Honeywell’s David Cote drafts top 12 behaviors

When David Cote became Honeywell’s CEO in 2002, the industrial conglomerate was in disarray. General Electric had just tried unsuccessfully to acquire Honey­­well, which left Cote’s employees divided.

To make matters worse, Honeywell had acquired Pittway, a home security firm, in 2000. Integrating Pittway’s em­­­ployees led to cultural clashes.

Cote listed 12 behaviors that he wanted everyone to follow. He felt that unifying the company around the be­­haviors would work better than articulating vague, hard-to-measure values.

Examples of the behaviors included customer focus, self-awareness and championing change. This evolved into what became known internally as the Honey­­­­well Operating System (HOS), which employees soon nicknamed “One Hon.”

Under this system, Cote expected every employee to propose two easy-to-implement ideas to improve results. Cote’s goal: involve everyone in improving operations and identifying opportunities for “continuous improvement.”

Unlike incoming CEOs who typically bring in their own team, Cote chose to give the executives he inherited a chance to shine. Tim Mahoney was one of them. A 16-year Honeywell veteran, Mahoney recalls his tricky negotiation to acquire EMS Technologies in 2011. Cote, who often quotes the dictum, “If you have five minutes to solve a problem, spend the first three minutes thinking about how you’re going to do it,” asked Mahoney if he had taken his “three minutes.”

“I promised him I would call him back with a considered answer,” Mahoney says. “The following morning, I told him: ‘I’m confident I can deliver on this one and I’m willing to risk reputation on it.’”

The acquisition proved a big success, one of 80 acquisitions since Cote became CEO. In 2012, Honeywell grew sales by 3% and generated $3 billion in free cash flow. It has 132,000 employees.

— Adapted from “What Transformational Leaders Do,” JP Donlon, Chief Executive.