The Circle of Our Success

May 15, 2014
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller

People often want to know the secret to Barry-Wehmiller’s success.  What do we do that has enabled us to achieve an 18% compounded return to our shareholders for the last quarter century?

Within Barry-Wehmiller, there are many unique practices that ultimately contribute to a rich, rewarding and more satisfying experience for all of our stakeholders. One of these elements—our focus on collaboration, cooperation and sharing of best practices across the enterprise–became clearer by reading bestselling author Simon Sinek’s recent release, Leaders Eat Last. Simon’s explanation of the Circle of Safety made me see how our cooperative spirit is an integral part of our business model and culture.

In the book, Simon uses a fable to illustrate the Circle of Safety concept:

A lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell.  Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near them they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them.  At last, however, they fell a-quarreling among themselves, and each went off to a pasture alone in a separate corner of the field.  Then the lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.

Aesop, sixth century B.C.

safety-circleIn the days of the caveman, they actually established circles of safety, or physical protective barriers, in order to sustain life. Today, the Circle of Safety is a metaphor for the ideal corporate culture. In business, while the threats do not usually result in physical harm, they are real and constant. A Circle of Safety surrounding everyone in the organization can ward off threats to team members’ and the company’s welfare. The challenge in most organizations, however, is that there are small silos of safety.  Inside those silos, leaders and teams of people are focused on their own success and power; they are focused on competing against each other to succeed.  They become too focused on the danger inside the organization, losing sight of the true competitive forces that exist outside of it.

Recently we brought together the senior executives responsible for sales from across Barry-Wehmiller. During one of the sessions one of our VPs of Sales shared his team’s recent success. He began his presentation by thanking one of his peers.

“What he shared on distribution design at the 2012 conference challenged me to rethink my design," the VP said.  safety-circle-2"With our new structure in place, we sold 300% of our order budget in the first quarter. Clearly, it’s working.” He went on to share the changes he had made in his approach to market coverage.

Throughout our global organization, we foster an environment in which all of our operating companies sense they are within the Barry-Wehmiller Circle of Safety. We work hard to create synergy among our businesses. In many diversified businesses that hold their operating units separately, there is little integration or overlap across businesses.  At Barry-Wehmiller, we regularly bring together leaders from across the enterprise to build relationships and share experiences and best practices.  Rather than dictating from corporate why a certain business practice is best, we allow leaders to hear it from their peers, to be inspired by their success and learn concrete methods to duplicate that success.

The Circle of Safety in Barry-Wehmiller is broad, encompassing long-time peers across the business and leaders in newly-acquired companies. It is there because we foster a culture that unites everyone around a common goal.

We encourage people to freely share their knowledge and experience in pursuit of that goal. We give people a sense of belonging. And, as Simon writes in Leaders Eat Last, “When the Circle of Safety is strong and that feeling of belonging is ubiquitous, collaboration, trust and innovation result.”

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