Doug Conant has served as president of Nabisco and chairman of Avon Products and is a New York Times bestselling author. A widely recognized speaker, he founded ConantLeadership, a mission-driven community of leaders.
But Conant is best known for his work as CEO of the then-ailing Campbell Soup Co. In 2001, business results were dismal and employee engagement was at rock bottom. With a relentless focus on workplace culture, Conant turned things around dramatically. In a Gallup survey 10 years later, Campbell Soup's employee engagement scores outshone those of the other companies surveyed, and included a spectacular 17-to-1 engaged-to-disengaged employee ratio. (In 2001, the ratio was a nightmarish 1.67-to-1.) Over this time, total shareholder return went from a negative to exceeding industry and stock market benchmarks by multiples.
Here are some key quotes and takeaways Conant offered on how CEOs and HR leaders should interact, as well as advice on how companies should invest in their employees.
CEO as Chief People Officer
"Your CEO needs to be your chief people officer. He or she must embody the core values and practice the core behaviors necessary to create a great culture. As CEO, you simply can't delegate workplace culture."
HR Is Keeper of the Culture Flame
"Both the CEO and HR are essential for building a high-trust, high-performance culture. The CEO can talk the talk and walk the talk, but he or she also has several other mission-critical responsibilities. HR is the 24/7 keeper of the culture flame. The CEO needs HR to be the eyes and ears he or she can't always be and to make the interventions necessary to keep the desired culture on track."
Invest in People, Especially in Hard Times
Responding to COVID-19 by cutting costs in human resources, including training and development, is a huge mistake. "Now is the time to do the opposite. If you don't take care of your people, in times of crisis, they won't take care of your agenda.
"Job [No. 1] should be investing in your managers and supporting their development. Otherwise, your agenda is at risk."
Make Training and Development a Priority
"Training and development should be carefully planned and designed. It should be aligned with critical company values, mission and the core competencies that will enable the company to succeed. It should be just as strategic as any other company initiative."
Jathan Janove, J.D., is a former employment attorney and author of Managing to Stay Out of Court: How to Avoid the 8 Deadly Sins of Mismanagement; The Star Profile: A Management Tool to Unleash Employee Potential; and Hard-Won Wisdom: True Stories from the Management Trenches.