The customer should be the focus of every business decision. Where does that leave the employees? It leaves them working as part of a customer-focused, thriving organization that offers them almost unlimited opportunities for growth.
Fearlessness and compliance:
We are aggressive. We are also compliant. We push boundaries but understand that we must do so within the limits of compliance.
Strategic thinking and execution:
We always plan for the future while insisting on operational excellence. We break molds and try the impossible, but we are still workmanlike in our pursuit.
Organic growth and acquisitions:
Acquisitions are exciting, but they can’t take a leader’s eye off of the mandate for strategic growth of existing companies.
Know thyself, improve thyself, complement thyself.
from Hearts, Smarts, Guts and Luck
Where did you fail this year? What are you really bad at? How could you have been a better leader for your team? If the answer is nothing, you lack self-awareness, which is key to leadership success.
In order to gain self-awareness, you must have the emotional fortitude to deal with criticism and to accept your flaws. You must open yourself to criticism from your coach, your employees and your customers.
How do you know if you’re self-aware? How easy was it for you to list your failures and weaknesses? When was the last time you got criticism from your coach and acted on it? When is the last time you were criticized by your direct reports? If you have the emotional fortitude to open yourself up to criticism and to truly hear and act on it, you will gain self-awareness.
Peter Drucker suggests that every leader engage in feedback analysis. In the Harvard Business Review article, “Managing Oneself,” he writes, “Every time you make a decision …. write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later compare the results with what you expected.”
You should also be getting feedback from your employees, peers and customers. You can survey your customers, employees, peers, anyone you want. The more feedback you get, the better leader you will be.