Tuesday, September 23 - For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations (2015)

For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations (2015)

Chapter 18

• Tuesday, September 23

The next morning, I’m driving into work at 6:30 a.m. for Steve’s IT leadership off-site. He’s calling it an off-site, even though the meeting is in Building 2.

Earlier this morning, I padded softly into Grant and Parker’s rooms to say goodbye. Watching Parker sleep, I kissed him and whispered softly, “Sorry that daddy couldn’t take you on an adventure today. It was your turn, but Daddy has to go back to work. This weekend, I promise.”

This better be worth it, Steve.

The meeting is in the corporate boardroom. Walking onto the fifteenth floor, I still can’t believe how different it is than all the other buildings.

Chris, Wes, and Patty are already here, all holding coffee cups and plates full of pastries.

Patty barely acknowledges my presence.

Wes greets me loudly, saying sarcastically, “Hey, Bill. Nice to see you. I hope you don’t quit again today.”

Thanks, Wes.

Chris acknowledges me with an understanding smile, rolling his eyes and making the motions of getting a beer. I nod and smile, and turn to the back of the room.

My mood brightens when I see the Vandal Doughnuts in back, and I start loading up my paper plate. As I’m trying to decide whether having six doughnuts on my plate is a breach of social protocol, I feel a hand clap me on my shoulder.

It’s Steve. “Good to see you again, Bill. I’m glad you’re here.” Looking down at my overflowing plate, he laughs loudly. “Why not just take the entire platter with you?”

“Good idea. Glad to be here,” I reply.

Erik takes a seat right across from me, saying, “Morning, Bill.” Behind him is a large suitcase that he had lugged in.

I squint at the suitcase. The last time I saw a suitcase without wheels was in my mother’s attic twenty years ago.

Erik’s hair is dripping wet, soaking the shoulders of his denim shirt.

Was he running late this morning and had to run out of his hotel without drying his hair? Or does he look like this every morning?

Where exactly did Steve find this guy?

“Good morning,” Steve says, addressing the room. “First, I appreciate everyone making it here so early. Especially since I know that you and your teams have been working incredibly long hours over the last two weeks.”

“Ha!” Erik snorts. “That’s probably the understatement of the century.”

Everyone laughs nervously, going to extra lengths to not make eye contact with anyone else.

Steve smiles sadly. “I know that the last couple of weeks have been harrowing. I now realize just how much responsibility I bear for all of this. Not just for the Phoenix disaster, but everything leading up to the audit issues, the customer invoicing and inventory failures over the last couple of days, and the trouble we’re having with the auditors.”

He stops, obviously distraught and needing a moment to compose himself.

Is he tearing up?

Now here’s a side of Steve you don’t see every day. What the heck happened to Steve after I left?

He puts down an index card that he’s been holding, shrugs his shoulders and gestures to Erik. “Erik described the relationship between a CEO and a CIO as a dysfunctional marriage. That both sides feel powerless and held hostage by the other.”

His fingers worry at the card. “There are two things I’ve learned in the last month. One is that IT matters. IT is not just a department that I can delegate away. IT is smack in the middle of every major company effort we have and is critical to almost every aspect of daily operations.”

He says, “I know that right now, nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important to the company’s success than how this leadership team performs.

“The second thing I’ve learned is that my actions have made almost all our IT problems worse. I turned down Chris and Bill’s requests for more budget, Bill’s request for more time to do Phoenix right, and micromanaged things when I wasn’t getting the results I wanted.”

Steve then looks at me. “The person I wronged the most was Bill. He told me things that I didn’t want to hear, and I shut him down. In hindsight, he was completely right, and I was completely wrong. And for that, Bill, I’m very sorry.”

I see Wes’ jaw drop open.

Completely embarrassed, I merely say, “All water under the bridge now. Like I said to you yesterday, Steve, apology not expected, but appreciated.”

Steve nods and looks at his card for several moments. “The huge challenges ahead of us will require an outstanding team operating at their absolute best. Yet, we don’t completely trust one another. I know that I am partially to blame, but that needs to end now.

“Over the weekend, I thought back on my career, which as you may know, could end at any moment, as my board has made clear. I know that my most rewarding times were always when I was part of a great team. That goes for both my professional and personal life.

