Two brilliant candidates, one senior executive chair. How do you select the best person for the role?
My colleagues on the talent selection committee favored the rising star who had loudly sung his own accomplishments and blamed others for failures. I, on the other hand, wanted to put forward the effective leader who humbly demonstrated an ability to get great results with very high integrity. Unable to come to an agreement, we presented both candidates to the company’s CEO. She promptly turned down the, in her words, “terrible” rock star candidate. In a debrief with my colleagues, we discussed why.
In my experience as a three-time CHRO, being effective in an executive role calls for a certain amount of leadership maturity. Focusing on what you personally are good at doing as a leader, even if you do more of it better and faster, will not help you at the executive level. An executive’s job is, essentially, to orchestrate the organization. You have to be able to think and make decisions that will ensure the company’s success. Even when no one is watching, you have to behave and act as someone responsible for the outcomes of the whole enterprise. In this, your focus cannot remain on you: it must shift to others and to enabling their accomplishments.
Let me share with you how I learned to become a successful executive myself and how I advise executives today.
PepsiCo & The Calloway Way
I started my leadership career in 1985 at a Frito-Lay® manufacturing facility in Rancho Cucamonga, California. What attracted me to this division of the then 20-year-old PepsiCo enterprise was their excellent reputation for grooming great HR people. I wasn’t disappointed.
For the next decade, I had the opportunity to observe and learn what was at the heart of PepsiCo’s winning talent strategy from chairman and CEO Wayne Calloway as he grew the company from 214,000 to 486,000 employees. Charlie Feld, in his book The Calloway Way: Results & Integrity, brilliantly captures the details of that success story. By the time Calloway departed in 1995, PepsiCo was the world’s third-largest corporation. Sales were ringing in at just over $30B and the company was celebrating five years of compounded annual double digital growth.*
Calloway’s three-fold playbook, captured in the mantra “results + integrity”, consisted of:
- Setting the agenda
- Delivering with consistency, and
- Building a great team.
At that time, PepsiCo had a unique structure for a multinational. Finance and Human Resources were centralized: Corporate was responsible for allocating financial and human capital to the divisions. Everything else was decentralized. That meant: 1) every division and every geography had to maintain strong ties to corporate, 2) financial and leadership standards were consistent across the enterprise, and 3) talent was never an impediment to performance or growth.
When it came to team building, Calloway ensured the company always had the right quality of leadership talent on hand by involving himself directly, along with the company’s most successful line leaders, in recruiting, interviewing and selecting individuals with intellect, spirit and ambition. Calloway developed and measured executives on their ability to deliver great results with a high degree of professional and personal integrity. By integrity, he meant playing the game “the right way". Doing what you say. Saying what you mean. Being responsible. Treating people with respect. Having your people trust you.
I believe there's not a business problem that can't be solved if it gets the attention of the right people.
— Wayne Calloway, Speech at Sacred Heart University (1994)
Many organizations, over time, end up limited by their imagination: they revert to thinking about things incrementally. That’s not what unfolded at PepsiCo. Under Roger Enrico, Calloway’s successor, I learned that if you really aim high and are very deliberate about the way you address opportunities, amazing things can happen.
In the late 1980s, Frito-Lay’s domestic market share had slid from 45% to 38%. Many leaders would have been happy to have that 38%. Not Enrico, and not PepsiCo. Any loss of share, let alone a 15% slide, was not acceptable. Now anybody can make money—without selling— by squeezing the bottom line. Just as anybody can sell to the market and not make money. What we did in the early 1990s was grow the business profitably.
Growing profits faster than your top line takes real talent, dedication and focus. We concentrated on four things:
1. Make quality a reality • Counter to the Frito-Lay commercials of the time, consumers could literally eat just one chip—and stop. So we put a renewed emphasis on no broken chips; good texture, taste, and seasoning coverage; and more attractive shelf placement.
2. Be the low-cost competitor on a per unit basis • We were the largest competitor in the market, but we were no longer an economical choice for consumers. Prices had been raised over the years to bring in more money. We pivoted to do a better job of managing our fixed cost structure by running enough volume across it.
3. Take back the streets • We aimed to have a bag of our chips within reach of every man, woman and child in America. We fought our competition on all fronts, conceding nothing, to take back every street.
4. Win together • Rather than operate in silos, we directed everyone to work together as a true team. By operating as one team, not as a dozen different fiefdoms, we produced results in all these areas that proved to be better than anyone could have imagined. We were able to buy manufacturing capacity from our #1 competitor, Anheuser-Busch’s Eagle Snacks, and, eventually, claim an astounding 55% of the domestic market.
This foundation of delivering amazing business results with the highest possible level of integrity was incredibly important to my own success as a leader and executive. Not only did the framework provide me with a great platform for learning my trade. It also left me with a few takeaways for individuals and organizations about how to succeed in a highly competitive world:
- It is absolutely essential to understand how your business competes and, hopefully, wins.
- Greatness occurs when people consistently deliver great results with integrity.
- Always stay on your toes and be very proactive. If you don’t, you will fall behind.
Everything I learned during my dozen years at PepsiCo has proven invaluable in my capacity as a CHRO for three listed companies. More recently, in my capacity as a senior partner at CEO Works, I’ve been adapting “results+integrity” to the current business reality.
Think big, start small
Today’s world is, in some ways, much the same as yesterday’s. Companies still struggle with change. Either they don’t see it coming or they see it, but don’t know how to deal with it. Or if they see it and come up with a plan, they don’t move quickly enough to produce meaningful results.
In other ways, today’s world is more complex than yesterday’s. It’s digital. It’s global and diverse. It’s remote and connected. The speed at which disruptive change is coming at us is much faster. Getting people to move quickly together just seems to get harder and harder.
Thinking big and starting big in this environment, even if you maintain a focus on results and integrity, won’t be enough.
People are looking to their leaders for purpose, clarity, vision and, most of all, for focus. Starting big doesn’t provide that focus. In the ensuing confusion, people move slowly. The company loses opportunities and market share. The executive ends up getting fired.
Uncertainty and complexity make focus an imperative. That’s why I encourage leaders to use their imagination and, like Calloway, aim high. Think bigger. Build a great team that can deliver extraordinary results with integrity. But start smaller so the people you lead can move faster. Their accomplishments will determine your success as an executive.