Relationships at Work - Leadership Mindset Guide for Creating a Company Culture We Love

How Learning Moments Drive Culture Change via Garry Ridge

April 24, 2023 Russel Lolacher Episode 59
How Learning Moments Drive Culture Change via Garry Ridge
Relationships at Work - Leadership Mindset Guide for Creating a Company Culture We Love
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Relationships at Work - Leadership Mindset Guide for Creating a Company Culture We Love
How Learning Moments Drive Culture Change via Garry Ridge
Apr 24, 2023 Episode 59
Russel Lolacher

In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with author, consultant and former WD-40 CEO Garry Ridge on how learning moments for leadership are integral to the success of culture change.

Garry shares his thoughts, stories and experience with...

  • What a learning moment is for leaders.
  • What change looks when implementing new policies in a large organization.
  • The ingredients in properly changing a culture.
  •  The four pillars for successfully shepherding an organization
  • What leaders are getting wrong right now
  • How Garry motivates his own leadership

If you enjoy the podcast, please subscribe and share with others.
For more, go to relationshipsatwork.ca 

And connect with me for more great content!

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with author, consultant and former WD-40 CEO Garry Ridge on how learning moments for leadership are integral to the success of culture change.

Garry shares his thoughts, stories and experience with...

  • What a learning moment is for leaders.
  • What change looks when implementing new policies in a large organization.
  • The ingredients in properly changing a culture.
  •  The four pillars for successfully shepherding an organization
  • What leaders are getting wrong right now
  • How Garry motivates his own leadership

If you enjoy the podcast, please subscribe and share with others.
For more, go to relationshipsatwork.ca 

And connect with me for more great content!

Russel Lolacher
And on the show today we have Garry Ridge and here's why he is awesome. He served as the CEO and chairman of WD-40 for over 25 years. He's an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego, co-authored the book Helping People Win at Work - A Business Philosophy called "Don't Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A", and the founder of the Learning Moment, his consultancy for culture coaching. And I'm not done yet. He was also named one of the world's top 30 organizational culture professionals in 2023, by Global Gurus. Hello, Garry, welcome to the show.

Garry Ridge
Hey, Russel, how are you? Good to be with you.

Russel Lolacher
I have to ask the question I asked all my guests, which I'm really curious about from your storied career. What is your best or worst employee experience you can share with us, Garry?

Garry Ridge
Well, let me call it the best or worst learning moment because as you know, we don't make mistakes, we have learning moments. And I one comes to mind that is very vivid. And it's because it it was enabled me to use one of our company values to be able to do have a coaching interaction with someone and here's the story. I was one of our values that WD-40 is and was We exist to create positive lasting memories in all of our relationships. And I was in a meeting one morning at our offices, and there was someone in that meeting that wasn't creating a positive lasting memory, which wasn't really the way they normally behave. Now, as a leader, you know, you need to do something about that. So you know, option one is you interrupt the meeting you reprimand or redirect the person. And if that doesn't work, why? Well, you know, every firstly, the person that you're redirecting becomes embarrassed, and everyone else in the room says, I wonder what meeting I'm gonna get shot. So don't do that. The second thing is do nothing. And that, that means you're letting down the person and you're not, you know, doing what you should do as a responsible leader or coach. So the third thing is enter a coaching moment. So when the meeting was over, I said to the person and we'll call him Russel, "Hey, Russel, let's go outside and have a walk." So we walked outside of our building, and I looked under a car in the trash can and behind a tree. And you can imagine the look on Russel's face by this time. And he said, What the hell are you doing? And I said, I'm looking for you. And he kind of looked back. And I said, the UI know and love was not in that room today, what's on your mind? what's getting in your way. And we had a conversation. And you know, the conversation kind of went, Russel, it had a bad morning, you know, he, it kicked his tail on the bed forgot to push the record button, you know, a lot of things happened to him that morning that had caused that not to be a great morning. And so we had a coaching conversation. And, you know, we were able to identify, and at the end of it, we had a hug and everything was fine. I noticed that person when they went back into the into the building, they touch base with a couple in the meeting. And they said to you, okay, that's not normally who you are. He said, No, I'm sorry, you know, I just had a bad morning. So that whole experience is one where, you know, the leader, and it happened to be me at the time, exercise their responsibility as a coach, but did it in a way that was caring and sharing? And in no way did it embarrass the person. But the big plus about it was that we're able to use one of our values as the entry ramp into that conversation.

