The fountain of youth.
PINK CADILLACS, GOLDEN RULES, AND GUMBO POTS
RICHARD C. BARTLETT, VICE CHAIRMAN, MARY KAY CORP.; CHIEF EXECUTIVE, RICHMONT GROUP
A 22-year veteran of Mary Kay Cosmetics, Dick Bartlett, 60, is a self-described lifetime learner, a fan of benchmarking, an advocate of change, a believer in personal growth, and a well-known champion of the mentoring system. "My personal metaphor for life," he says, "is a gumbo pot. The right kind of gumbo pot can absorb all kinds of different flavors and textures and can last, literally, forever. It can even take things that are normally inedible or indigestible, or things in life that are not pretty to look at and that we all have to contend with. Life should be added to, enriched, not narrowly focused. I think a life as only a French pastry would be a very shallow life indeed."
Taking that philosophy to the organizational level, here's how he explains what drives Mary Kay Corp. - with its 375,000 beauty consultants and directors, and the 7,000 current participants in the company's "Pink Cadillac Program."
On being a learning organization: Ten years ago, we took ourselves private in a management-led leveraged buyout. At that time, we had sales of around $250 million. We were still a small company, but we were getting to the size that requires a more professional approach to management. We had created systems that made it hard to introduce new products and generally hard to change. We were stagnating. In 1986, we were performing below our forecast to the bank, and things were tense. We realized then that we weren't as efficient, and we didn't know as much, as we thought. The concept of a learning organization was appealing, simply because we had so much to learn to regain our health and become competitive.
We also saw continuous learning as the way to escape the life cycle that seems to affect so many organizations - from birth, to youth, to maturity, to decline. We want to avoid that progression. We want to stay young and have the feeling around here of a small, entrepreneurial organization, even though we're now a billion-dollar operation. The way organizations remain young is to keep learning continuously. We try to approach every problem in a sort of youthful, childlike way, which means being receptive to new things.
On encouraging learning within the learning organization: It begins with a clear, simple, and powerful vision. I think we need harmony and balance in our lives to be receptive to learning and change. Mary Kay Ash developed the core values of our company 32 years ago. She simply states that you must put your faith in your family before your career. People who understand that are equipped to commit to their organizations and will invest in the learning process.
Second, the leader has to lead change. Around here, we teach change as a way of life. We try to make the notion of continuous change readily accepted by the entire organization.
Third, we pay attention to the ongoing development of the organization and of individuals in line with the organization's goals. I've long been a disbeliever in personnel evaluations. I really don't want to be sitting around appraising people and having them work out of fear that they won't be properly evaluated. I'd rather have individuals thinking about how they can develop their own skills. Should that development give them skills we can't apply at Mary Kay, or that make them more valuable in the outside world, that's fine.
On managing the flow of information: Most companies are overwhelmed by the amount of information they have access to or can generate. In addition, there is great confusion about whether information is knowledge or information is wisdom. It's neither. It's just information, which can clog your system, make it nonfunctional, cause it to freeze up from just too much data. Then there's a great cost associated with disseminating too much information. The older I've gotten, the more I've realized that information is definitely not knowledge.
Of course, a well-managed company must be able to extract the key information that becomes wisdom for the corporation. But what is the real purpose of most information systems? It's to get a product to market. It's to serve customers - either internal or external - of the company, and to make you fast and reactive, quick to market or quick to respond to customer-service demands.
On recognition: We recognize people for mentoring others. We recognize people for teaching ability. To be chosen to teach in our training programs or to lead a seminar at our annual sales meetings before 58,000 people ranks among the highest honors in the company. Another top honor is called the "Go-Give Award," after a concept of Mary Kay's. These awards go to people who do the best job of sharing a new idea or a new way of doing something. Rather than have the competitiveness of our employees directed solely at personal gain, we have it serving broader purposes.
ONCE A TEACHER . . .
