I recently resigned my position at Harland Clarke and I am preparing to transition into a new role at Curtis 1000. I worked 15 years to the day at Harland and it was time well spent considering my professional development and growth during the time. As I reflected on the experience, I thought of the people and events that helped me to grow along the way. I compiled a memory book to share with fellow employees that showed a timeline of some of the team accomplishments and the people that worked to make it happen. My reflection revealed that the important stuff is always about people, relationships, and helping others to solve problems.
On a more personal level I want to document some of the business lessons that I learned while at Harland. There were many, but I think these three are very important because they are things that go beyond the boundaries of Harland Clarke. You may think these are obvious learnings or that they are common sense. But sometimes we have to live through experiences to come to the realization of just how important certain principles are to how people relate to each other. So I have a better appreciation for my learnings through experience.
1. It’s not about me.
My first week on the job with Harland I received my first set of goals and objectives from my boss. As with any new employee, I was eager to please and wanted to start the new position with some immediate successes. So I promptly set out to gather information and mobilize people. I sent an email to team members telling them what I needed and what I was expected to do.
There were two problems with this approach. First I used the pronoun ‘I’ all over the email. It was for my goals, my objectives, me, me , me. Second, I didn’t look at the greater context of the goals to see why they were important to the company and why they were important to the customers. I was only concerned about myself.
Someone on my team was kind enough to explain all this to me because I didn’t understand some of the resistance of other team members to help me. This changed my outlook and helped me to start looking for at bigger picture. It helped me to discover that’s it’s not about me.
2. The most successful leaders make a point to be visible.
When I think back to times when groups would rally around leaders, I think of former Harland CEO Tim Tuff who would sit with workers in the lunchroom and would visit workers at their desks. He didn’t have to do this, in fact I later learned he was more of an introvert by nature. But he did it to earn the respect of employees so that he could mobilize their work efforts towards the company goals. The employees liked Tim, because he was social, straight-forward, genuine, and visible. I’ve heard it said that companies that romance their employees often perform better because their employees will in turn romance their customers. Harland thrived during Tim’s years of leadership because he had strong business objectives and was able to rally employees to the cause.
Another leader that made an impact to the organization was Nicki Simmonds, a director in the Marketing organization for design, artistic work, and print production. It was not uncommon to see Nicki on the floor talking to designers and artists to provide assistance with job request. She wasn’t micro-managing, she was creating an environment where employees loved to contribute. One of Nicki’s team members once told me that she didn’t mind her long commute to work because she enjoyed the people at work and the environment. When employees like their team and the environment they live in, they will contribute and support the company. Successful leaders understand this.
3. Make your customer successful to make yourself successful.
There is a focus within the sales organization at Harland to provide solutions that help the client to solve their problem first. It’s the classic principle that is framed by the question “what problem are we trying to solve?” An example in the Harland environment for the checks programs was to lower the cost of program expenses and create more program profit for financial institutions. Helping the client with their objectives helps the business to create contracts and resign client contracts.
This idea is easy to understand, but not always easy to implement. In our own lives and during the course of business it is tempting to think of ourselves first. We don’t want to make unwise business decisions and operate at a level that is not profitable for our own company. But we should always work to solve problems for the client and understand their needs first. This is what makes partner organizations valuable and it’s what keeps business relationships alive.
The views expressed in this article belong to Bob Williams and do not reflect the views of Harland Clarke.