Patricia Soler Herrero

Patricia Soler Herrero

This is the story of Paul, a manager who thought that listening to his team members was not important. He was named the manager, and that implied that he already knew what the good decisions were, so why listen and ask? What could they know that I don’t know? And plus, this would complicate the decision-making, too many opinions and if I have to consider them all, that would take too much time, time that I don’t have!

This situation happens unfortunately too often….. 

Listening, asking questions, and taking people into consideration, doesn’t mean that you have to believe and do everything they say, because people might be wrong, but they might be right too…

Jan is from Copenhagen, he’s new to the country and the job. When he gets into the meeting rooms, he realizes that Spanish people function very differently from what he has been used to. He wants to say something and try to propose new ideas, so the company could get better results. But nobody listens to him, every time he talks they look at him and say: “You don’t know how things are in Spain, what you say doesn’t make sense here”

Questions like: What is going on with our competitors? What is happening in other countries? How can we improve? Keep growing? Are uncomfortable to some people, and the logical answer for them is:

Why are you asking so many questions? Aren’t we growing already? What we are doing works, we are the number one in the market, let’s not change and keep doing what we know best. 

This is what the general director of KODAK probably said to his collaborators when they suggested having a look at the digital market. 

In the 80s KODAK had more than 128,000 employees, $9 billion in revenue, and profits that exceeded over $1 billion.

In the 90s, digital photography appeared the market changed! 

Those were the words of KODAK’s executives: it’s filmless photography, “that’s cute—but don’t tell anyone about it”

Kodak tried to adapt to the digital world, but it was a case of too little, too late.

In 2011, Kodak filed for Bankruptcy.

Luckily, not all companies behave the same way, let’s have a look at a couple of companies that analysed the environment, saw an opportunity, risked, and won, and that it would have been impossible any other way.

SWATCH: In the 80’s and 90’s the Swiss, and some savvy American newcomers to the watch industry, launched a revolution of their own. This revolution created a new watch category: the fashion watch. It’s not what’s inside the watch that counts, these brands said, but what’s outside. What makes watches cool, they claimed, is not electronic accuracy but original, even outrageous, design. It created a new phenomenon: “watch wardrobing,” i.e., buying multiple watches for different outfits or occasions. 

But what is even more amazing about SWATCH, is that the other watch companies in Switzerland, known for their precision and amazing watches, based above all on the inside, predicted that the Swatch adventure would be an absolute failure…..they could not have been more mistaken!

This is the first real example of a company that “lived” this openness: Their leaders were open ⇾ this was the only way to accept such an innovative idea. They understood the market, they thought about all the different possibilities and all the different preferences, and they risked. They were inclusive ⇾ because, with the variety of products and designs they offered, they were clearly thinking about several targets. You can have a Swatch for every occasion. They even created a need that didn’t exist until that moment, the need to have a second watch, and a third, and a fourth….. That’s why their name comes from: “Second Watch” SWATCH

Let’s have a look at the second example LEGO: The Lego brick that children know and love started taking shape shortly after World War II, yet the brick may not have been as powerful as it is today if it wasn’t for some significant changes taken around the turn of the millennium.

In 1998, the toymaker faced its first loss in its history. The company was facing its “most serious financial crisis to date”, with the industry dealing with intense price competition, new consumer tastes, and tough market conditions. 

For many, diversification away from the original brick was seen as one of the main reasons why Lego was facing such tough times.

Then 2004 came and with that a new CEO with new ideas and a new restructuring plan. The idea was to once again make Lego “become a financially well-founded, value-creating business,” one that switched its focus back to the toymaker’s traditional values and products.

Fourteen years on the toymaker once again appears unbreakable, with total revenue climbing to an impressive 4,8 billion Euros for 2018. 

What happened? In recent years, going “beyond the brick” has become more prevalent. While the brick remains the sole focus of the company’s mission, the toymaker has diversified elsewhere, including gaming, clothing, theme parks, and corporate trainings.

Why is it different from the first diversification that led to their first loss? In the words of the Chief Marketing Officer Julia Goldin: “I think it’s a very different story from where we were in those times. We were diversifying away from the brick into different types of products. Now, we’re staying very close to the core. ” They transformed but kept true to their values.

Lego is a great example of a big company, reinventing itself, through exploring, listening & analysing the environment. And how were they Open? By figuring out a different way of doing things once they realised that the first diversification was a disaster.

So, how does all that apply to you?

Let’s go back to the 2 main characters: Paul and Jan

Paul had a problem of not being inclusive of other people’s points of view. He thought he didn’t need them, and the reality is that without them, the company would not grow and he would never become a leader. A manager? Yes, because he was named one, but leadership is not something that we voluntarily accept, we cannot “force” somebody to become a leader. Either he is willing to, or he is not, and it is impossible to become one if we don’t actively listen to others.

In Jan’s case, the problem was having colleagues who were not inclusive. They didn’t think that his ways could help the company, their ways were the best, they worked, and end of story. Having the ideas of people from different places, not only countries, but departments, different times in the company, different positions, and different experiences, can bring so much more to the table. We should never forget that.