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Brian Barren on Establishing Efficient Team Leadership In Small Businesses
Brian Barren joined the Cleveland Guardians in January of 2014 as Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Apart from his time with the Guardians, Barren spent 24 years at Procter & Gamble. During his tenure, at P&G, he had opportunity to leave multifunctional business teams across over a dozen of P&G’s billion-dollar brands as well as lead customer business development teams such as Walmart and Kroger. Barren graduated from Princeton University in 1989 where he spent four years playing football with Mark Shapiro as a teammate. On graduation, he served as a tank commander in the US Army. Brian oversees the entire business operation for the Cleveland Guardians and has been a catalyst for strong growth and sustainability of the brand. Brian, welcome to the show.
Thank you. I’m excited to be here.
You and I are about the same age. I’m a year older than you. I graduated in 1988. We’re at the same era. Is it with P&G where you started right out of college?
I started at Procter & Gamble in the summer of 1989 in Philadelphia.
Procter & Gamble is the brand that I most wanted to work with graduating from university. I was running my own business called College Pro Painters at the time. I ended up going full-time with the head office instead of going in with P&G. I’d always been enamored with that company. I want to hear your story. What was it like? What did you learn? What did you take with you? In its day, maybe it’s one of four or five of the best companies on the planet to work for business skills.
It was a tremendous experience. I enjoyed my time with Procter & Gamble. P&G has a great reputation for training and developing leaders. A lot of that is a combination of formal training curriculum within Procter & Gamble. You learn quite a bit on the job. Over the course of my 24 years, I had an opportunity to almost be an entrepreneur and start over several times through the course of my time with P&G. For me, there were a couple of things that I found with a lot of universal transferability to Major League Baseball. At P&G, three big buckets of business acumen, work process, and people development. When I say business acumen, what is your strategy? What are you trying to get done from a work process standpoint? It’s much more how do you go about doing that? On the people front, P&G was notorious for training, developing and promoting from within. It was incumbent upon leadership to develop the people around them. In many instances, make sure you’re developing people that are better than you. You can continually learn from them as you’re looking for ways to grow the business profitably.
Is it true that the only way you can get into a senior role at P&G is to have come from within? They don’t hire from the outside.
It’s very rarely. Through acquisitions, there were people that came in at more senior levels, but that has generally been the way that P&G has gone about things, which is promote from within.
If you think back then to the leadership development and developing people, what would maybe in the top two or three leadership skills that you learned there that you would carry with you?
At the top of the list would be ensuring that you put people in a position to be successful. One of the things I learned over the years at P&G from other leaders and found myself in a position to do with people within the organization. You never quite feel like you’re ready for that next role. You’re preparing, you may be 80% of the way there, and the company had a tendency to pull, to stretch you and do it in a responsible way. As you turned as a senior leader to develop those around you, oftentimes, you would do the same thing. You would move people along where they may not quite feel like they’re ready to get into that role, but you put them in there. They have the raw skills, knowledge, and experience to be an effective leader. You give them that pull or that push over the edge to make sure that they do that. That would be at the top of the list.
One of the things that was great about P&G was a lot of the learning was codified, a lot of emphasis on writing things down, certain parts of the world, certain pockets of the business. There may be a tendency at times and I found within major league baseball a handshake, a pat on the back and we’ll work through this together. Business is the culture of a written word. One of the things that I learned over the years at Procter and Gamble was the importance of capturing things in writing and a constant way of ensuring clear expectations. I came to major decisions by having these codified or written down. The third thing and final thing was from a work process standpoint, the best process is always the right one. The next best one is the wrong one and the worst thing you can have is not having a process. As I came into the business side of Major League Baseball, we had a lot of institutional knowledge and a lot of things that were in people’s heads. Get it out of people’s heads and down onto paper so we could begin to learn and ensure that process is the best one. Where we found that it may not be the best one, replace it with something that we would codify, write down. Once we had a process, you could always look for ways to improve on it.
When you talk about the codification of systems, is that how you trained people as well then? Was it to go through some standard system and train them? How did you know that people at P&G were trained? How do you know that they were up to speed on a skill?
Typically at P&G, you had some macro work processes that were standard within a region or in some instances across the world. For example, the innovation process at Procter & Gamble was a standard process across the world. The execution of that may look and feel the slightly different way in one region versus another, but the work process itself was consistent. It has lots of acronyms. As you would work your way through a process, you’d make sure you were talking about the same thing. It was a great way to create common knowledge. As I got to the Guardians, one of the big pieces of warning for me was assess and just learn. Listen and learn from people and try and pull out of the organization.
