"I was sitting in front of my computer, trying to come up with something I could tell all these smart people in my company that would help them do their job better," Moorehead says, "and I realized that what I really should be doing is asking them what I should do."
Make them CEO
The ground rules were simple: Yesterday you were a regional manager. Today you're the CEO. What would you do to make the company better?
Moorehead says many of the answers related to the person's job, but some related to broader issues. And regardless of the answer, employees were able to indirectly express their emotions out without offending anyone.
"Overall I loved the feedback," Moorehead says, "but it was also depressing because a number of people said, 'I would do whatever I could to bring back the family atmosphere we used to have in the company.' Those responses made me feel like such a fraud. Every day I was talking about how our business is a family and about really knowing our employees.... and that's not how employees in the field felt.
"We have 800 locations and people across the country," he continued. "It was hard for all of our employees to feel like they are part of the family. I hadn't recognized that. I still saw us as a mom and pop, but they saw us as a giant bureaucratic company. So I immediately changed my mindset from growing the company to fixing who we are."
Keep in mind Moorehead is used to listening to employees. His parents started the company, and they put him through a rigorous training process that required him to work in more than 30 positions throughout the company--from customer service to sales to delivery truck driver to accounting.
"Everyone asks me if that was hard," he says. "I thought it was easy. I didn't have anything to hide and treated the task at hand as the task at hand instead of dwelling on what I would do next. I just stepped into every job and worked hard. I learned a lot, but I also earned the respect of our employees... something I didn't realize I was doing until it was done."
In 2008, at age 30, Moorehead took over the company reins from his father. Since then revenue has grown 239%, from $137 to $466 mil.
Get Rid of What Makes Them Unhappy
"By getting to know our employees and their jobs," Moorehead says, "I could eliminate things that made them unhappy and kept them from doing a better job. Sometimes it's not spreadsheets--it's company morale."
Feedback also convinced him to open satellite offices in other cities so the company could recruit better talent. "Most of our new hires were commuting from up to an hour a day," he says. "To have someone outside my normal circle tell me we needed to go where the talent is was huge."
Of course there is no reason to give employees a voice if you aren't willing to listen, so if you decide to try something like "CEO For a Day" (and why wouldn't you?), respond. Tell each employee what you think about their ideas and input. Be as open and honest as possible. Provide a thoughtful response: yes or no, and most importantly why.
"My secret to success is to be the same person at work that you are when you're having a great day with your best friend," Moorehead says. "You listen to your friends, right? So listen to your employees.
"Then just be that person, each and every day. If you are brave, honest, forthcoming, and transparent you don't have to try to be a leader. You can be yourself."
JEFF HADEN learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden