Business Leaders Don’t Optimise Their Performance By Only Talking To Other Business Leaders

It has become a business cliché that ‘our greatest asset is our people’, but if that is truly the case in Australian business, why do so many business leaders look askance when I tell them that I like to talk to our production team members?

a group of people posing for the camera

It has become a business cliché that ‘our greatest asset is our people’, but if that is truly the case in Australian business, why do so many business leaders look askance when I tell them that I like to talk to our production team members?

On most days, when the dayshift changes to the afternoon/evening shift, my final act of the day is to go down to the line – which makes grease for Australian industry – and talk to the people who actually produce the product we sell.

I do not think the production line is the wrong place for a CEO – in fact I glean some great ideas and also excellent insights into our operations because the 70 team members at Harrison Manufacturing have a dialogue with senior management.

People are the company, and the company is people

Our ‘people’ journey started in January 2022 when 50% of the Harrison manufacturing team from the factory, despatch, laboratories, supply chain, quality and compliance, sales, business technology, and human resources came together to decide what was working in our company and what was not. 

We conducted a company-wide dissolution of existing systems and structures. There were no sacred cows, no areas off limits.

If you want a great workplace culture, you can’t just talk the talk – you have to walk the walk.

The result was “Fred’s” house – a five-pillar structure defining a successful company, what it feels like to be working in the new structure and how progress would be measured. The pillars would: Enhance our competitive position, Safer and Optimal delivery of products and services, Generate Enhance and protect knowledge, Attract Develop and Engage Motivated People, and Attract and Retain Valuable customers. 

We wrote empirical measures and KPIs to support the aspiration and allow for the SMART approach of Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based.

Over the next two weeks teams responsible for ‘pillars’ developed and solidified the new vision, how it would work and the KPIs to measure progress.

At the end of this rethinking and rebuilding phase we met again in one large group, to decide and agree on our future which developed into the goal of doubling volume and gross sales. Each Strategic Business Unit undertook collaborative workshops to capture these goals in their strategic plan.

a person standing in front of a group of people posing for a photo
The Harrison Group has been 100% family-owned, for over four generations.

But these were the corporate and strategic workings of transformation. Without people – customers and our team members – there is no business. We have to ensure our team are both invested and developed before the customers can be delighted with the product and service.

Transparency breeds trust, and trust is a key component of a successful workplace culture

How do you bring people into a corporate transformation? You have to start with formal selection. It should always be all about culture, choosing the right people to join our teams, then working with team members to clearly develop goals. 

We measure personal and business team progress against goals and objectives (G&O), twice a year. To act on personal and business goals in relation to the G&O document, our HR teams book, enable and provide all requested training from team members.

Understanding where a person wants to get to personally, assists in understanding their business goals – and vice versa.

But this is just the formal side to developing people. What of the informal attention to the ‘people’ question at Harrison Group?

a woman standing in front of a laptop
Our people are the most important contributors to Harrison Manufacturing’s success and strong reputation.

Well, that is when I find myself going down the stairs at our factory and corporate headquarters in Brookvale, Sydney, and talking to our team. I ask them what they think of the products, the new packaging, the efficiency of the production or the rostering system. Many of our people are parents, caregivers and tertiary students and I like to get feedback on how the basics of being at Harrisons are working for them. We cannot redesign our organisation on the basis of a few individual cases, but we can at least know what the circumstances are.

This is the process of giving everyone a say in the company’s direction, plans, projects, and aspirations. If you are going to employ people, then you are relying on people. It is very simple, and I am sorry to ruin the party, but referring to a workforce as an ‘asset’ might not be as clever as it first sounds. Our team members are people, and it is people who will help you fly, or keep you on the ground.

So, I see our team members as people, and people’s potential can be accessed through both the formal and informal approach. We celebrate our people for the part they play in driving their personal success and that of the business.

It’s all interconnected, and for Harrison Manufacturing this is what true collaboration looks like.