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Leadership diary #5

When Will Andrew was appointed president of Trimark Sportswear Group on June 1 this year, tinkering with the culture of the Richmond Hill, Ont., company wasn’t exactly his top priority. But he has since envisioned the possible benefits. Here he chronicles the start of the process.

Will Andrew

Will Andrew

Set the mission, and the rest will follow

“Be the number 1 choice for distributors of logo apparel in Canada.”

That’s our mission statement, and it and two of our eight core values help explain the direction we have taken as we seek to improve company culture (the values are “Do the right things first, then do things right” and (“Listen and seek to understand") our customers, our team and our suppliers”).

It may appear easy to run into a team meeting and announce exactly what I would like to happen. But that assumes that (a) I know what needs to be done and (b) employees want to do it.

I’m confident that if we focus on our mission, it will guide us to create the best possible experience for both our customers and employees. We want to provide distributors with services that will make them profitable, and we want to make it easy for them to work with us.

At this point, our front-line staff may not know exactly how to change their actions to deliver on this mission, but that’s okay, as we are still rolling out the details. Each manager is working with employees and customers to define actions that are needed and to find ways to augment our procedures so we deliver.

The management team’s first priority was to get all our ideas on one page (“Listen and seek to understand”), thus our offsite with Managerial Design in early June. During the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, we used feedback from customers and employees to determine what we are really good at and the challenges we face. Some members had never done this type of work, so before our offsite we went to the Disney Institute to get our senior team thinking together through a shared experience.

Following the offsite, the senior team went through an exercise to help set priorities, ensuring that we were all focusing on the same goal (“Do the right things first ?”).

We then shared the six strategic initiatives in a company-wide meeting in mid-July. Since then, my focus has moved to the senior team as they influence changes in each of their departments. The critical effort is to increase employee empowerment and confidence around making decisions that will affect our customers’ experiences directly.

Senior team members are collaborating with each other and taking in customer feedback to define the goals and targets in more detail. However, it’s fair to say that as of today we have not focused on specific front-line actions. These changes will take time and our energy right now is on the high-level objectives, as they will affect the entire organization.

Needless to say, it is almost impossible to create this type of change from the bottom up.

During this transition, as we hire new people and reorganize our resources, communication is critical. To that end, I started an in-house briefing called “The Road Ahead” to help reinforce our goals and align everyone to these targets.

This online series has also created an unbelievable amount of internal dialogue, which means issues have surface and sparked conversations in all areas of the company. It also keeps me writing - and therefore communicating - about what we are doing and why.