May 19, 2020

Study: Why employee first means business first

Starbucks
research
servant leadership
Academy of Management Journal
Tomás H. Lucero
3 min
Study: Why employee first means business first

* This story was previously published as “Study turns notion of business leadership on its head, but do the ideas have any legs?” and is re-published with updated information

The University of Illinois’ school of business says that emphasizing service to employees instead of service from them, as an approach to leadership, can make a business more profitable instead of making it less competitive, among other benefits. The thesis is published and fleshed out in the article “Servant Leadership and Serving Culture: Influence on Individual and Unit Performance” in the Academy of Management Journal.

The study asserts that when bosses ask how they can help employees instead of how employees can help the bosses, in a “servant” leader style, customer happiness and job performance increase, and turnover decreases. As a result of fostering trust, caring, cooperation, fairness and empathy employees feel more valued, and in turn give more back to their bosses and customers, the paper explains.

The research is based on data and surveys collected from 1,000 employees of Jason’s Deli, a national restaurant chain, at 71 locations in 10 metropolitan areas. The investigators found that stores with “servant” leaders had higher job performance, customer satisfaction and, most importantly, higher sales. While this study is new, the idea is not. Robert K. Greenleaf was the first to coin the phrase “Servant Leadership” in the 1970’s.

According to Sandy Wayne Ph.D., one of the lead authors of this study, the leadership style of C-suite executives also creates a company’s organizational structure and employees at all levels respond in kind to it.  

“C-suite executives need to be aware that employees respond positively when executives take into consideration the concerns and needs of lower level employees.  So, although employees may not interact with C-suite executives, they do pay attention to executives' communications and their decisions…C-suite executives that focus on developing and meeting the needs of their employees find that profits will follow as those employees will ‘go above and beyond’ by exceeding performance expectations,” stated Wayne.

In addition to Jason’s Deli, another prominent corporation which has established a servant leader culture is, Starbucks, a world-renowned brand. In an interview with Greenleaf.org, Howard Behar, Starbucks president from 1995 until his retirement in 2003, suggests that if businesses are interested in serving customers, they need to serve their employees first.

“Why was instilling a culture of servant leadership important to you?” Greenleaf.org asked Behar.

“When I first started, Starbucks was still a small, entrepreneurial company that was very focused on its products and services. It wasn’t yet focused on the organization or people. I had been with much bigger companies before that and from those experiences, I had developed strong beliefs about the importance of employee engagement in building a successful business and lasting organization. Ultimately, I knew that how you treat your people is how they’ll treat your customers,” answered Behar.

For more information on implementing servant leadership, managers can visit www.greenleaf.org.

Related Story: Ten Critical Steps to Achieving Magnetic Leadership

Related Story: Three Leadership Styles You Need at the Top

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Jun 13, 2021

Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl

CMO
Kyndryl
IBM
Leadership
Kate Birch
5 min
Former CMO for IBM Americas Maria Bartolome Winans was recently named CMO for Kyndryl. Maria talks about her new role and her leadership style

Former Chief Marketing Officer for IBM Americas, and an IBM veteran of more than 25 years, Maria Bartolome Winans was recently named CMO for Kyndryl.

Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.

With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.

You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?

I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.

We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.

What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?

I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.

The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.

I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.

What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?

When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.

What does success look like to you?

I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.

What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?

I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.

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