Just like all politics is local, Brian Kight says that all professional goals are really personal.
“Every professional objective we have is dependent on our and our team’s willingness to go on the personal journey required to accomplish our professional objectives,” Kight told the crowd at HDAW 2023 in Dallas in January. “It’s the personal stuff.”
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While many bosses may push their employees to keep their work and personal lives separate, Bill Betts, president and COO of Betts Company, says it’s part of a healthy company culture to recognize the two are connected. Full disclosure: Betts, who served as co-chair of HDAW, uses Kight as a coach for his company.
“It’s pretty simple when you sit there and listen to it, but it’s not simplistic because humans are complex,” he says.
A healthy company culture can also pay dividends, both in terms of company profit but also in terms of finding, developing and keeping quality, high-performing employees.
Dale Herold, CEO of Distributor of the Year finalist Tidewater Fleet Supply/TNT Parts, says the company calls people its most important part.
“Culture is based on relationships and this belief system that all people matter,” Herold says.
Kight challenged the room to think about culture and its impact on their businesses.
“The thing that shapes execution in your business more than anything else is culture,” Kight says. “Strategy is the intent, it’s the aim. Purpose is why we do that. What shapes how we do that is the behavior of the people and the behavior of the people is shaped by the culture around us.”
For instance, Kight says, if a business is filled with people who behave negatively, new people will adjust their behavior accordingly. Betts agrees.
“As individuals, we’ll do silly things to be part of the herd,” he says.
At his company, there’s something called The Betts Way.
“These values are really life values,” Betts says. “They’re 24/7/365 values, not just-when-you’re-at-Betts values.”
There’s that personal-professional connection again.
The company’s core values are to: respect everyone; aim for excellence; share your passion; work smart; take care; act ethically; and communicate.
When looking at a prospective employee, Betts Company will show them the values and ask, “Do these align with your philosophical view and how you want to live?”
If not, Betts says, that’s fine. It’s not for everyone.
When an existing employee fails to live up to expectations, Betts says, they turn to those values to find out why and to decide if the leadership team needs to coach up or to coach out. If that employee needs to transition to another line of work, the values can make sure leaders don’t repeat the mistake.
“We’re trying to find organic ways to weave it through the company,” Betts says.
Kight says when teams are aligned and unified, such as they are by the Betts Way, that’s the sweet spot.
“The best businesses have a wide array of backgrounds and thoughts that come together on a shared set of beliefs,” Kight says. “Life is too short to work with a team you don’t align with.”
At TFS/TNT, Herold says they’ve been fortunate to practice what Kight was preaching for years.
“I was picking up what he was putting down,” Herold says. “We’re going to win Distributor of the Year next year because we’re doing it.”
Herold says culture in his business starts at the top and cascades down. With his wife, who is a leadership coach and CEO in her own right, Herold says they dedicate weekends for key employees and their spouse or partner to spend three days with them to focus on development.
“We get to know their families, they get to know me and my family,” Herold says. Through this process, he gets to visit with employees he wouldn’t normally see. “Everyone has a right to learn and contribute no matter what their role is in the organization.”
Kight, at HDAW, wondered why more people don’t go all in on being exceptional. He cautioned the reasons may not be what we think they are. Forget laziness.
“People are scared of responsibility, of embarrassment,” Kight says. But it’s important to remember there’s no such thing as failure, just an opportunity to improve.
One way Betts’ team is improving is through a mini-MBA program from the Tugboat Institute.
They’re working through an evergreen methodology that aims to help them create a sustained-growth business.
“You’re looking to last for 100 years,” Betts says. “We’re looking to last for 200 years.” (And Betts Company, a sixth-generation company that’s been around since 1868, is getting close.)
Leadership journeys and building company cultures are difficult work, Herold says, but it pays off.
“It’s been very powerful to listen to my team members recruit talent for our organization,” he says. “My noble goal is to help others learn, grow and develop while letting His light shine through me. It doesn’t take long in the interview process to identify people looking for more than a paycheck. They want to contribute and become better leaders. When they see that at work, I don’t have to say a word.”
Betts sees a web that spreads outward from his company.
“I sleep well at night,” Betts says, thinking about how the things they’re doing at work affects their employees. “How does that help them with their spouse, their aging parents or their kids? Each one of those interactions have an impact.”
If for no other reason, Kight says, take the first steps for yourself.
“You deserve the best version of you,” he told HDAW attendees. “Your teams deserve the best version of yourself. The people who love you the most in this world, above all, deserve the best version of you.”