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'I am dedicated to you being better'
NOVEMBER 2013 · 
Keywords: leadership, performance review
Having employees feel that they belong is to show commitment to them that you want them to develop to be better themselves.

Garry O. Ridge is president and CEO of WD-40 Company. The following is an exclusive interview with him on January 24, 2013.

Q: In your book “Helping People Win at Work” co-authored by Ken Blanchard, you reveal how your WD-40 Company’s performance review system partners with every employee and achieves unprecedented levels of employee engagement and commitment. What are your goals and the cultural changes it requires?

A: The whole basis for the employee engagement is creating an environment in which employees know that they belong to this organization. If you think about Maslow's hierarchy, if you know the pyramid, it talks about the basics as you climb the pyramid to self actualization, which is whole to the person. The first one is safety and security, and the next one is having food and more. The third one is belonging. Many organizations forget that they need to create an environment where people feel that they belong. And to have people feel that they belong is to show commitment to them that you are wanting them to develop to be better themselves. So the whole process is based around creating an environment that helps people develop themselves through understanding what are their goals, what are their behaviors, and what is development work that we have to do as leaders to help them to develop their personal skills which would make them a better leader, a better worker, more valuable to the organization, and more valuable to the community.


Q: What is your specific measure taken in WD-40?

A: well, the specific measure is identifying what specific goals are for each person and then having different matrix against these goals depending on your job, and measuring how you are performing against the goals you’ve set for yourselves. If you are not reaching these goals, what we have to do as leaders is to help you either gain competency or support to reach that goal.


Q: WD-40 is a global company, and you have set up business in China. Your employees are coming from all over the world and have different cultural backgrounds. How do you manage them?

A: I think it doesn’t matter what culture you come from, you want to belong and you want to care about. The basis of our program is creating an environment where you are dedicated to helping them to develop, whichever culture you are in. People still want to develop. Certainly, we have to be aware of what cultural differences are. But, as I get back to my original point, the key value in this whole process is helping people develop themselves, develop their competencies around their jobs to improve themselves.


Q: This is the fundamental policy around the world.

A: Yes.


Q: Do you think this Partnering for Performance program can work for other companies, too?

A: Absolutely. It can work for life. It can work at home. Shouldn’t we partner with our children to help them develop their skills, become better individuals and great citizens? Isn’t that the work we do as parents? So it can work at home. It can work in social environments. It can work in companies. Because, again, the basis of the whole program is about creating an environment where I am dedicated to you being better.


Q: In this book, you mentioned a few things that a business leader can do to motivate employees, and one of these is to agree with each employee on exactly what to evaluate and how to evaluate it. Can you share more about how you reach this agreement?

A: The main reason people have disagreements in life is because there is misunderstanding between what you expect and what I expect. What we need to do is creating an environment where, as we create a goal or design our outcome, we have a clear understanding together of what success looks like. We often say that, if this is the goal, what does the success look like to you? Can I see it the same way? If we see the same success and same deliverable against the goal, then we’ll have an alignment.


Q: How about if both sides don’t have an agreeable goal?

A: There has to be an agreeable goal eventually. There is negotiation. There is consideration. If your belief of outcome is different from mine, what do you know that I don’t know? The only reason that you would have a different opinion than me is because there is something you know that either I don’t know or I don’t understand.


Q: What measures would you take to ensure that employees would tell you what they want to know and what they want to tell you?

A: We have conversation. At least four times a year. But leadership is an ongoing conversation. Leadership is an everyday conversation, in every minute of the day. The role of the leader is to influence outcomes. What we have to do as leaders is to make sure that we have an alignment about “what is the outcome?”, “where does a leader need to show his or her energy?”, and “do I know what you want to be successful of?” If I know what you want to be successful of, I am a good leader and I agree with you, then it’s my job to help you to be successful. If you’re successful, I’ll be successful.


Q: Some employees may possibly want no more than a stable job and have no motivation to go up to the top management. What would you do with them?

A: It’s OK, too. I will want them to be the best they possibly can be in their jobs.


Q: Would you push them to be more aggressive?

A: No. it’s up to them. I can’t make them do anything.


Q: Does it match up with WD-40 Company’s culture?

A: Absolutely. There are people in the organization who are very happy to do what they are doing in the environment where they are doing very well. If that is what they want to do, our jobs are to make sure that they are excelling at their jobs. If they want to be the best of their jobs, then we have to continue to help them be there. That doesn’t mean we don’t continue to develop them. For example, we might have someone who is very comfortable being a customer service associate. We have to make sure that we continue to develop them in that role. We have to provide new opportunities to them, so that they are happy with what they are doing.


Q: What is your belief about leadership? What do you expect of your people, and what can they expect of you?

A: Leadership is about influencing outcomes. I’m there to help people achieve their personal desired goals and to ensure that there is a leader in an organization who creates a positive environment for our shareholders – the people who own our company, our customers – the people who use our products, and our people – the people who go to work every day to make these two things happen. I learned a long time ago that micro-management is not scalable, and you need to ensure that the people have a clear understanding of what our vision is – where we want to go; they have a clear understanding of what our values are – what is important within our organization; they have a clear opportunity to help determine their own destiny, and we have conversation around that to allow them to get there. I call it being tough-minded and tender-heartened. You have to be both. So as a leader, there are times when you have to make tough decisions, but you should do in a caring way.


Q: It is well known that, while working as the CEO at WD-40, you have transformed the working environment from one of regular, consistent day-to-day operations to an environment where every employee is encouraged to learn and share their learning with others. Can you elaborate more on this?

A: We started off understanding that in any environment you have to create a culture of learning. We originally said that we don’t make mistakes. We have learning moments. Now there is difference.


Q: What do you mean by learning moments?

A: A learning moment is a positive or negative outcome of any situation that has an opportunity to extract learning from. Things work. Things don’t work. Normally when things don’t work, people call it a failure. When things do work, they call it a success. We call both things the same thing: a learning moment. If it was a successful outcome, what can we learn from that to make it more successful for other people in the company in the future? If it was a negative learning moment, what can we learn from that to make sure we don’t repeat this negative learning moment again in the organization? We want to make sure we understand that.


Q: Do you pay more attention to the failure side or the success side?

A: I’d like to think that we pay equal time to both. In the normal organization, people dedicate more, more time to failure, and they are always about what didn’t work. We have to be identifying success, recognizing success, identifying things that are not successful, and also identifying what we can do to change.

Garry O. Ridge
President and CEO of WD-40 Company headquartered in San Diego, California. WD-40 Company is the maker of household cleaning products. Garry has been with WD-40 since 1987 in various management positions.
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