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The application of the Leadership Standard at Cape Union Mart

This article is based on the application of the South African leadership standard at Cape Union Mart.  A leader must create and consume energy.  A leader must have energy to get things moving.  The energy of an organisation lies in leaders.   Also, leaders must create time to think. The problem is that leaders spend less time thinking when operations take over, especially if something goes wrong.  As a leader you get thousands of emails taking you away from your leadership role.  Leaders use the snowball effect to create and maintain momentum in the company and to grow in size.  We use our management meetings for this purpose.

Let us look at the application of the five leadership elements of the South African leadership standard at Cape Union Mart. I will share some practical examples on how we apply the five elements at our company.

  1. Instilling a vision:

We have a clear vision and strategy for the future and that is to be number one in what we do. We have grown from only 8 outlets in 1998 to where we are today.  Our strategy journey is illustrated in our 2020 document. It covers our focus on customers and improving our processes and systems.  The Cape Union Mart vision comes from our founder, Mr Krawitz, who founded the company in 1933 during the Depression. His vision revolved around three priorities:

  • Quality
  • Customer service every day
  • Development of people

The focus on these three aspects enabled Cape Union Mart to grow and be successful. With the right leadership anything is possible.

  1. Delivering results which create value:

As a leader you are more of an artist than a scientist. We have some great leaders who achieve results.  For example, the K-way factory manager is brilliant.  We invest in the future to make the company better.  Strong leaders see themselves at the bottom of the organisation, i.e. that they are there to serve and help people to be successful.  We have store leaders, not store managers. You manage things, but you lead people.  The focus on customer service is one of the most critical areas helping leaders at Cape Union Mart to deliver results.

  1. Living the values:

We have a strong culture at Cape Union Mart.  We focus on our values. For instance, we do not retrench people, we rather redeploy them and develop them for better times.  Sometimes we are disappointed by leaders, it is essential for leaders to do the right things on a day-to-day basis to ensure that we have satisfied customers.  Everything starts with respect for people.  Our philosophy for each employee is to be the best of yourself.  As someone once said: A business that focuses on profits first is a poor company.  If you do good, profit follows. One must have fun in the workplace.
You get four types of people in organisations:

  • Winners – they are star performers who go the extra mile and make things happen;
  • Cruisers – they take things easy by doing the minimum; but they have the potential to be winners
  • Unfit – they underperform and struggle to make things happen;
  • Terminators – they work against their colleagues and the company by spreading poison, they must go before they kill the company.

Our values are called TIP: Trust, Innovation, Passion and we lead our teams accordingly.  Thus, we need to break down barriers between departments.  Hierarchy and structure is not to control, but to emphasise accountabilities.  The right organisation culture is a key success factor for Cape Union Mart. As Tony Manning said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”   We use several cultural images to build and reinforce the culture such as TAVIS, “culture cookies” and songs we sing in the shops.  Culture is the collective IQ in the business, no one can copy it.  When people resign, we ask them to find a replacement who is better than them, and they have never disappointed us in finding people who are better than them.

  1. Influencing people:

The key to everything is people. People are fundamental to the success of the organisation. We have to consult with people.  Leaders also need to realise that people are different and we need to influence all employees working for Cape Union Mart.  Our leaders are encouraged to write little notes to their people, sometimes even for their families. Imagine the impact on a family when a senior leader writes a positive message to a family member of an employee, for example, how much they appreciate the good performance of the employee. Recognition means more than salary.  When an employee gets paid, he does not go home and tell his family he got paid. But when he gets recognition, he tells his family.   The small things such as notes are very important and this gesture makes a big difference to people and also the company.  We celebrate victories.
At Cape Union Mart we also learned how important it is to recruit people better.  Then people need to learn how to do things well. When people feel free, they perform.  We must free people to perform.  Likewise, teamwork is very important.  I believe you can’t motivate people, they motivate themselves. But leaders can inspire people to see the bigger picture and to perform at their best.  Previously we focused a lot on coaching, now we do more mentoring by sharing knowledge and skills.  I also send a personal email to staff, and I include quotes reinforcing key messages from our strategy.
For us, there are four critical things about people to consider: Ability, skills, attitude and performance. Developing and leveraging these four factors ensure that we set people up for success.  Applying our TIP philosophy helps us to build incredible people, an incredible company and incredible moments for all of us to perform.  But leaders must be real. If you really care, employees will care in return and give customers the best possible service.

  1. Reflecting for improvement:

Reflecting is about measurement to see how well we are performing as leaders, teams and the company at large.   As I said before, leaders must make time to think.  Every quarter the leadership team spends one day on reflecting and every year we take a two-day break-away to do serious in-depth reflection and planning.  As leaders we continuously have to ask questions and request feedback from our staff.  We also conduct a mini-360 assessment to obtain feedback from our team members.  I ask staff for the five most important expectations from me, and they have to score me.  It is then essential that I use this feedback for improvement.  When you ask for feedback, use this information and act on it. Don’t argue if they tell you something you don’t like or understand. Consider all opinions and use it for planning and improvement purposes.

André Labuschaigne is CEO of Cape Union Mart. He was the keynote speaker at the SABPP Western Cape launch of the Leadership Standard at the University of Stellenbosch Business School on 22 March 2018.

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