How do we go about changing ourselves so we can have a fully empowered, fully integrated, and committed workforce, sowe all function as a team rather than 'us versus them'?" That was the question Bill Budinger, chairman and founder of Rodel,was asking himself in the early 1990s. At the time, Rodel, which is based in Newark, Del., was increasingly challenged byJapanese competitors whose corporate cultures emphasized teamwork. So, as part of its response to the new competition,Rodel developed an in-house leadership-training program.
All 350 employees at the company, which manufactures polishing pads and slurries used to process silicon wafers andmicrochips, were invited to apply to take part in the year-long program, dubbed Leadership Intensive Training. Applicantswere asked to respond in writing to questions such as, "The key to leadership is being a passionate advocate for somethingthat forwards our mission. What are you a passionate advocate for?" and "What eventual responsibility or position do yousee for yourself at Rodel?"
About half the employees who applied were accepted -- they ranged from executives to factory workers. Each person wasasked to set individual goals for the year, and the group was given a 12-month class project. The assignment: to reduceproduction-waste material at the company from 18% to 10%. Two top executives in the class exempted themselves from thatproject, so that the rest of the class would be forced to work together to tackle the problem, rather than relying on executivefiat.
"With no lines of authority to lean on, they were forced to have leadership emerge," says Lloyd Fickett, a Phoenix-basedmanagement consultant who works as a part-time executive at Rodel and who taught the class. "Natural leaders tried todominate the situation, but without the power that comes from position, they had to exert influence through persuasion. Peoplelearned that leadership isn't always easy or convenient, and that sometimes it means being a good follower."
The group eventually split into five teams to handle different facets of the project, and group members needed to enlist thesupport of employees throughout the company to accomplish their goal. As a result, the group learned to work together andacross department lines. Along the way, the class also read books on leadership and discussed examples of it, so that thecourse included theory and practice.
At the end of the year, the class had not fully accomplished its waste-reduction goal, but it had managed to save the company$200,000. Since the program cost about $40,000, including Fickett's time, the company was pleased with the results,Budinger says.
In fact, Rodel executives liked it well enough to repeat the program twice. Budinger reports that the leadership program,along with other initiatives such as open-book management, helped the company's sales grow 30% to 50% annually since1993, to almost $250 million in 1998.