At ProDealer Industry Summit, a master course in leadership
If you think people are the strength of your business, you might need to think again.
That’s one of the advanced management ideas shared by Kevin Hancock, the CEO of Hancock Lumber of Casco, Maine, and delivered to fellow lumber dealers during the ProDealer Industry Summit. His virtual presentation combined philosophy, history, common sense and management theory.
Along the way, he revisited and debunked some long-standing beliefs that have taken hold in business in general, and in the lumberyard business in particular.
For instance: there’s the popular idea summed up the phrase – “our people make the difference.”
“I don’t really actually believe this is true,” said Hancock, who borrowed from his book The Seventh Power: One CEO’s Journey Into the Business of Shared Leadership. “I believe that culture makes the difference, and great people are actually everywhere. What separates them is the culture in which those people are operating.”
He pointed to the historical example of Germany after WWII. One side of the country became an economic miracle. The other, a stagnant society behind the Iron curtain. It wasn’t the people that created that difference, he argued. It was the culture.
Hancock also challenged the common assumption that the customer should come first. It's the employee, not the customer, that comes first in Hancock's philosophy. Because when the employee is engaged and motivated, the customer will be well served.
"The customer comes a wicked-close second," he added, in a Maine accent.
Then there's the idea that management should foster a singular stay-in-your-lane focus among employees. Not so, says Hancock.
“When I came up in the industry that’s the advice I felt was common and that I should follow: 'Stay in your lane.' Yes, we have to be experts at what we’re doing, and we have to care about our craft, but work and life and should be bigger than that.
"Societies greatest challenges require getting out of our lanes."
Another area of potential confusion involved the concept of alignment. According to the Hancock, the image of marching lock step together has less to do with alignment, and more to do with intimidation. It's crucial for businesses to foster a culture where employees feel safe to differ and disagree.
“Work cultures are safe, where everyone feels like they can say what they want to say without fear of repercussion," he said.
The ideas promoted by Hancock transcend the workplace and approach some of the planet's big problems.
Hancock added: "And if you look at all the social challenges we’re facing today, and you think about who’s going to solve them, I think that corporations, companies and teams of employees are actually better positioned today in some way than government and other institutions to break down barriers and create change.
"Human progress requires getting out of our lanes."