Growing Your Company with Trust, Transparency and Constructive Conflict

It may be counterintuitive to think your manufacturing company could benefit from intense discussions in the conference room – or from the kind of transparency that involves broadcasting company data on screens throughout your facilities.

The management team at Command Medical Products, however, chalks up the company’s dramatic growth and success to radical trust, transparency and constructive conflict. Command offers contract manufacturing services for the production of single-use disposable medical devices and has more than tripled its size over the past nine years.

Mike Sibley, leader of the James Moore manufacturing team, talks with Jim Carnall, Command’s president and chief operating officer, about his innovative management approach at the company. While this approach was a substantial departure from the company’s previous management style and culture, Jim is quick to note nothing Command is doing is original.

“We’ve borrowed or stolen or learned a lot from what other people have done and tried to put it together in a way that works for us,” he said.

Jim discusses how to adopt the all-in mindset that fuels Command’s fearlessness in the face of challenges, enhancing its ability to serve customers and fostering a healthy management culture.

Craft a plan for long-term success.

An “aha” moment for Jim was listening to speaker Mark Andrews, then at H.D. Hudson Manufacturing Company, talk about the importance of a strategic plan. At the time, Command didn’t have one. Working with Mark and the book “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” as a guide, the team outlined the following strategic planning process:

  • Think big. What is your company’s vision for the future? Come up with a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal,” the kind of five- to 10-year goal that drives progress forward and unites everyone’s efforts in its achievement. Don’t aim too low. “It shouldn’t be easy,” Jim said.
  • Understand your core values. Collaboratively discuss the values your company most prioritizes or aspires to prioritize.
  • Identify your annual goals. Break down your annual goals by quarter. What do you need to achieve each quarter to stay on track to meet your larger aspirations? Jim refers to these smaller steps as rocks. Thinks about the key performance indicators that will help you know whether you’re on track.
  • Find your rhythm. At Command, every morning begins with a 10-minute call for the leadership team. Each person shares what they need from others that day to help them achieve their goals. Weekly staff meetings focus on what needs to be communicated and discussed at a deeper level as a larger team. Monthly meetings involve the entire company and focus on recognizing successes and achievements and sharing important happenings within the company. Information about company performance and profit is shared on a quarterly basis.
  • Keep strategizing. At Command, this involves quarterly two-day strategic planning meetings offsite. The team spends part of the first day reflecting on the last quarter and whether they achieved their goals. The next day and a half center on discussions about preparing and planning for the next quarter. In the second half of the second day, the next level of leadership joins the retreat to learn how they can help support and implement the team’s plan.

“I really think if other companies could see this model and see the power that it can bring and how it can transform a company, (they’d think) it’s just incredible,” Mike said.

Practice radical trust and transparency.

Transparency is a key part of Command’s company culture. Data is shown on screens around the facilities, and profit-loss numbers are presented at the company’s monthly meetings.

“The more people understand, the more they see how they can contribute and what the issues are. We share the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Jim said. “We’ve had some years where we weren’t growing at the rate we normally grow. You’ve got to share that stuff openly and honestly.”

The “Trust Pyramid” is the bedrock of Command’s culture. The five levels of the pyramid, (beginning with the base) are Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability and Results.

Jim describes trust at Command as a comfort in being vulnerable, open and honest with each other. Practicing this level of trust is not easy, but it’s essential for keeping conflict healthy and productive.

Encourage constructive conflict.

Mike, who has sat in on many of Command’s meetings, described one of the most unique aspects of the company’s culture as the willingness of people to dialogue and engage in conflict. He has watched staff hold one another accountable and even call out and question what Jim is saying and vice versa.

“In my experience, nobody walks out of there with their tail between their legs. They walk out knowing which action items they need to attend to,” Mike said. “It’s a little uncomfortable at first. But when you realize what’s being accomplished, you think, ‘Wow, this is different.’”

Openness, honesty and humility are essential to healthy conflict. Leaders need to recognize that they don’t have all the answers and other team members bring different perspectives.

“It’s good to get all of those different opinions and ideas on the table and discuss them,” Jim said. “We may disagree, but it’s what we really believe is in the best interest of the company.”

This can even include what Jim calls “mining for conflict” – scanning the room for someone who seems to disagree and inviting them to share their thoughts.

Once everyone has had their say, it’s decision time. The team commits to a particular path and course of action.

Remember, there’s always room for growth.

Jim described accountability as an area where Command could still improve. Ironically, a company culture rich in trust and respect can make it difficult to call one another out and hold each other accountable. People hold back when they like one another.

Part of accountability is also being willing to ask for help when you need it.

“We’ve got to get quality products out the door. And we all have to do what we need to do to achieve that, whether it’s our area of responsibility or not,” Jim said. “If you can help somebody, that’s what you need to do. Ultimately our purpose here is to help enhance, sustain and save lives with the medical products that we make.”

Give new employees time to adjust.

Coming from a company with a dramatically different culture can make it difficult for new staff to get acclimated at Command. To help facilitate this process, the company reviews the Trust Pyramid at the beginning of every year. It can take time for a new employee to reach a comfort level at which they’re ready to dive in and participate.

“The ones that end up making it say, ‘I’ve never been part of something like this before.’ It’s really awesome when you get there.” Jim said.

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