Russel Lolacher
Our topic today is really getting into that leadership model and its influence good or bad on on a culture. But before I get into any of that I want to touch on well, really the name of your consultancy as well as what you sort of mentioned at the top? I'm kind of curious, can you define what a learning moment is because you didn't call it a coaching moment, you're calling it a learning moment, why?

Garry Ridge
A learning moment is a positive or negative outcome of any situation that needs to be openly and freely shared to benefit all people in the organization. So why do we call it a learning moment? Many years ago, when I got the privilege to lead WD-40 company, I, there was a word that hung around in most organizations, and it was called failure. And the only thing that failure did was create fear. And when people are in a state of fear, they're paralyzed. And I said, you know, we all know that we're going to have situations that quote unquote, up failures. So what do we want to do from that we want to learn and Nelson Mandela said, Education is the most powerful tool we have to change the world. So why wouldn't we take advantage of these opportunities where things failed to turn them into a time of or experience of learning? So I said, we're going to take the word failure out, we're going to replace it with learning moments. And if you have a positive learning moment, it's your responsibility to share it so others can amplify it. And if you have a negative learning moment, it's your responsibility to share it. So we can help people not step in that pothole themselves. So it's the basis Have, it's the catalyst of learning.

Russel Lolacher
I have so many different ways I want to go with this. But I actually want to tap a bit into your experience at WD-40. Especially considering you were there for so long, and you had such a high employee engagement rate. So when you when you became CEO and driver of the ship, WD-40. What was the culture like when you first got there? Because I mean, you got some great numbers by the time you left, but did you start in such a great place?

Garry Ridge
The culture wasn't broken, but the culture wasn't one that was going to allow us to have the growth we wanted to have. And why do I say that? You know, when I joined WD-40, company in 1987, in Australia, so 35 years, I moved to the United States in 1994, to head up our international expansion, in that at that time, WD-40 company was was really a US based cultural company. And I said, if we're going to grow globally, we really need to have a culture that's empowering. It wasn't broken. But the culture we had, was not going to allow us to build the way we wanted to build around the world. And interestingly enough, then in 1997, the CEO retired and I got the opportunity to lead as the CEO. And I, I looked around and I thought, how are we going to build this culture, and funnily enough, I was flying from Los Angeles to Sydney and a quarter seven for seven hours in the middle upper deck area in a row, it's about 38,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean, and at, O dark 30. I don't know what time it was. And what I had probably had the only light on in the, in the cabin, I was doing some reading. And I came across a statement of the Dalai Lama. And the Dalai Lama said, our purpose in life is to make people happy, if we can't make them happy, at least don't hurt them. I thought, well, that's an interesting statement. And then I actually read something of Aristotle's and Aristotle said, pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work and my light went on in my head. And I said, if we can create a culture where people actually go home happy, and they'd like doing what they're doing, the work would be better. But I didn't know how to do that. So I, I sort of looked around even further when I got back. And I ended up finding a master's degree at the University of San Diego, which was a master of science and executive leadership. That's where I met my dear friend, Ken Blanchard, the One Minute Manager, who was my professor, who was really the guru of servant leadership. So I did a master's degree in leadership. And I learned all of the attributes of servant leadership. And I said, Okay, I'm going to put them into play. So that was the kind of catalyst change. And subsequently, I sent 30 people through that master's degree from from WD-40. Company. So we went into a servant leadership organization, and we started to implement those practices. And our employee engaged, I started measuring employee engagement in the year 2000. And it was kind of in the mid, I don't know, 40s or 50s. And we started to grow the company, and then over a period of time, we got it to where it now is, which is 93 point something percent. And more importantly, rustle 98% of the people said, they'd love to tell people their work at the company.

Russel Lolacher
Was there resistance? Because even an organization that is not, you know, quote, unquote, broken, it's still change, and people don't like change, Garry. So I'm curious how well it was adopted when you first started rolling it out?