“A great team doesn’t mean that they had the smartest people. What made those teams great is that everyone trusted one another. It can be a powerful thing when that magic dynamic exists.

Steve continues, “One of my favorite books about team dynamics is Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni. He writes that in order to have mutual trust, you need to be vulnerable. So, I’m going to tell you a little about myself and what makes me tick. And then I’m going to ask you to do the same.

“It may make you uncomfortable, but it’s part of what I need from you as leaders. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the livelihood of the nearly four thousand Parts Unlimited employees and their families. I don’t take that responsibility lightly, and you shouldn’t either.”

Oh, shit. That’s another part of “management off-sites” I forgot about. Touchy-feely crap.

Steve ignores the skyrocketing tension in the room as everyone, like me, puts up their deflector shields. “My family was dirt poor, but I’m extremely proud to be the first one to actually make it to college. No one before me made it out of high school. Growing up in rural Texas, my parents worked in a cotton mill. During the summers, my brothers and I were too young to work there, so we’ d pick cotton in the fields.”

People picked cotton in the last century? I quickly do the math in my head, wondering if this was possible.

“So there I am, on top of the world at the University of Arizona. My parents don’t have money to pay tuition, so I find a job at a copper mine.

“I don’t know if OSHA existed back then, but if they visited that mine, they would have shut it down. It was dangerous and filthy.” He points at his left ear, saying, “I lost most of my hearing in this ear when some explosives went off too close to me.

“I finally get my first big break when I land a job at a pipe manufacturing plant, helping with equipment maintenance. This is the first job where I’m paid to think.

“I study management, and more than anything, I want to go into sales after college. From what I see at the plant, those sales guys have the best jobs in the world. They get paid to wine and dine clients, and they travel from city to city, seeing what all the best factories are doing.”

Steve shakes his head ruefully. “But that’s not how it turns out. To help pay for school, I join ROTC where I get my first glimpse of what kids from middle-class America are like. And it means that after college, instead of going to work in industry, I have to fulfill my obligations to the US Army, which is where I discover my love for logistics. I make sure materials get to where they need to. Soon, I have a reputation of being the go-to guy when you really need just about anything.”

I’m riveted. Steve’s a good storyteller.

“But it’s hard being a poor country hick, surrounded by people from privileged families. I feel like I need to prove myself to everyone. I’m twenty-five years old, and I still have fellow officers constantly calling me dumb and slow because of my accent and upbringing…” he says, as his voice cracks slightly.

“It makes me even more determined to prove myself. After nine years, I’m ready to leave the Army after a distinguished career. Right before I’m discharged, my commanding officer tells me something that changes my life.

“He says that although I’ve gotten consistently high ratings over the years, without exception, none of the people who served under me would want to work with me again. He tells me that if there were an Asshole of the Decade Award, I’d win by a wide margin. And that if I want to make something of myself, I need to get this fixed.”

In the corner of my eye, I see Wes roll his eyes at Chris, who pointedly ignores him.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Steve says, nodding at Wes. “But it’s one of the most crushing moments of my life, and I realize that I’ve made a critical mistake in how I was living my life, betraying my own values.

“Over the next three decades, I became a constant student of building great teams that really trust one another. I did this first as a materials manager, then later as a plant manager, as head of Marketing, and later, as head of Sales Operations. Then twelve years ago, Bob Strauss, our CEO at the time, hired me to become the new COO.”

Steve exhales slowly, rubbing his face, suddenly looking very tired and old. “Somehow, I’ve made the wrong turn again, just like I did in the Army. I’ve become that person I promised myself I’d never be again.”

He stops talking and looks around the room. The silence goes on for a long time as we watch him stare out the window. The bright sun is starting to stream in through the conference room windows.

Steve says, “We have big problems in front of us that we need to fix. Erik is right. IT is not just a department. IT is a competency that we need to gain as an entire company. And I know that if we can reforge ourselves into a great team, where we can all trust one another, we can succeed.”

He then says, “Are you guys willing to do what it takes to help create a team where we can all trust one another?”

Steve looks around the table. I see that everyone is looking back at him with rapt attention.

The silence lengthens uncomfortably.

Chris is the first to speak. “I’m in. Working in a screwed up team sucks, so if you’re offering to help fix it, I’m all for it.”

I see Patty and Wes also nodding, and then everyone turns to look at me.