What’s our process for doing a specific task? I would spend a lot of time with the individuals at all levels within the organization trying to learn from them. I would take lots of notes and oftentimes, I find if we working on a process and I talked to a half a dozen people, there may be five steps in the process and each one of them had four similar steps. The tendency was to focus on the one thing that they did as an individual that was a little bit different than others and the warning for us over time was drive that inconsistency or that variance out of the process. Find the best process and teach and train the organization to follow that religiously.
I used to say that when we are building 1-800-GOT-JUNK? Franchisees, I’m always wanting to know the next thing. I said, “Trust me, as soon as we know the next best system, you’ll know. If it’s better than anything that’s documented, we’re going to tell all of you. Until then, just do what’s in the manual.” What was it like to leave a culture after 24 years? You said you were at P&G and then move over to the Cleveland Guardians. How hard was it to make that transition for you and how did you make that transition?
I had an opportunity almost by a coincidence. Mark Shapiro who was here with the Guardians at the time and in the role as the president overseeing business and baseball was a college football classmate and teammate of mine. Back in 2010, Mark was about to assume responsibility for the business operation in addition to his responsibilities for baseball. He ended up at a game for the vice chairman from Procter & Gamble for whom I happened to be reporting at the time. As an outcome of their discussion, Mark was an avid learner. He’s always looking for better ways and innovative ways to do things. As he was assuming responsibility for the business operations, he had read and learned that Procter & Gamble had a good reputation for brand building so he wanted to partner with P&G. The vice chairman at the time was a gentleman by the name of Rob Steele agreed with him.
P&G signed a bilateral confidentiality agreement and I was assigned as a leader to work closely with the Guardians and share best practices back and forth. Procter & Gamble was very interested in fast cycle time decision making in baseball operations in particular for the term of data and information. There were more statistics than you can shake a stick at. You have to be able to synthesize a lot of data and information and make decisions quickly on the player personnel front. P&G wanted to learn those things from the Guardians. Conversely, what the Guardians were looking for from P&G was how do you approach running a business? How do you approach setting strategy, thinking through work processes, getting a clear set of metrics and the development of people to execute against those priorities?
How long did P&G and Cleveland Guardians work together like that?
We did that for almost four years. By the time I came here in January of 2014, I had an opportunity along with a handful of other leaders of Procter & Gamble to work with Indian senior leadership. I got a chance to better assess what the culture was like, what the Guardians were trying to get done, and many of the challenges that you face in a smaller market in Major League Baseball. I had a bit of a running start and knew many of the challenges that we would face organizationally operating as a smaller market team in Major League Baseball.
What a huge win for the Guardians to be able to bring you on board in that way as well. That transition for four years prior to even starting day one is powerful. I had a great opportunity back in around 2003. I was building 1-800-GOT-JUNK? here in Vancouver as the chief operating officer. We had the Vancouver Canucks who were doing amazing at the time and had a fantastic company culture as a team. Mike Johnson, the assistant coach and I were doing the same thing. It’s similar. For about six months, we were trying to learn about the sports culture inside of the Vancouver Canucks and they wanted to learn about some of the operational best practices of building a great culture and how to bring that into a sports team. It was cool. I can’t imagine four years must’ve been amazing. Culturally, how does the team culture differ inside the head office from what’s on the field? Is it together? Walk us through that.
It’s much more similar from how we go about doing work here in Cleveland than different. When I say that, there’s a culture of learning and growth within the Guardians organization. As an individual and as a team, we’re constantly looking for ways to learn from one another. One of the things that baseball as a sport certainly provides is it’s a humbling game. You can have tremendous success one at that and the next one is a tremendous failure. You can go through a streak where you’re not having much success on the field or you are. Regardless, you’ve got to constantly find ways to hit the reset button and focus on what’s out in front of you. Learning from whatever your pitfalls may have been or your successes and constantly looking for ways to get better as an individual on a team and persevere through times of adversity.
