Since Mike Weller retired in 2012 after a 35-year career in leadership positions with Miller Electric and ITW Welding North America, he’s been coaching business leaders as CEO of Mike Weller & Associates LLC. He also co-chairs the 2016 United Way of the Fox Cities campaign and is a member of the Packers board. He sat down with Insight Executive Editor Margaret LeBrun to talk about how he coaches leaders to improve their company culture and profitability.
There are six or Seven themes that resonate for leaders looking for help, not only in their leadership styles but for their entire organizations: strategy, growth, talent, succession planning, retention, culture and simplification — how to focus on a few things and really execute. With that comes innovation, as well.
I use a lot of the experiences that I had leading Miller Electric and ITW Welding North America. You do a lot of listening; you don’t go in with preconceived ideas about what they need to do. They ask me to share because many of them know what we did at Miller Electric with our team, with our people, with our products, with our culture. I have about 15 clients, CEOs and their potential next-in-line individuals, or entire senior executive groups or departments.
Some of the challenges are how to implement a simplification effort in an organization. It means identifying the key challenges in the organization that make the most impact and how to focus on the critical few versus the trivial many. Some executives don’t have experience in that, some don’t know how to improve their culture.
Some don’t understand how to empower people. They have not seen good role models in empowering people and tapping into the greatest resource their company has: their people.
Every company I work with is different. One morning you might be working with a construction company, in the afternoon with an insurance company and later in the afternoon with a manufacturing company. Their targeted markets are so different but their needs are so similar.
I believe that leaders need to have three attributes: They have to be accountable, they have to be visible and they have to be approachable. Those three attributes really help contribute nicely to the culture scenario.
To have a strong culture you have to have executives who know their people, every person’s name and something about their family. The second part of having an extremely vibrant culture is empowering people, letting people make decisions at all levels. My philosophy on that is when people leave work, they make much more important decisions — being a parent, a leader in the community, buying a house. Why can’t we tap into their brainpower here on the job and let people make decisions? So many leaders don’t know how to do that kind of thing.
Culture is helping companies remain strong in a vibrant environment, a fun environment, a visible environment. You know it when you see it, when you walk through the plants, walk the office, what kind of eye contact do you have with the people? What kind of turnover do you have in your organization? What kind of improvements do you see, what kind of opportunities do people have for growth and participation in helping run the company? How sharing and open is the company with the employees? And then, how do you recognize them, how do you have fun?
So many companies are paying much more attention to culture, and rightly so, because we’re under such competitive environments for people. We have to look at not only the Millennials, but everybody. They have an idea about how to improve things — let’s give them an opportunity to participate at levels they never would have participated in before.
This is too much fun, to be honest. We have such a great quality of life in the Valley because we have such successful companies, and helping them become even more successful — and helping young executives get better prepared or shorten their learning curve to strengthen those companies — that’s what’s really neat.