GERALDINE LAYBOURNE, PRESIDENT, NICKELODEONE/NICK AT NITE; VICE CHAIRMAN, MTV NETWORKS
A former elementary school teacher and co-founder of The Media Center for Children, Geraldine Laybourne, 48, joined Nickelodeon in 1980, specializing in children's programming. In 1985, she led the team that founded Nick at Nite; four years later she became the network's president. Under her leadership, Nickelodeon has become the most-watched basic cable network in the U.S., with 300 employees, a studio facility in Florida, an animation facility in Los Angeles, a channel in the U.K., and channels being launched in Australia and Germany. Nickelodeon operates by three simple precepts: Kids TV should put kids first; what's good for kids is also good for business; and if everybody says it won't work, that's a sign to give it a try.
On being a teacher: You can't ever get the teacher out of someone. A lot of the way I manage has to do with what I learned as a teacher: individualizing instruction and trying to find people's strengths. It has been a challenge to figure out how you make sure you get your talent doing the right jobs, as opposed to spending 80 percent of the time trying to get better at things they're not good at.
On being a learning organization: In the early days, it was pretty easy to be a learning organization. We had just 20 people, and we made decisions out in the open, with everybody involved. Whenever we had a mistake or a problem, it was easy to use that as a learning exercise. Now, of course, our business is much more complicated.
Our biggest [learning] initiative just started: Nick U. The basis of the curriculum is a diagnostic tool, a list of about 25 things we think everybody at Nickelodeon needs to know. One of the first involves "putting kids first." If an employee can't commit to that, he or she doesn't belong here.
Nick U. is organized around Nick Elementary, Nick Secondary School, Nick College, and Nick Graduate School. I have something on the secondary level and something on the graduate level that I need to work on. Other people may have more things on the elementary level they need to do. The premise is that learning is never finished. That's what a learning organization is all about. If you think you know what you're doing, you're dead. If it ain't broke, fix it anyway.
On listening to kids: We focus on brainstorming techniques and role modeling. Right now, we're launching a whole new business. We're bringing in kids as part of the research. Kids are great at helping us break out of the box, because they never know what their box is.
We use kids' input in many ways. I think the most exciting are the ideation sessions. We go in with very little on our plates and just talk to the kids and ask them what they'd like to see. We put producers in the room and have brainstorming sessions. These are fabulous; the producers behave oh-so-much better when there are kids around.
We also have an online research program with kids. This enables us to have casual conversations with kids all the time about what they're doing, what they're worried about, what they care about. After the Oklahoma City bombing, we were online the next afternoon. We learned a couple of things. One was that kids desperately wanted to know how could they help. Second, they were phenomenally disturbed because there were kids involved. In two days we had a special on the air featuring Linda Ellerbee and a psychiatrist. We listed organizations kids could send money to, and we had our kids writing letters to kids in Oklahoma City. So kids really felt like they could do something to help out.
On the role of architecture: We recently moved to a new space. Previously, our headquarters was basically the same model as a lawyer's office. When we moved, we turned everything inside out. Our quarters are set up almost like a campus. I sit in the open with the head of the television network and the head of business. There's lots of open space, and space dedicated to particular functions. We have a focus-group room. We have a war room, where we have all of our competitors' schedules on the board with darts that we can throw at them. There are four lobbies where people can sit and informally pitch ideas or talk. Working here I feel about 10 years younger. People approach me in a way they didn't when I was cloistered in the corner office. I'm asked questions on the fly that otherwise would have waited for a meeting for two weeks.
There's a feeling that this is a high-energy place. By working in this space, employees can't help but feel that this is a different kind of business. They're in a place with a different heart.
On learning tools: Every six weeks we have a staff meeting that is very much a show-and-tell. Here's the product we're putting out. Here's what we're doing. Here's what's going on. As part of Nick U., we've developed a list of learning tools for employees, so that they know there is a variety of ways to learn. The list includes everything from field trips, to classroom instruction, to project work that is individualized and supervised, to guest lectures, to mentoring situations. We also have video lectures, conversations with Nick internal experts, a summer reading program, university partnerships, and team learning. The archive of mistakes is my personal favorite. We also have an archive of successes.
On learning from mistakes: We make mistakes all the time. Our attitude is, get your mistakes out so that we can all learn from them. And there's a lot of joy in feeling your way through a mistake.
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|Title Annotation:||The Mandate for Learning: Case Studies; youthfulness at Mary Kay Corp. and Nickelodeon Nick at Nite|
|Publication:||Chief Executive (U.S.)|
|Date:||Jul 1, 1995|
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