Garry Ridge
Yeah, it, you know, it was different. And no doubt and change is something different. So yes, there was apprehension. You know, I remember someone saying, He's drunk too much of Ken Blanchard's Kool Aid, you know, if we ignore him, he'll probably go away. Well, I wasn't gonna go away, because I believed in this. So it probably took us three to five years to start to gain momentum where people thought, you know, this was not just a passing phase. And this is where a lot of companies and organizations fall down. They think that they can bring in some consultant company and run a management program, they're going to sprinkle some fairy dust over the organization, it's going to change the culture and bang, now we have a different culture doesn't work. I have an algorithm for culture. And I, I stole some of it from my friend, Simon Sinek in his last book, which is the infinite game, and it's culture equals values plus behavior times consistency. And the word that he didn't have in there was consistency. Although he and I have always agreed that building a great culture is simple, not easy, and time is not your friend. So if you think about growing culture, you know, many years ago, when I was a young lad in Australia, my science teacher gave me a petri dish, and they said, We're going to grow some culture in this petri dish. So what's important the ingredients you put in the petri dish, so in an organization if you're growing culture, you've got to put in the right ingredients. You have to have a people first mindset you've got to have a clearly defined In authentic purpose, you've got to have a clear set of values, you've got to have a learning moment, attitude and a number of other things. And then what's the role of the person who owns that petri dish, you got to watch that petri dish every day. And you've got to reward and applaud the good ingredients. So they grow. But then the bravery comes along, you've got to be brave enough to attack the toxins, because Toxins will get in that petri dish. And if you don't take them out real quickly, they're going to absolutely eat the good ingredients. So that's where the consistency comes along. That's where the leadership comes along. And, you know, I've said often, unfortunately, a lot of people protect their own comfort zone at the expense of other people's development. Because it's not, it's not easy. It's simple, but not easy.

Russel Lolacher
You have the benefit, I don't know if that's the right word, but the benefit of steering the ship for a couple of decades, not a lot of organizations have consistent leadership, and we're sticking to consistency. But when you start these programs, and you're starting to change, then the leadership sometimes will change or they'll leave, and then it all falls apart. What advice would you give an organization that needs that consistency, but maybe doesn't have a CEO at the top of it for so long?

Garry Ridge
Well, I think you know that, again, the CEO or the leader is there to mind the petri dish. So the first thing you have to do is make sure that you're building that foundation. And you know, the foundation is important, the foundation of care, a foundation of candour, a foundation of accountability, a foundation of responsibility. Now, you know, I, you right, I was the CEO for 25 years, and new CEO that that is now on the bridge has been with the company for 31 years. So in one of the big, you know, attributes that I said was a must have for my successor is they have to understand that culture is a competitive advantage. And the thing that holds the company together, and Steve understands that. So I think our job is to embed the culture in the organization. And that's what we wrote about in the book with Ken Blanchard is, here's the infrastructure now make sure you take care of it. And I said those four pillars care, candor, accountability, responsibility, very simple care is no is your your empathy, eat your ego, instead of your ego, eating your empathy. That's the core of that. candor is no lying, no faking no hiding, I believe most people in organizations don't lie, they fake and hide. Why do they fake and hide because of fear? Accountability? This is where a lot of organizations fall down? What do you expect of me? And what do I expect of you? And how do we define it? And I had? Are we are we brave enough and comfortable enough to hold each other accountable? Very, very, very, very, very, very important. And then responsibility. Are we going to be responsible for the ongoing development and nurturing of the culture in the organization?

Russel Lolacher
When you say "we" are responsible, who are we talking about? Because you'll talk to executives, sometimes they'll be like, Oh, it's the it's the culture is the employees, while the employees are very much going, No, I'm looking for executive to be my culture stewards, who holds the who holds the stick on this.

Garry Ridge
Everybody owns the culture. So you've got to make the culture engaging enough that those that within it, protect it, I want everybody in the organization to protect it. Now, you know, interestingly enough, when we went through, you know, that experience of COVID, I was concerned that we may be with draining cultural equity, because we'd lost the opportunity to be together as often as we were before, even though we were before the COVID, a very hybrid company. You know, we have offices in 17 countries around the world, we sell the blue and yellow cam with a little red tarp in 176 countries, you know, we the, the sun never sets on WD-40, because we're in every time zone. But we just completed our employee opinion survey in March 2020. And the numbers that came back were just as strong as ever. But we get to January 2021. And, you know, I we're doing everything we think we can to maintain the culture. And I said, we need to go and check in and just see what's going on. So we did, we went out and we did a check in Server. And one of the numbers that came back and let's just reflect what was happening in January 2021, COVID, still uncertain promises of vaccine, none yet. We're all still you know, are we going to live is this the end of the world? Our company was doing well, because of the way we were structured. But I asked the the survey again, and one question came back and the question that came back was I am excited about my place in the company's future. And 98% of our people worldwide said they were excited about their place in the company's future. And I went what What the hell? How can I do? What's the answer to that? So we dug in to see why that number had gone up to 98%. And basically, he was the answer. I feel safe. If I need to be anywhere, right now, I want to be here. Because we are living our promise to each other, which is a brute group of people that come together to protect and feed each other. So while everyone around them was feeling unsafe, we were feeling safe. And I thought, wow, there's the power of culture, everybody was protecting each other.

Russel Lolacher
It's interesting, you bring up the pandemic, because I think the pandemic was such a litmus test for a lot of leaders as well. Because with such a monumental change, and with employees realizing what they want and need from an employee experience, leaders either stepped up or we saw their true colours about this. So what do you think is some of the biggest struggles for leaders today, because change is happening so fast now?

Garry Ridge
Well, COVID slept a lot of leaders up the side of the head. That's what happened. You know, I wrote an article on LinkedIn called The Great Escape, there was a lot of talk about the great resignation. It wasn't the great resignation, it was the great escape. People were either escaping from your culture or to your culture. And I think what COVID did it had leaders wake up to the fact that people are the, the absolute core strength of our business. And if we're not going to help them, be their best person, they're going to leave us you know, what happened before COVID. You know, the numbers have have been absolutely horrible for life. You look at Aristotle, Aristotle in 384 BC, said, pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work. And now here we are in the year 2023. And we still haven't worked out that our main responsibility as a leader is to put pleasure in the job. Now imagine a place where you go to work every day, you make a contribution to something bigger than yourself. You learn something new, you're protected and set free by a compelling set of values and you go home happy, happy people create happy families, happy families, create happy communities, happy communities, create a happy world, and we need a happy world. So business has the biggest responsibility ever to do that. And unfortunately, leaders didn't get it. You know, I created someone called owl the soul sucking CEO now, people who are listening to us can't see but he's the soul sucking CEO of fear incorporated. Now it could be Alice as well. And let me let me uh, here's here's some of the attributes of this. And desirable leader his ego eats his empathy instead of his empathy eating his ego. He thinks micromanagement is essential owl or Alice's now corporate royalty, they've spent their life climbing this corporate ladder, kicking us and kissing us all along the way. And now that they're on the throne of leadership, they shall be bowed down to and respected, they probably have the largest office in the building, they probably have a private parking spot, you may never find them in the cafeteria or cantina, sharing and being with their their team, because someone's delivered coffee to their office. Hour. Alice loves a fear based culture. They're the master of control, and they know it all. They know all everything. They have all the answers, even all the wrong ones. They think learning is for losers, they must always be right. They hate feedback. And they don't regularly follow through on their commitments. That's the behaviours of the soul sucking CEO.

Russel Lolacher
So that unintentionally and intentionally, that soul sucking CEO is killing their organization, slowly poisoning it. And I know people around them want to do better. So looking at you've got this amazing triangle where you talk about the priorities of championship of hope, of being tough, but tender of having EQ. But to get an owl or an owl is to adopt that triangle that way of thinking, what is the tipping point for them? Or do we just get rid of them?