You touched on something that’s intriguing to me. One of my kids is a great baseball player for a young kid. He was about fourteen. We were talking about batting. He was frustrated because his batting average was 380. He was number three out of about 100 kids. I’m like, “You’re doing great. You’re crushing it.” He’s like, “No, 60% of the time I suck.” I’m like, “The best in the MLB 60% of the time they suck.” How do you take that learning that it’s okay and always strive? How do you take that into the business world?
I often hear of companies that have big goals and they’re pushing. They missed a core. They missed a number or they were too aggressive on a budget. I’m thinking of one client in mind that raised a lot of money from a Tier 1 investment bank. It’s well over $100 million that they raised. The VC pushed them to set a big goal and they missed that goal. The team was struggling culturally. How would you coach the team? You’re not saying it’s okay to miss, but to get them to reset for the next quarter or the next year, what would you do to turn them around if you were to live to coach them on that or do something?
One of the benefits of being a small family owned business which is what a Major League Baseball team. Even in the large markets, relatively speaking, coming from a place like Procter & Gamble where the company was divesting brands that were less than $500 million in the net outside sales. For the most part, baseball teams are small businesses. They happen to have big footprints in local marketplaces, but virtually, every team with maybe the exception of the Toronto Blue Jays who are owned by a publicly traded company. They’re owned and operated by privately held owners. You’re not subject to those quarterly earnings like you are in a publicly traded company. One of the positive things about not being subject to quarterly earnings is you’re not as worried like, “We’ve to score some runs or put some points on the board quickly in order to show progress next quarter or there’ll be a material impact on our stock price or market capitalization.”
The flip side of that is you want to bring the operational discipline to an organization to be very focused against a clear set of objectives, goals, priorities, and metrics to track your progress along the way. You can bring a lot of the positive attributes that come from being accountable organizationally. Whether you liked it or not, you would walk out of an office at Procter & Gamble and you’d see a stock ticker out in front of you. You have a public scorecard in a way by which you could benchmark how well you were doing versus your competitors. Bringing some of those things organizationally into our business operations has been very helpful for us as far as setting very clear objectives and goals that go with those objectives and plans that deliver against those goals and then the metrics to track our progress along the way.
I want to talk a little bit about that company culture as well and understand how you’re developing it. What you’re going to be turning it into or evolving it? You mentioned the Blue Jays. It’s been 25 years since they won the second World Series. Do we have a shot?
I would never count the Blue Jays out, any big market team, especially knowing the leadership that they have up there.
My dad had four tickets for that World Series game seven. I turned them down to be at a company dinner for College Pro Painters. The CEO said something about the game. We were watching it on TV and I said, “I had tickets. I turned them down.” He goes, “You’re an idiot. You should be there.” I’m like, “If I’d gone to the game, you would have told me I was an idiot for being at the game. I can’t win. This is horrible.” They won. Talk about that culture. You had the running start of the four years, but how hard was it to go from that big corporate environment into the family business? What would you suggest to people if they’re doing that or making that leap?
Because I had a little bit of a running start, a couple of years to learn and listen to the leadership and the ownership of the Guardians, I had an opportunity to figure out to do some of the same values and operating principles apply within the Guardians Baseball Club as those that I had grown up with Procter & Gamble. The answer was yes. The beauty of being inside a smaller organization is we focus a lot on controlling the controllables. I’m a big believer that you can’t dial up a culture. You can’t order an organization to believe certain things. It’s either going to be innate. It’s going to come from within the organization by having a clear set of priorities in a way by which you go about doing your work from which culture will naturally start to evolve.
For us in Cleveland, there’s the embracing the reality of a marketplace within which you’re operating. It’s not trying to make excuses, handicapped yourself, but it’s making sure you understand exactly what the marketplace is within which you’re trying to compete. Coming up here a few years ago, I worked with a handful of our leaders to better understand what I call the broader business socioeconomic environment. There are a couple of things that they stood out. Cleveland is one of twenty major league baseball markets that have NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball teams, the big three. Of those twenty, Cleveland is the smallest. It’s highly likely for the next 25 to 30 years that Cleveland will continue to be the smallest of those that house Major League Baseball, NFL, and NBA franchises.
Cleveland is the only city in Major League Baseball that’s in the bottom four of three keys socioeconomic factors like household population, unemployment, and income. As you look at trying to run any type of a local business, if you look at those mechanical levers that are going to drive local revenue, how many people do you have with how much disposable income? How many occasions do you have for them to spend on your product or service? For the Guardians back in 2014 just trying to assess the reality of the current state, there were three business metrics in Major League Baseball paid attendance, revenue. If you take your revenue and divided it by your paid attendance, a dollar per cap and an end process measure, it was in the bottom three of the bottom three in Major League Baseball.
