John Deere has operations in 35 countries and in 2009, was ranked among the 50 most admired companies in the world in a survey published by Fortune magazine. The company has more than 50,000 employees worldwide who recognize that they all share a high purpose: serving those linked to the land. John Deere’s technologies, expertise and services help customers around the world feed, fuel, clothe and shelter others. From 2004 through 2008 Deere achieved five successive years of record earnings peaking at 28.4 billion. And even in the exceptionally difficult business environment of 2009, the Company achieved its 8th best year in history with sales of 23.1 billion.
Deere is also recognized as a leader in leadership being ranked in 2009 as 14th globally and 8th in North America on Fortune Magazine’s 2009 list of Global Top Companies for Leaders. That is where "the rest story" starts.
However, almost in his next breath after congratulating the organization, our new CEO, Sam Allen, raised the bar indicating he expected even better the next time. How could that be accomplished? Thankfully the feedback we received as part of the TOP 20 assessment process not only identified where John Deere compared very favorably but also where it was missing something or wasn't yet "on the leader board".
One of those areas was in using leaders to teach other leaders. So we introduced the concept of the "teachable point of view" or TPOV as described by Noel Tichy, at the first of an ongoing series of events we titled: Leadership EDGE, standing for Educate, Develop, Guide & Engage. At that event in April, 2010, we asked two of our BOD members and our top 9 leaders to demonstrate through teaching or sharing their own lessons of experience how a teachable point of view can be developed and used to pass along accumulated learning and wisdom. At the end of this event Sam challenged all 80 attendees to take this message forward in their organizations around the world and to set personal examples through their own teaching. He and his direct reports followed through on this themselves in August when they each recorded 4 to 6 video stories illustrating a key leadership experience that tested them and the lesson/s they learned from it. However, he already had another personal example in mind even before the first Leadership EDGE event . Building on our previous CEO's communication on what it took to be successful as a senior leader at John Deere, he was creating a document that shared his own TPOV on leadership.
So was born what we called our Leadership Brochure describing six competencies most critical to success as a senior leader and his views on their relationship to John Deere's values and role in driving the three main pillars of our business strategy.
At first it seemed to many to be just a lofty, philosophical statement, but It served over time to drive important aspects of our succession planning process, key talent identification, leadership education & development and performance management . Many large organizations that benchmarked us during the next 5 years recognized and remarked on its uniqueness and value.
Although it was a big step forward, I always felt some disappointment because we were unable to completely sell including the most provocative idea the other organization's document contained, a list of what I called the "thou shalt nots". The unacceptable behaviors described on their list ranged across a broad spectrum of leadership actions and activities such as "transferring employees with performance issues to another manager" or "ignoring the development needs of employees". Why weren't they in our first Leadership Brochure? I believe it was because it was felt that our Company Business Conduct Guidelines (which contained descriptions of unacceptable actions and behavior related to specifically to ethics, honesty and integrity in business dealings) was adequate at the time. And it fit our culture better to keep this a strictly positively focused message.
However, only two of the ten commandments given to Moses are "thou shalts". Yet most organizations, while explicit (through value statements and/or sets of leadership competencies) about what they expect leaders to do, tend to be implicit and vague about the "thou shalt nots".
The stage was set and in early 2010, he expressed his desire to build on his predecessor's thinking on leadership with an update that took into account his own views on leadership and impacts on leaders of the adjustments in company business strategy coming from the Strategic Rethink. In addition to elevating two new competencies (Focus on Customers and Leading Change Proactively) to those required for success as a senior leader, he also reinforced his commitment and support for two possible career paths for leaders, people leadership and knowledge leadership and described the distinctions between them.
He further took advantage of this teaching opportunity to expand the definition of the HOW from one sharply focused on the integrity, ethics and honesty in the way the company and its employees conduct business to:
To enable human flourishing, we must focus on both the WHAT and the HOW from all employees. The core of the HOW is the integrity and honesty with which we do our work. This can be observed daily in the ethically and socially responsible behavior of each of us. However, the HOW also consists of the ways we include, trust, engage, influence, support, develop, collaborate, communicate and relate to not only other employees, but also the customers, suppliers, dealers and other external stakeholders with whom we interact. Simply put, the way we treat each other will determine how much we personally prosper as we provide the products and services that contribute to human prosperity across the world.
Those steps were all targeted toward making clearer what leaders should do and effectively "raised the bar" for what it would take to become and progress as a leader. But he wasn't done. He also said he liked the idea of publishing an expanded list of our own "thou shalt nots" for leaders under the heading: Leaders at John Deere do not have the option to:
-Act outside of our company values
-Use biased, abusive or intimidating behavior
-Betray others' trust
-Avoid tough conversations about performance or behavior
-Decline to identify, teach, coach and develop talent
-Stop learning and accepting coaching from others
-Display disrespect for other cultures
-Block employees' career progress
-Abdicate responsibility to be a role model
-Delay sharing bad news
-Become an obstacle to new thinking or change
He personally introduced the new document including his "thou shalt nots" at our biannual Worldwide Leadership Meeting in mid -September. It is in the trickling down process now.
There are also ways already available to incorporate this into succession assessment and into discussions in talent reviews where potential, development needs and future opportunities are discussed.
John Deere Leadership Development Team, HR Communications Group and JD Corporate Communications