Garry Ridge
Well, you know, I think there's an awareness. You know, again, I think as I said, COVID was some sort of a tipping point. It's slap them up the side of the head. And one of the great things that's happening now is there's, you know, a lot of public voice around culture within organizations. So I think we're realizing that it is all about the people. So I think you know what, that's one of the reasons I'm doing what I'm doing now, Russel is you know, I've just completed my 25 year apprenticeship in leadership. And now what I'm doing is going out and sharing with people and I'm just in the in the process of finalizing my new book and you may like the title, it's called any damask can do it. Love it, love it, and I call it that is because you know, I'm not the smartest guy in the world. You know, I think we created this culture because we looked at what were the key elements that we have to focus on. And we did it day after day. So, you know, I think, and again, if I go back to my equation, if you had this strategic plan, and it was 50%, right, and 80% of your people went to work every day, passionate about executing on the purpose, loving the fact that they're learning every day, feeling protected, and set free by a compelling set of values. 80 times 50 is 4000. If only 20% of the people go to work every day, 20 times 50 is what 1000. So it's very clear. But unfortunately, it's our like behaviour, short sightedness, greed, short term thinking, you know, give me the result tomorrow, we're not going to play the infinite game, we're going to play the finite game every day. It's those sorts of things that don't allow you to build enduring companies over time. Now. Okay, let's think about our 93% employee engagement. That's okay. But did the company perform? Absolutely, you know, we nearly 6x revenue, and we were a public company, still on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange. And we were able to grow our market cap over that period of time, from about 300 million to close to $3 billion. So if you would have bought $100 worth of shares on October 7 1997, on the day I retired, those shares would have been worth 700 $1,780. Now, that's not because of me. It's because of the culture that we built over time. Their culture wasn't me, I planted the seed, but the tree grew. And now the tree is there. And the people are sitting under the shade of the tree and continuing to, you know, continue to build that tree over time. So that's what's important.

Russel Lolacher
How did you keep leaders engaged for so long? Because I mean, leaders need leaders. And I don't think that's emphasized enough. I hear a lot, which is leaders need to do this. And leaders need to do that. I'm like, You're right. But they also need leadership. So how does someone in your position, keep that we did talk about consistency. And we've talked a bit about professional development, I found really interesting, as well as a way to keep them engaged. What are some ways that people can or leadership can keep their leaders engaged?

Garry Ridge
Well, we can have a lot of fun. You know, one of our tribal you know, we call ourselves a tribe, not a team, because one of the biggest desires we have as human beings is to belong. And so belonging is very important, but the number one responsibility of a tribal leaders to be a learner and a teacher. And then as you said, further, it's so how do we keep engaged, we have meaningful work, you know, people really want to know two things, do I matter? And do I belong? That's what they want to know, in the organization. So as a leader, it's your job to show them how they matter, to help them see how they continue to make a difference. So learning and teaching is so important. This feeling of belonging. And then, you know, we've got to celebrate what we do. Because it's got to be fun, our life's life's a gift. Don't send it back, unwrapped, we got to do a lot of unwrapping. So, so again, and you know, achievement is great challenges. Great. So it's all of those things. It's what you would our young leaders listening to us today, just write a little chapter about what would be the greatest party you would ever go to? And and why would you enjoy it? And then think about how you translate into what would be the greatest company you could go to work to everyday? What would make you want to do this show? Your you're leaving your home in the morning, you're about to walk out the door, and Russel gives his husband, wife or significant other of a big high five and says, I am so excited to be with my people today. Because fill in the blank. What is the your fill in the blank? If it's, you know, I hate going to work today. Yeah, well, one of the things I think is really funny is what reaction do you have? When someone in your organization books a meeting in your team's calendar? Is it? Ah, no. Holy crap, I gotta put up with that person. Or is it? Yay, I can't wait to be with Russel today because fill in the blank. I know that I'm going to learn something. I'm going to be involved in something that's really challenging. I'm going to feel great. You know, which, which which reaction do you have?

Russel Lolacher
Well, everybody loves when I put out meetings. Absolutely. Garry, that happens all the time, I'm sure. So you talk about belonging. Love that but belonging nowadays generally always good. associated with diversity inclusivity equality, how do you tackle? Well, the different personalities, the introverts, the extroverts, the personalization, how does diversity get understood within an organization that's talking about purpose and professional development, because what success and motivation is to individuals is different across the board

Garry Ridge
irrespective. That's, you know, that's really what it comes down to, you know, people want acceptance, they want connectedness, they want security, support, support, inclusion, identity, so respect it. We're not all the same, thank goodness. Why? What if we're all like me? Or you are how boring? You know, you know, one of the great things about our company is operating in all of the cultures we do around the world. We actually, long time ago, we saw the value in diversity in diverse points of view, and opinions. Now, the great thing about our company is, we have all that, that our core values bond us together in the organization. So that's really the glue in our organization was the values that are the same in every country around the world.

