General Electric is obviously one of the most iconic companies on the planet and has consistently been at the forefront of the most cutting edge technology for over 124 years, so it might be reasonable to think that they rarely deviate from a tried and true management model. Instead, the leaders of the multinational conglomerate have made it a point to learn a thing or two from Silicon Valley; namely, the importance of innovation in corporate leadership.
I recently sat down with Susan Peters, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at GE, to talk about the role that leadership plays in their corporate culture and what tips they've taken from the startup world. Having been with GE since 1979, she's in a unique position to talk about the way the company approaches change and how they have been so successful for so many years. In our video interview on The Unicorn in the Room, she offers her advice and wisdom for new start-ups and her experience as a leader in a global economy.
If you're interested in taking a note out of GE's playbook, here are some ways you can empower leadership at all levels of your company:
Lean Into Coaching
GE uses an innovative app that allows managers to "coach" employees constantly. This app focuses on two areas: what GE managers want their employees to continue doing and what they want employees to consider doing. Because the app is already written to allow for constructive criticism, employees are able to take full ownership of their own performance and find ways to consistently improve.
As fast as business is evolving, it's actually pretty crazy to give employees quarterly reviews. If something is not working, why wait three months to fix it?! While you might not have the ability to create an app like GE did, think about finding ways of giving employees more immediate, constructive feedback that will keep them motivated to operate at peak performance.
Recognize That Everybody is a Leader
Peters says, "If you get a little bit better all the time...you will have higher expectations of yourself, higher expectations of the people around you...and together we all rise." She goes on to say that everyone within the GE family can, should, and has the responsibility to constantly improve. When GE hires new employees, they look for this leadership quality. They want to bring on talented individuals who know their own worth and recognize their responsibility to rise up, so they can help others do the same.
Be cautious in who you hire and make sure they have the desire to grow within your organization. If you're a startup, this piece of advice is even more crucial, since you'll be hiring less people who have to wear more hats.
See Around Corners
Peters explains that in order to develop a company culture of leadership, you must first be able to accurately identify which aspects of your company culture you already love and which aspects you're not as proud of. Then it's your job to "see around corners" and decide where you want to take your company moving forward. Specifically, you must identify how you can change your culture in order to achieve your long-term goals. GE has done this with their "GE Beliefs." These beliefs are five statements that have helped form the "zeitgeist" of their corporate culture.
As we move into the New Year, ignite some great conversations with your staff about your collective company culture goals and get a game plan going. Bear in mind creating a strong culture is always a work in progress and it is very important to keep a continuous conversation with your team.
Look Outside Your Walls
After the financial crisis of 2008, GE sent their senior leaders out into the world to address the role of leadership in a changing global economy. These leaders visited organizations all over the world, from the China communist party school and the Boston Celtics to the Air Force and Universities. They took all they learned from each of these very different leadership styles and overhauled their leadership practices.
Never stop learning how to be a better leader. Evolve into a leadership culture by taking and implementing ideas from the companies you admire most. Again, it's always going to be a work in progress!
Share Your Secrets
GE frequently teams up with other businesses to swap best practices. It may seem brazen to willingly share you "trade secrets," but GE gets a lot out of the exchange. In our interview, Peters describes a recent "best practices" meeting with another unnamed company that gave GE insight into ways they can use technology during the vetting and hiring process to increase efficiency and success. In exchange, GE was able to share their strategies for talent management and succession planning.
The lesson here is that there is enough room in the sandbox for everyone. Let's all play nice and learn from one another!
It was such an incredible opportunity to hear from Susan Peters and learn from her years of wisdom within GE's powerhouse. Peters taught me that we must never accept complacency; even after 124 years of success, there is always something to learn. After all, it is our responsibility to constantly improve, because together we all rise.