The 30 teams in Major League Baseball, that was the reality of the marketplace at the time. One of the things we try to do is say, “What would be a stretching but realistic objective for us as a business team?” We landed on getting to the middle of the pack in Major League Baseball and we track. The league does a nice job of grouping you in logical clusters of similar size markets. There are seven markets on that the Guardians are part of a benchmarking team. It’s the Baltimore, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and Milwaukee. Cleveland being the seventh, a lot of markets that are similar from a population, income standpoint and employment standpoint.
As we set the objective of getting to the middle and lead our peer group, we put a very specific quantitative number up against that. We want to be fifteenth in Major League Baseball on those metrics, paid attendance, revenue, dollar per cap in five years. We want to lead our peer group in five years. It’s better than five months. You have to go through a season. It afforded an opportunity to put something out there that was not so far out on the horizon that it wasn’t relevant. That was far enough away that enabled you to get a little bit of space to start to put plans in place to work specifically against those objectives and goals. That’s something we’ve been trying to do for the last couple of years.
Who sets those goals when you’re setting them as an organization? Is it leadership top down or is it the leadership team making them together? How do you go about setting goals?
We go about it from both top-down and bottom-up. We’ll sit with ownership and with our baseball operations team to try and figure out what type of revenue would we need to be generating to have a team payroll in a certain range. To the extent, team payrolls are no guarantee, but there’s a strong correlation between team payroll and your ability to win baseball games. We will take a combination of top-down from ownership, baseball operations leadership and then bottom-up working with each one of the revenues generating product segments.
Looking at our single largest variable expense is staffing a ballpark for 81 home games a year. We’ll try and look at those things to build what we call a local controllable revenue and margin glide path over time. With the extent, we can open up operating margin and flexibility for our ownership and our baseball operations team. The intent from a productivity standpoint would take any of the operating margin expansion and reinvest it into the most competitive baseball team that you can possibly feel.
That story that we’ve all heard is true then. It is up to the payroll of the team. If you can’t pay it, you’re just not going to get there.
It’s challenging because of no hard salary cap in Major League Baseball. You can get tremendous disparity. For example, the disparity between the bottom three teams in Major League Baseball had a team payroll around $80 million for the Boston Red Sox up towards at the top of Major League Baseball. The gap in baseball between the Red Sox and the bottom three is about 20% bigger than the salary cap in the NBA. The NBA and the NFL are not better or worse, but there’s a tendency to talk the gap to the cap. Where is the team’s current team payroll? What kind of gaps do they have to get to the salary cap? You don’t have those discussions in Major League Baseball. You’ve got such wide variance between lower team payrolls and big market team payrolls. There is a revenue sharing model. It creates a different set of conditions within which you need to operate.
Somebody asked me once about culture and they were saying, “Does everybody have to be the same inside of company culture?” The curiosity I would have in the sports business is, does everyone have to be a fan of baseball? Does everyone who works for the Cleveland Guardians have to love baseball? Is that part of the core of what you do or are there anybody who worked there that’s just like, “I’m not so much of baseball fan, but I happen to love finance?”
You don’t have to love baseball. I do think that two attributes that we look for a consistent way both across our baseball operations and our business operations, we look for people that want to learn and grow as individuals. We look for people who put the team in front of themselves. We’re very collaborative people. We have a very methodical interviewing process where we’ll try and tease out the ability to work in teams and to collaborate. If given a choice, would you have a tendency to put yourself ahead of a team or is the team’s goal more important than the individual goal?
I’ve been trying to understand the leadership team level. The leadership teams most important team is the leadership team and then the functional area that they run in second is their second team. You get your offensive team or defensive team or you’ve got your pitching staff, but you’ve got that one team. You talked about the learning culture. We were talking at one of the COO Alliance events and one of the COOs that was there said, “The leader’s job is to grow people. We got to have that growth-oriented mindset of always growing our team and always looking for ways to grow them.” Somebody put their hand up and said, “How about just hiring people that like to grow on their own? Wouldn’t that make it easier?” I was like, “Would it ever?” It sounds like you have already identified that as well. Walk us through how you identify people that are already into learning, like to learn and what that means to the company.
Some of the things that we try and do in the interview process to tease out attributes that are important to us. Took a little bit of a page out of some of the learning over the years with Procter and Gamble. Indianized made it relevant to what we’re trying to get done here. Describe an instance where you may have failed at a specific task. What was that task? What were you trying to get done? What happened? Depending upon how you would define the yardsticks of success, why did you come up short? Most importantly, what did you learn from that? Oftentimes, it’s very easy to talk about success when you talk about failure. It’s a little bit more challenging to talk about it and to be self-aware enough to admit where you personally may have fallen short within a specific task.
The great thing about the question is at the end of it, sometimes we like to ask, “That’s a terrific example. Can you give me another one?” It’s less important that you have another example. It’s more important that you have a response. Successes tend to be a little easier to talk about versus failures and that humility is something that we look for. We try not to repeat mistakes, but we’re very open and understand that we’re going to make them, especially trying to learn as an organization. Those that identify those attributes tend to do a little bit better.
If you’re noticing two things there, one is you’re finding that they’ve been able to see the lessons from their failures so they’re learning from that. The second part is the introspection that they’re able to blame themselves for their own contribution to the problem. They don’t blame an external factor. I had a CEO I was talking to years ago in Vancouver, Canada. It was right around 2009 when the global recession was hitting and he was complaining that his restaurant wasn’t busy and it was this global financial crisis.
I’m like, “You have 120 seat restaurant. Get out of your office, get away from your desk, and go tell people that you have great food here. The global financial crisis is not going to shut down your 120 seat restaurant. Maybe look at the fact that you’re all frozen behind your desks.” You talked about Indianizing and I call it R&D, rip off and duplicate. You take the best systems in the world and you R&D those. Where do you learn? Where are you continuing to grow? You’ve been a growth-oriented organization like P&G. Where do you continue to grow?
It’s a combination. For some of our senior leaders, this goes back to Mark Shapiro. His right-hand person at the time is a gentleman by the name of Andrew Miller that he took with him to Toronto. They actively looked for people that had experience outside of the baseball industry and then brought them in. At the time, it was a combination of where do we need a different infusion of talent as well as where we want to build that capability in the future. We have a dozen people in those functional areas of leadership on our business leadership team. Over half of those people have more experience outside of Major League Baseball than they have inside of Major League Baseball. Often times, we’ll look at dilemma or a problem and we get the benefit of several different points of view from different industries. We can work through something on much faster cycle time.
If you’re something that we faced in concept in a retail environment, here’s how we approach that and here’s what ended up happening, what worked and what didn’t work. We use a combination of that and then we try and work with a handful of key partners in and around the Cleveland marketplace. KeyBank is walking distance from Progressive Field where the Guardians play. We have a terrific partnership where we help provide some training for some of their key leaders as part of their ongoing curriculum. They also do the same thing for us so we can expose our people to how they go about doing some things. There is a very well run regional bank within the United States. As we continue to learn, they’re literally right in our backyard. We can take things and find our counterparts there, bounce ideas off of them, and learn faster. “Here’s what we’re faced with. We’re thinking about attacking it this way. What are your thoughts and feedback?” We can bring that outside by being very intentional and methodical in that process.
I realized that I missed a question opportunity when you talked about that learning from failure. What’s something that you failed maybe even when you’re at the Cleveland Guardians? What’s something that you dropped the ball on or screwed up or failed that? What did you learn from it?
I’ve got plenty of examples of things that I feel with the Cleveland Guardians. One thing that was a great learning for me, particular in my first season here, we’ve been fortunate that the Guardians have been 500 or better since I’ve gotten here for a few years prior to that. In 2014, we were right around a 500 team. We were not competing for the postseason or to win our division. As you would start to see, attendance drop or as you had an initial plan, here’s what we think we’re going to be able to do for a certain home standard series and our actuals were coming in well below that. My tendency was to troubleshoot what’s the gap closing plan, short term. In the next week and the next month, what are we going to do to help close that gap?
It’s not that you can’t do anything, but there are two factors that we talk about control what you can control and these are not controllables. It’s the weather and team performance. Team performance was okay. We were not contending to win our division and go into the postseason, but we also struggled with the weather in my first year. When you get unusual weather patterns coming off of Lake Erie, you may get rain in the suburbs, but it’s sunny downtown or it’s raining downtown and sunny in the suburbs. You can’t control the weather and it does have an impact particularly on single-game attendance. What’s the weather out and people’s judgment of that is typically look out the window. What they see drives their short-term behavior set. Trying to not troubleshoot that, build a plan and stick to your plan for a single game.
