After the previous CEO of JC Penney, Ron Johnson, was fired (see my post “Lack of PDSA made JCP CEO SOL?“), it seems that new CEO Marvin Ellison might be taking a different approach.
See this article from FORTUNE: “The CEO Who’s Reinventing J.C. Penney.”
Whereas Johnson “just thought his ideas were right,” Ellison appears to test ideas:
“He ran a test to see whether men’s shoes would sell faster when showcased next to, say, men’s suits; once the data showed that they did, he instituted that change last summer across the company’s 1,000-plus stores.”
It does make me skeptical, however, to hear about any CEO being so involved in operational details like this. Is it the job of the CEO to propose and run tests like this or to create the culture and environment where employees and managers can test improvements?
Ellison does seem devoted to a somewhat more scientific improvement process:
“He’s a data devotee who grounds every decision in information–including that seemingly intuitive shoe move. “Pure intuition without any data gets you in trouble,” Ellison says. Referring to the Johnson era, he adds, “We went through 18 months of that, and we’re not going to do it again.””
Ellison learned the importance of store operations by working as a retail security guard during college:
“Ellison’s retail career started during college, almost by accident. To help pay for books and rent, he took a part-time job as a security officer at Target at $4.35 an hour. That gig turned into 15 years at the retailer, as he climbed the ranks in theft prevention. Those early jobs gave Ellison a close-up view of how retail works at the store level, everything from the cadence of markdowns to the science behind keeping shelves stocked. But the jobs also taught him something that would shape his management style: Too many managers don’t listen to the troops on the frontlines, the workers in stores. Ellison had tons of ideas but didn’t share them with managers, he says, because they wouldn’t ask.“
This is true, sadly, in healthcare as well. Too many managers don’t listen to their employees and employees don’t speak up because managers aren’t asking them to. Leaders are responsible for creating a culture where it’s safe to speak up. Leaders are also responsible for helping employees take actions on their ideas, such as in the practice of Kaizen.
Also from the article:
“Too many CEOs in retail like to be the smartest person in the room,” says Home Depot co-founder and former CEO and chairman Bernie Marcus. “Marvin’s not like that.”
Is that also true too often in healthcare, with CEOs wanting to have all of the answers?
The article describes how Ellison observed details in stores:
“Face-to-face interaction helped Ellison quickly spot disconnects between Penney’s executives and its store employees. Early on, he was irked to see senior management in stores wearing designer clothing far beyond the budget of a typical staffer or customer. A snappy dresser himself, Ellison implemented a rule requiring executives to wear J.C. Penney-made clothes when they visit stores and to wear the same name tags store workers do. (During the Frisco store tour, Ellison and the executives all wore Penney brands–Ellison and the other men in Michael Strahan and Stafford suits, a woman colleague in Worthington.)”
The idea of leaders wearing what their employees wear is interesting to me. Compare that to the gap between healthcare leaders wearing business suits and their employees wearing scrubs…
One other such disconnect from JC Penney:
“Senior management frequently felt that stores were sufficiently stocked, but in-store employees were constantly alerting Ellison to shortages.“
JC Penney has long been on a path toward becoming irrelevant and bankrupt. I hope Marvin Ellison can right the ship through his leadership. I wouldn’t necessarily call it “Lean leadership,” but there are elements here that remind me of that:
- Going to where the front-line workers are
- Encouraging people to speak up
- Leading small tests of change before rolling out a change widely
- Reducing some of the power in hierarchy by dressing more like employees
What do you think?