So What is Small Giants?
Small Giants is a group of like-minded leaders who support each other in their businesses, simply put. The name “Small Giants” comes from the book written by Bo Burlingham, which focuses on companies that choose purpose before profit.
The community is made up of values-driven entrepreneurs; the community offers resources, informal advice, mentorship, deep and authentic connections, relevant content, and much more.
Highlights of Our Trip
After our first night where we came together to share stories over dinner, we went to the Executive Breakfast Club. (Although not directly associated with the Small Giants Community, many of our Small Giants friends are involved with the club and regularly attend.) It’s a morning breakfast that brings together business leaders looking to evoke, expand, and exemplify the principles of transformational leadership.
This breakfast featured a candid Q&A session with John Venhuizen, President and Chief Executive Officer of Ace Hardware. He said part of the passion he has for work is about the people he has the opportunity to work with: “It’s usually not so much what you do, it’s who you do it with,” he told the packed room.
John also had a lot to say about the power of leadership in small business. “I think everything rides and falls with leadership,” he told us. John said he—and Ace Hardware—works to have a shared, precise definition of leadership. He says they didn’t come up with these words themselves, but there are 3 parts to their current definition that they use and share:
1. Leadership is taking people where they could not have gotten on their own. “[This] immediately says it’s about people, not only about you. By definition, leadership is about others. It’s about influencing someone else. And if you’re not doing that, all the other crap about leadership is just that,” he said. If it wasn’t for your influence, if you weren’t part of the equation, the team or the person, or the group, wouldn’t be able to get to a certain place without you. “Those are some high stakes,” he added.
2. Leaders rally people to a better future. Leadership isn’t just about going “somewhere” together, it’s about advancement and growth and improvement, he said: “’We’re here but there’s a better place…You want to be inspired to go somewhere because there’s a better ‘something’ out there. I think it’s incumbent on a leader to get people to feel that way. And if you’re not, do you really mean anything? Or have you just got a fancy title?” he said.
3. Leaders galvanize people to want to do what must be done. “There’s this sense of ‘ought-ness’ [as you you ‘ought’ to do it]. We can’t help but go do this together,” explained John. The best leaders make you feel the right thing is to be on their team, joined in on the effort for something better.
It’s safe to say that after John spoke, many of the leaders who attended were reflecting on questions he suggested that we consider:
• Am I really leading?
• Are people going where we want to go as an organization?
• Are my people excited and fired up about it?
• Do they feel they are part of the equation—on the quest for a better future?
• Do they know where you are going, why you are going there and what they can do to advance the cause?
A Full Plate of Lessons at Tasty Catering
Tom Walter, Chief Culture Officer at Tasty Catering, gave us the tour (a 23,000 square foot building in Elk Grove Village, Illinois) and shared so many experiences and stories with us. A few of the highlights:
- Hire for attitude and culture fit. Part of why Tasty Catering has such enviable culture is that they screen for skill, but hire for attitude. This is part of why they aren’t just good—but they are great. Part of the hiring process includes agreeing to follow the core values of Tasty Catering.
This is clearly one of the most impactful ways Tasty Catering is releasing and harnessing employees’ discretionary effort and energy. It might be something business owners nod their head in agreement with, but it’s worth remembering how critical this step is to protecting your culture.
2. Culture is your most valuable asset. For all the organizations we visited, one theme continued to shine through: culture is a powerful competitive advantage, and it’s a sustainable competitive advantage.
Tom shared culture is so powerful because it can’t easily be replicated (unlike products/services); it’s what the marketplace encounters (your customers can tell when your employees are happy engaged!); it leads to higher financial performance; and it inspires loyalty and increases discretionary effort. When you think of it this way, it’s easy to see why healthy, engaged cultures are so rare and difficult to copy.
3. Put employees first. One thing is clear as you walk through Tasty Catering: the employees are put first. It’s also clear that employees can feel this focus, and as a result, they are more engaged and more connected with their work. This isn’t at all to say the company is run like a democracy (which it isn’t); rather, this is to say that people are treated with respect and their viewed for their long-term potential within the organization.
4. Employees know when leaders genuinely care. Many times throughout our time with Tom he stopped an employee for a moment and told us their name, about their family, and then shared a story or two about the employee. Tom was so proud of all his employees and so eager for us to meet them—even if just for a minute.
You could tell he genuinely cares so deeply about each person in the company. It’s incredible to see, and worth repeating: He clearly cares about his team as individuals. This is one of the biggest lessons of the trip, and worth reflecting on: how much do you know about your employees as people, outside of work? How much do you care to know about all your people? Caring about them as people is a key component in unleashing their potential.
5. You can have freedom, responsibility, discipline, and constructive accountability in your organization. Tasty Catering has been able to do this because they do put employees first, and as a result, employees do go above and beyond to serve the customer.
It may seem like a balancing act, but Tasty Catering has mastered the ability to give employees enough freedom to do what’s right—but also have the values to act as a scorecard/guidance for employees as needed. Empowering employees to use their judgment + giving them guidance and coaching + accountability along the way = a powerful combination when it comes to creating a culture that requires operational excellence every day.
6. Make important lessons (or the process) visible. Tasty Catering practices open book management, so they do put the financials on display and go over them as a team. That’s part of the process they follow to make the numbers more visible, and more meaningful to employees.
One of the things Tasty Catering also does is put the prices of various food and other items on display, showing just how much they cost. In the catering business, so much money can be lost on food that goes to waste OR items that are simply left behind or discarded or treated wastefully. By showing employees just how much some of these items cost (think: forks, spoons, knives, ladles, etc.) the company, people are that much more aware of what they can do to positively impact the bottom line.
Connect with Likeminded Leaders: Learn More About Small Giants
The Small Giants Summit is a unique platform for elevated conversation on realities, promises, and practices of companies aspiring to grow with purpose and intention.
What can you expect at the Summit this year? It will be two full days of challenges, celebration, learning and relationship building, with an optional third day experience called the Day of Mojo.
READ MORE: “Why Join the Small Giants Community?”
Kim Sykes is a marketer at Edoc Service, Inc.