Have you ever wanted to take a peek at the leadership handbook of a highly successful CEO or executive to peruse the principles that fueled their wins? Ron Lattanze (MBA ’93, AB ’85), former president of the fastest growing division of a $3.8 billion company, shared his leadership playbook with students at UNC Kenan-Flagler during the school’s Leadership Day in January. He draws his lessons of experience from his time as an executive with Guidant Corporation, where he led the operations group to support sales growth of the company’s stent manufacturing unit from $0 to nearly $1 billion in less than two years and transformed Guidant Japan to almost double its sales to $340 million.
Lattanze’s leadership playbook has three guiding principles:
• Assemble the right people and take care of them
• Share – or help create if necessary – the vision, and communicate it to everyone
• Provide focus for the team and remove distractions or obstacles so people can accomplish the vision
Building the best team:
When assembling the right people in an organization, Lattanze advises leaders to first eliminate people with character flaws – even if they are great businesspeople. “I can take someone who is less capable from a business sense and teach them, but I can’t fix a character flaw,” he says. “Don’t waste your time – it will end up haunting you.”
The best teams should eliminate all the “yes men” and “yes women.” “I know how smart I am, and I know what kind of ideas I can come up with and if that is all we’re doing on our team then we’re in trouble,” Lattanze adds. “If no one is telling me what they’re really thinking then we have a big problem.”
Lattanze also focuses on removing underperformers or nonperformers. Even if a team is understaffed, getting rid of those not pulling their own weight will make the whole team perform better, he notes. “Develop existing talent that has potential. If you have folks that are really capable people, focus a lot on getting them better.” At Guidant, Lattanze met once a year with his employees to find out where they wanted to go and to map out a plan on how they could address areas where they needed improvement.
Additional tips from Lattanze include:
• Find out what makes your people tick.
• Take as much time as required to know their professional and personal needs.
• Motivate your team appropriately.
• Tailor recognition or rewards to a specific employee’s likes or interests.
“You can’t manage somebody unless you really understand what is important to them as an individual.”
Molding the Vision
A key Lattanze litmus test was to ask employees routinely about their understanding of the vision or the goal of the company. I would ask them where the company is going and what we were trying to do – six times out of ten they would say they didn’t know. How can you be performing if you don’t even know what the goal is? You have to continually tell people, “Here is where we are going, here is what we have to do to get there and here is what life will be like when we get there.”
Give focus and remove obstacles
Lattanze notes that leaders need to provide clear written job descriptions for every employee to ensure there is no confusion regarding what is expected. They should become documents referred to constantly. He also advises eliminating annual performance reviews and instead putting into place a quarterly review process.
The quarterly review should rely on a one-page document that lists two or three objectives each employee could pursue – outside of normal daily job requirements – that could move the company forward to meeting the goals outlined in the vision. The document also should include a requirement for employee development from the annual meeting that mapped out their plan.
Lattanze has these tips for the quarterly review process:
• Write the objectives to describe the exact outcome you want to see in 90 days.
• Agree on clear, written objectives.
• Don’t give too many objectives; focus on the top one or two priorities.
• Meet regularly and document these meetings to ensure employees know exactly where they stand at all times. When appropriate, measure publicly.
• Reward with incentives that support great results on those objectives.
“Within five or six quarters you will not believe how powerful your organization will be,” Lattanze says. “Eventually my employees not only wrote their review from the previous quarter, but since they knew what the vision was, they would come to me with their own proposed objectives for the next quarter.”