As noted in my prior blog, “To Assess Productivity & Engagement, Ask: Who Really Owns Your Company?,” if you want to increase productivity, you’re going to have to work with both parts of the productivity equation: Efficiency + People = Higher Levels of Productivity. Your goal is to create a culture where the people in your company should be engaged to do what they do best, at their highest level, every single day. Otherwise, you’ll never move the needle much on increasing productivity. We’ve seen recent examples, though, of what happens when you let rules or process run your company. When these things literally own your company, you run the risk of creating a culture that lets policies and procedures dictate just about everything about how your people think and, in the end, the decisions they make.
A Case Study of Not Letting “Rules” or “Process” Own Your Company
If we look back in history, we can reference an example from Johnson & Johnson’s unfortunate situation in 1986 of Tylenol caplets being laced with poison. This wasn’t the result of an employee making a bad decision, but they still had a very traumatic and tragic situation to handle that required people within the company to make decisions quickly—in real time. They didn’t pull out their policies and procedures book and look to it to guide their every move. Even though the more recent company examples discussed in my prior blog weren’t about life and death, there’s still a lot to learn from what J&J did right. So what did they do that we can learn from today?
- Instead of blaming and pointing fingers, leaders at J&J recognized what this could mean from a public perception perspective: That Tylenol was unsafe and that J&J just wanted their best-selling brand to stay on top of the competition.
- Recognizing this, J&J leaders took the time to think before reacting. Instead of turning to a book of rules about public service announcements or crisis management or blaming other entities for this very unfortunate and sad situation that took the lives of seven people, they instead took positive action that won the company accolades and support.
- The CEO selected one executive to head a crisis team to investigate (now!) what was happening.
- Instead of reacting, the executive team immediately acted to first set goals to stop anyone else from dying, to provide assistance to the victims, and to restore Tylenol’s credibility.
- Instead of delivering a cold message to the public, they shared that they would be working with authorities hand-in-hand, which they did.
- Instead of approaching this from a money-driven, rule-based and fear-based perspective, they had the guts to make what was probably one of the biggest decisions of its kind on record: They pulled Tylenol from all shelves (approximately 31m bottles). Before this incident, a product recall this big had never happened. It cost the company $100-$150m minimum.
- J&J offered replacement bottles in the form of Tylenol tablets if desired.
- Instead of a well-orchestrated and stiff message, the company created a strong message that the CEO delivered to the public in a way that showed both heart and soul. In that message, the CEO outlined much of the above and shared the tangible actions J&J was taking as a company as well as with authorities to find out what happened, promising to take corrective action, all while remembering, too, the individuals who had died and their families. And as is the case with any television and radio marketing campaign, the air time cost them a great deal of money.
- J&J later reissued Tylenol with tamper-proof packaging (which has since become the norm across this and other industries as a basic packaging technique).
In the end, J&J regained the public’s confidence (when marketers were predicting they would never recover), sales returned to the prior (and even higher) levels, and the company continued to be a leader in its industry.
Remember: If you want higher levels of employee engagement and productivity, strategically invest the time, energy, and money into creating a framework for your people so they make good decisions, and then empower them to make those good decisions. In short, teach them to be leaders.
The Power of Systems and People: Accountable Leaders and Teams
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