We typically have a promotional calendar where there are giveaway items and $1 hotdogs. We try and do those naturally on the weekends, make them bigger versus shooting for a weeknight game and trying to figure out what could we do in a creative way on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. Maybe at the end of the school year, the answer is not much because kids were still in school and it doesn’t matter so much what you do in situations like that. For me, it was a lot of learning that through that first year, the bias to action was a positive thing. Taking immediate action on some things and taking a step back and being checked into the boards by some people here in Cleveland saying, “Hold on. You’ll learn as we go through this.” It’s not that we’re not going to try and do some of those things, but in a limited resource environment, we can’t pivot resource to go work on something like that. That was a great learning for me.
I wouldn’t have even thought through that the way that you did or learned as well. My tendency would have been to have jumped on it and try to fix it right away. It is a longer-term game that you’re playing as well. It’s a multi-year season. It’s a multi-year business as well and that’s part of the culture. I shouldn’t say it’s easy being in a culture where there’s a winning team environment because it’s still a business and it’s still hard. Even when we built 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, we ranked as the number two company in Canada. I worked for it. It was still stressful every single day. What’s been hard for you on the culture side and on the people side of the business internally?
One of the hardest things for us in the near term is we have had a lot of success in the last couple of years. The good news is whether it’s on or off the field, you will fall flat on your face more than once and you have an opportunity to learn from that. We haven’t had the broad significant rebuild in the last couple of years where your product on the field is going to impact what’s happening from a paid attendance standpoint. Staying focused on learning from lessons and when you’re having some success, there’s a tendency at times like, “Let’s not worry about that. We still hit our number.” There may have been factors that frankly we’re out of our control that enabled that.
At the top of that list would be strong team performance. In 2016, the Guardians benefited from a combination of strong team performance and good weather once we got into the summer months in particular. You can’t control that in the summer, families have more time. Weekends tended to see a significant increase in your crowds. Parents aren’t worried about getting the children to bed because you have a game or a school activity. There tends to be a little bit more time to do things in the summer months. When you’ve got the tailwinds of decent weather and strong team performance, they tend to cover up a lot of mistakes. We try and pull those things out, put a spotlight on them, and learn from them whether the team is playing well or not playing well.
I heard that to build an amazing business, it has to be slightly more than a business and slightly less than a religion. It’s got to be in that zone of a cult. P&G was definitely a cult, in a good way. College Pro Painters, 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, Google, these companies are cults. What part of that culture do you bring into the Cleveland Guardians with you?
One of the things that we stress a lot is the importance of being competitive. We intentionally choose the word to compete versus win. We choose it for a couple of reasons. To compete, it’s all about the preparation process that you go through to put yourself in a position to be hanging around at the end of whatever it is that you’re competing to try and accomplish. Whether that be trying to get a corporate partnership deal done, to sell a large group, to close out a concessions deal, or to win a baseball game. Competing is something we emphasize and stress. It tends to resonate well. One of the interesting things that I’ve seen and experienced is our workforce in general, it tends to skew much younger. Obviously, baseball players tend to be younger.
From an on the field perspective, you generally have a much younger workforce. Off the field, we tend to have younger people that want to get into sports. Organizationally at a point in time, we tend to have younger and a handful of older people. I’d be on the old end of the equation right now and you’re trying to find that balance in between. Talking about the need to be competitive, to prepare yourself to compete, to hang around, to be in a position to possibly win something at the end is something that resonates much so with the younger workforce.
I noticed that I don’t remember being at a company where the workforce wasn’t younger. I don’t know whether the older Baby Boomers are all retired already or whether they’re all working for the government, but it seems like the younger Gen X and Gen Y are still dominating the workforce. It was strange to feel that. I’m with you. We don’t look old, but we’re also not 24. Talk about Gen Y for a second. What’s it like working with that Gen Y demographic? They get a little bit of a bad rap. I’m not going to get into what all the rumors are about them. I’ve got some preconceived notions. What do you notice with Gen Y? What’s good about them? What do you find as the struggle and how do you leverage the best of Gen Y?
