We’ve got a dynamic duo joining us today to talk about the epic partnership they share and the culture they’ve helped build in WD-40 Company. Garry is the CEO and Stan is the CHRO of this wildly successful organization. Today, they share their stories about creating a unique and fulfilling company culture, what it means to run a business with values at the forefront, and emphasizing the importance of fun and meaningful work. Listen to the full episode here:
- When Garry became CEO, he realized micromanagement wasn’t scalable. They had to come up with a way of empowering people around a culture that was very specific about what they wanted it to accomplish. Coming from Australia, the concept of tribes was a perfect fit for Garry. He wanted to encapsulate the qualities of an enduring and positive place to work where people wanted to be and stay.
- In a tribe, you belong. Garry and Stan envision a place where you go to work every day, make a contribution to something bigger than yourself, learn something, feel respected, feel safe, and go home happy. It’s working: the current employee engagement measure is at 93.3%, compared to the average 33%.
- Garry shares that he and Stan share common beliefs in life: that they have to be in a position to empower people to do good work, that it’s all about people and helping them succeed and develop, and that ego is not a positive place to be. Many leaders fail because the ego eats their empathy instead of empathy eating their ego.
- Stan adds that another thing they share is the idea that leadership is about serving the organization and its future. It’s not about you. If you’re not the best solution for the need of the moment, you should happily step aside for someone else who could lead better. It’s a function that needs to be done. It’s not a prize, it’s not a place on a ladder, and it’s not a right. It’s a service.
- Garry talks about how a company culture is like a petri dish, and should any foreign bodies get into that petri dish, he and Stan don’t allow them to impact the quality of the culture; they get them out of there as quickly as they can.
- If people are looking to work at WD-40 Company, the first thing that pops up on the website is the company values. And they say: if these don’t align with you, don’t bother going any further. There are only two measures of values: you either live them or you visit them. And we don’t want a lot of visitors.
- Stan and Garry share how they bring values to life at the WD-40 Company: detailing what each one means so there isn’t any misinterpretation, ranking and prioritizing them, and a values-based exercise Garry uses to make decisions.
- A supportive CHRO needs to understand the business and have complete alignment with where the company wants to go. If you’re providing value in your role, if you understand the business, if you know how to contribute towards that organization, strategy, and long-term set of goals. If you know how to advise, then you won’t have to ask for a seat at the table – people will drag you there.
- The CEO, on the other hand, needs to think of themselves as the chief people officer that others can follow by example. It means living the values, living the culture, and adopting the role of an elder and teacher. That cannot be delegated; the head of the company must set that example.
- It’s important to keep the business strategy and people strategy synchronized, especially in an international company this big. This cannot be managed through policy books; instead they’ve arrived at a coherent set of principles, values, and philosophies, and then delegate accountability for implementation to the regions. Garry and Stan dive in to other practices they’ve developed and maintained to cultivate a culture of mutual respect: reframing mistakes as learning moments, a video series called “What were we thinking?”, and a practice they call honoring the absent.
Stan says to other leaders of HR: if you’re complaining about not being at the table, then you’re paying attention to the wrong things. Be better, get better, be more valuable, be a better advisor, a better business partner, and honestly, quit whining. Go get it done.
Garry’s message to CEOs: you will have a much richer, more enjoyable, and more fulfilling role in an organization where you have people at the forefront, improving themselves and their lives. That’s more important to you than the 30-day result.
It is very possible for any other organization to create a culture of fun and meaningful work. It doesn’t take anything except the intention to make real, meaningful connections with human beings to jointly try to improve their lives.
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