Doug Conant is hardly a household name, but if you are interested in success in business, you might want to get to know a bit about him. Conant was like most executives. He was not a celebrity; he was focused on being an effective businessman.
Over his career, he worked for General Mills and Kraft. Later, he rose to become the President of Nabisco’s U.S. Food Group and President and CEO of the Campbell Soup Company. While he was at Nabisco, he contributed to a chapter in Stephen Covey’s Living the 7 Habits (You can read his chapter here), and later, he co-wrote TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments.
He came to Nabisco shortly after the leveraged buy-out of the company described in the book Barbarians at the Gate. Trust was at an all-time low. When he ordered an employee attitude survey from the Center for Values Research, the administrator who wrote the final report said, “The only way he could characterize our culture was “swamp water.” He said our employees had the lowest trust levels he’d ever seen.”
Doug and his team became intentional about building trust. He got to know his people personally and celebrated victories that highlighted company values. He understood that “we can’t expect an employee to value the organization until we have tangibly demonstrated that the organization values that employee. Ultimately, it’s that simple.” (Emphasis added)
The Results Are In
Conant’s efforts paid off. As he explained:
Most of this work occurred during the year following the ‘swamp water’ report. Then we did another survey. I’ll never forget the old guy’s words on the tape he sent back with the analysis. ‘This is unbelievable,’ he said. ‘It is one of the most remarkable turnarounds I have ever seen. You have gone from swamp water to Perrier!’
The following year, we did the survey again, and the results were even better. ‘This is incredible,’ he reported. ‘You have gone from swamp water to Perrier to champagne!’
How Did He Do It?
First, he was intentional about building trust. By getting to know people, he communicated to them that he valued them. He explained:
One thing I’ve done over the years is ‘declare myself’ with my people and organization each time I’ve moved into a new responsibility. Day one (or maybe two), I spend about an hour with each direct report and spell out what’s important to me, what I believe in, and why I do the things I do. I tell them ahead of time, ‘I’m going to share with you some things about me, and I would be honored to know some things about you. I want to take the mystery out of this relationship as quickly as possible so we can get on with the business of doing better. Then you can start measuring me against what I tell you. I believe you’ll discover very quickly on that I will act with integrity.’
I’ve found that doing this early and in a fairly personal way with my direct reports, and then more generally in writing with the broader organization, is an incredibly powerful tool. It creates a new beginning and sets in motion a dynamic of building trust.
Do you see how Conant communicated that he appreciated others? He was intentional about getting to know people, he wrote thank-you notes, he celebrated milestones, and the culture was changed from “swamp water” to “champagne.” That is the power of appreciation.
What About You?
How do you demonstrate appreciation to your coworkers and your customers?
 Covey, S.R. (1999). Living the 7 habits: Stories of courage and inspiration. New York: Simon and Schuster. (p. 246)
 Covey, S.R. (1999). Living the 7 habits: Stories of courage and inspiration. New York: Simon and Schuster. (p. 246).
 Covey, S.R. (1999). Living the 7 habits: Stories of courage and inspiration. New York: Simon and Schuster. (p. 247).
 Covey, S.R. (1999). Living the 7 habits: Stories of courage and inspiration. New York: Simon and Schuster. (p. 248).