My learning has been a couple of myths and a few realities. Here would be an example of what I would describe as a myth. This is the trophy generation where you get a participation trophy. If you show up, we’re going to pat you on the back and say, “Way to go.” This generation is every bit as competitive as generations that were in front of them. The tendency for those of us in the 50 plus group to talk about walking uphill to school barefoot with the wind in our face and it was so much tougher back then. There are a lot of excellent tremendous stories about perseverance and overcoming adversity. It tends to transcend generations. The first myth was this concept of, “This is the participation. Give them a trophy and pat them on the back.” Not so much. This is a highly competitive group of people. They may show up a little bit differently. Some of them like to get some feedback along the way.
I do think that’s another thing. It’s a little bit different perhaps with an older generation where we’ll sit down once a month or once a quarter. We’ll review your work plan. Tell you whether you’re doing well, you’re on track or you’re off track. My learning with younger people is they like feedback and they like it in real time. “What am I doing well? Where can I improve?” That eliminates what I call surprises. It’s either, “I had no idea you thought that positively or I had no idea that you were not pleased with the work that was coming out of me or my team.” That’s something that as leaders we tried to drive home, which is getting in touch with your people.
The best way to do that is to meet with them one-on-one. Meet with them as a team. Look for ways to get transparent feedback so you can learn and grow as a leader and we can get better as a team. My learning over the years since diversity is a force multiplier. There’s a tendency at times to think of diversity in more myopic ways, whether it’s ethnicity or gender. Experience is something that comes with time. It’s not our fault that we’re older. By default, we’ll have more experience in lots of different situations. Your ability to share the learning, both the good and the bad with others so that hopefully you don’t repeat the same mistakes, but you can learn faster when you find yourself in a challenging situation is something that I found all generations are interested in doing.
You mentioned something about sharing and diversity. I want to ask you a question about that. I thought that my walk home from grade school is much harder than it was. I went back and visited my old family house a few years ago and I saw the hill. I used to phone my mom to come and get me two blocks away. No wonder she said no to me. I was barely uphill. I wrote a book called Meetings Suck. One of the things I covered in the book Meetings Suck was if you’re going to have people come to a meeting, you need to get them to contribute and hear them out. How do you get the quieter, analytical, and amiable people that are a part of all of our cultures? How do you get them to contribute? What do you do to get them to share their voice over sometimes the louder voices of the dominant expresses or speaking over everyone?
It’s hard, but one of the things we try to do is encourage. Teamwork is a contact sport. You’ve got to be engaged and involved. You want to avoid that fear-based calling on someone, pointing to them, “What do you think, Julie? What do you think, Andy?” Pull it out of them. Try and create an environment where before we move on, we would be interested in hearing the point of view of a couple of other people in the room that may not have shared theirs up to this point where it’s less, “I’m looking for a dissenting or I’m looking for something that’s reinforcing.” It’s we’re looking for participation. Over time, helping people understand that we’re going to get better as a team when people do actively share. Even if it is, I don’t need to repeat everything that person said. I agree with it. That’s fantastic. It shows that you’re listening, you’re engaged, and you’re a part of the team and the process.
I heard a hilarious comment. It’s one that I wouldn’t use in the business world. It says that there are no dumb questions and there are no dumb comments, there are just dumb people with questions and comments. Let’s go with a parting one. If you were to give your 21-year-old self, starting out at P&G some business advice that you wish you’d known at 21 that you’d only listen to yourself, what would that one big word of advice be that you could have given your earlier self that you now know to be true?
Don’t be afraid to take a calculated risk. Those are intentional words. I didn’t say don’t be afraid to take chances. I’m a big believer that chances are a bigger gamble. Calculated risk is a little bit different. You’re not going to throw caution to the wind and go on a whim like, “Let’s go this way or let’s go that way.” Don’t be afraid to think through something and take a shot at a different way of doing something or pressing on something where we may not have the success that we had hoped up to this point, but let’s not give up yet. Let’s push through this a little bit more and don’t be afraid to take that calculated risk. The worst thing that’s going to happen is you’re going to fail and you’re going to learn from that. The sooner you fail and learn, the faster you can put a plan in place to correct that. If you’re too cautious, you’re not going to accomplish anything in significance.
Brian Barren, the President of the Cleveland Guardians Baseball Club. Thanks very much for sharing with us on the show.
I appreciate it. Thanks for being with us.