Russel Lolacher
You've been around a while you've consulted with a lot of organizations, what do you feel a lot of them are getting wrong right now to lean into learning moments.

Garry Ridge
They're scared. You know, right now, we're going through this period of uncertainty. And a dear friend of mine, Dr. Rebecca honkers has a wonderful definition, which is a series of future events that may or may not occur. And right now, we're going through this series of future events. And there are so many of them, and we can't work out the ones that may or may not occur. So I think there's there's a lot of scarcity around there. But really, it gets back to the point that to survive and grow, we need each other. And if we create an environment where we actually can trust each other, depend on each other, and get support from each other, the chances of us excelling are a lot greater than if we don't have that.

Russel Lolacher
We talk a lot about inspiring other leaders. But what is door inspiring employees in the employee experience and perpetuate culture, but I'll pick on you, Garry, what inspires your leadership? Because you've not probably not in the best of moods every day, you're not probably like you're a human being. So what's inspiring your ability to move forward over your years of leadership?

Garry Ridge
Well, it comes from the statement that I may have shared from the Dalai Lama, which is our purpose in life is to make people happy, if we can't make them happy, at least don't hurt them. And Russel, you're exactly right. You know, I can't, I have to remind myself and interesting, you should ask on my computer screen here. And on my, my little notebook that I carry around with me all the time, I have a little list here. And this little list says, Am I being the person I want to be right now? Because and then it says who is that person? Now I have a list of who I want to be because I when I'm the person that I want to be, I'm the best person to myself and those around me. And this list says this list says I want to be grateful, I want to be caring, I want to be empathetic, I want to be reasonable. I want to be a listener, I want to be fact based, I want to have a balanced opinion. I want to be curious, I want to be a learner. And I want to throw sunshine, not a shadow. Now, you would think a guy who's 66 years old, who has been in a leadership position for 25 years would not lead need the stupid little list that he looks at, I don't know how many times a day, but you know why I need it Russel, here's why is because we are just these basic human beings bumbling our way down this pathway of life. And as we're bumbling down this pathway of life, there's these thieves as I call them in the bushes. And these thieves run out of the bushes and they grab us and they take us in the bush. And it could be the theme of not being grateful or the theme of not caring, or the theme of ego or the the thief of of not being a listener or a thief of any one of those. And, and when we're in that bush for a minute, we might feel okay, or this seems okay. I might stay here for a while. But it's not. So we have to keep reminding ourselves and testing ourselves against who do we want to be. And, you know, this little list has been so beneficial to me because I have to center myself. You know, I get in situations where I've said that leadership is a balance between being tough minded and tender hearted. I can go to either end of that scale really easily. I can be so tough minded, and I can be so tender harder. And I have to remind myself I want to be in the middle. The genius is in the end in the middle. So you've got to send yourself how do you be the best you you can be and don't be embarrassed about having to remind yourself of doing that. Because we're these basic human beings bumbling our way down this pathway of life.

Russel Lolacher
Out of curiosity, how often do you look at that list, Garry?

Garry Ridge
Well, it's on my notebook. So I'm looking more, and it's on my computer screen right here in the same way, in a little sticker. So I'm looking at it. I don't know how many times a day, many, many times a day, it reminds me. And I also, if ever, I'm, I'm kind of going into something that is super, super important to me. I take a moment to center myself like, Okay, I need to read this. This is who I want to be. Okay, good. Okay, I'm good.

Russel Lolacher
I love that we started this conversation with you highlighting situational awareness, when you were talking about someone you noticed was not being themselves, but you have to know them to know that they're being different than their normality, and ended it with the importance of self awareness, which I can't tell you how much I believe those are the two strongest superpowers any leader can have in an organization. Thank you very much, Garry, I have the final question I have to ask, which is what's one simple action people can do right now? To improve their relationships at work?

Garry Ridge
Ask someone what's on your mind. Be grateful, be there.

Russel Lolacher
Love that. That is Garry Ridge. He was for 25 years the CEO and chairman of WD-40. He now runs his own consultancy for culture coaching called the learning moment. Thanks so much for being here. Garry.

Garry Ridge
Thank you. Have a great day.