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Develop future leaders by lifting morale

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When Doug Conant joined Campbell Soup Co. in 2001 as CEO, cheaper brands threatened the company’s future. Conant’s predecessor had raised prices, alienating many Campbell fans.

Almost immediately, Conant detected a serious problem: morale.

“We had a toxic culture. People were understandably jaundiced with management,” he says. “It was hard for me to imagine that we could inspire high performance with no employee engagement.”

To lift morale, Conant focused on leadership development. He hosted weekly meetings for his managers and scored each of them on a series of expectations.

He also created a two-year program to train Campbell’s future leaders. But rather than hire a consultant to run it, Conant did it himself. He led five intense sessions (two to three days each) that included homework and one-on-one coaching.

“People would send in their homework, and I would try to get back to them in 24 hours,” he said. “It was the single most important thing I did.”

Conant’s personal investment in his managers’ development spurred their ambition. They felt more vested in both their own career and the company’s success.

Yet some managers wilted in the spotlight. By 2004, roughly 300 of the top 350 executives had left the company.

Meanwhile, Conant kept rallying his workforce. Each day, he wrote 10 to 20 notes to employees at all levels to convey his appreciation for their superior effort and performance.

Over 10 years as CEO, Conant sent more than 30,000 notes to his 20,000 employees. During that decade, both Campbell’s shareholder return and employee engagement skyrocketed.

— Adapted from “Pulling Campbell’s Out of the Soup,” Dina Gerdeman, http://hbswk.hbs.edu.

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