By Kevin Hancock
You can’t get a Diet Coke in Kiev.
For the third day in a row I climbed Bohdana Khmel’nyts’koho Street to the point where it crests in front of the National Opera House in search of my favorite soft drink, and for the third day in a row I was denied. Old habits die hard, I think, turning around to begin my descent back to the hotel.
It’s the morning after our visits with Mykola and Hanna, and as I walk, my mind is with them and the conditions that caused such unimaginable and unnecessary human suffering. How are such calculated and vast atrocities sustained? How could a small group of individuals at the center tip an entire culture into allowing such callousness to reign? And to what end? The Holodomor is an extreme example of what can happen when the capital becomes obsessed with its own self-serving objectives. Millions of humans were sacrificed so that the success of the center might be advanced.
From a distance, it’s easy to see the absurdity of it all. An organization can never win in the end through exploitation and destruction. Nor can an organization thrive by becoming self-absorbed.
Stepping back, it seems partly heartwarming, partly obsessive. I have just become highly sensitized to the story of leaders restricting the free voices of others. Furthermore, I believe the leaders of today can reverse these broken patterns. We can break the momentum. But to do this, leaders must work beyond the narrow confines of their chosen industry.
I could spend sixty-five hours a week at work, but this would not make me a better human or a better manager. The purpose of work is to support, not thwart, the meaning of life. Companies must create pay systems, work schedules, and human missions that put time back in the hands of employees. The objective is to help everyone get out of their lane and broaden their lives.
I call this “putting the work back in its place.” It’s about making the work exciting and important, but not all-consuming. As productivity expands, work should take less time. Sure, we can use some of our productivity achievements to make more lumber and deliver more building materials. But how about also using some of the freed capacity to just plain work less?
The fresh idea is to select corporate goals that also directly improve the lives of the people doing the work. In 2012, the same year I began traveling to Pine Ridge, Hancock Lumber launched an initiative to make sure our delivery trucks were “full and freighted” when they left the yard. To accomplish this, we began tracking a simple metric we now call journey value. Journey value calculates the total value of all the products on a truck as it embarks on a round of deliveries. We asked our customers, sellers, and logistics managers to share responsibility for driving this metric. In the five years that followed, we doubled our sales, but the number of deliveries we made actually went down. In 2017, on double the sales, we had more capacity than we did in 2012, without adding a single truck to the fleet. (Although we purchased a good number of new vehicles during this period, the size of the fleet did not expand.)
During this period, we set the goal of reducing the average hourly workweek in our stores from forty-seven to forty. To do this, we had to take on some long-entrenched corporate monuments, such as overtime pay. The overtime pay system is the worst possible compensation system for the modern age, as you earn more money the longer the work takes. A progressive pay system does just the opposite: It incentivizes individuals and teams to make the work more accurate, more efficient, and less time-consuming. As the work takes less time, both the employees and the company earn more.
To implement this, we raised base pay levels and added new bonus incentives that paid on safety, accuracy, and efficiency. Soon, our employees were making more money working forty hours a week than they had when they were working forty-seven. This is human capacity freed.
Multiply seven fewer hours a week at work by forty-eight weeks of work per year, and you have 336 hours that can be redeployed. Across a thirty-year work career, that’s more than ten thousand hours of human capacity. Multiplied again exponentially across our 525 employees, that’s over 5.2 million hours—freed by Hancock Lumber alone.
I have become a proponent of encouraging people to get out of their lane. The boss was traditionally someone who may have expected others to be all about their work, commending them for coming in early and staying late. Of course, there will be times when employees need to go into overdrive for the company, but that should not be the normative state. The purpose of the company is to enhance the lives of the people who work there. My wish is for our company is to become so accurate and efficient that the work takes less time. This allows everyone to expand their connectivity and share their energy more broadly.
Corporations—and nations—can no longer stay in their bubble and expect the rest of the world to be just fine. Every person’s story is personal and collective, pouring into the narrative of our shared human journey. That’s why your neighbor matters. That’s why you matter. What happens to one happens to all. The broader the corporate mission, the better. Companies in the twenty-first century have an unprecedented opportunity to free human capacity and send it forth into the larger world.
Excerpted from The Seventh Power: One CEO’s Journey into the Business of Shared Leadership by Kevin Hancock. Used with permission of Post Hill Press.