In 1981 I joined Monarch Marking Systems as their president. This subsidiary of Pitney Bowes was the leader in price-marking equipment used by retailers. But scannable bar codes had just come out, so price-marking equipment might become obsolete. I was stoked by this strategic challenge!
Monarch had wisely reinvented itself as a bar code printer company and had just introduced a clunky machine the size of a small desk. It was a disaster. The next logical step was to develop a tabletop version, but Monarch’s visionary VP of Research & Development, Bud Klein, suggested we develop the world’s first hand-held bar code printer. The development cycle for such a leapfrog product was three years. Bud proposed we radically empower a cross-functional team of volunteers to launch this breakthrough product in eighteen months.
We solicited volunteers and located them in special quarters off-site. I delegated to the team all my authority as president as long as they operated by our shared values. It was the biggest challenge of their careers and their buzz was electric. Bud Klein delegated up to me the job of running interference at “corporate” because we launched this program without proper approvals. We couldn’t wait and corporate howled.
Eighteen months later, the team launched the “Pathfinder,” the world’s first handheld bar code printer. It set the industry standard and became the most successful product in the company’s history.
No one on the team wanted to return to their old ways of working. So, we reinvented Monarch, and deployed such radically empowered teams everywhere. The culture at Monarch caught fire. People were joyful and proud of their accomplishments, realizing they could achieve incredible results.
At Monarch, I experienced the incredible capabilities that often lay latent within people. Amazing results can be achieved if you create the right environment for people to soar.
To what degree is the environment in your team unleashing the latent potential of your colleagues? Consider where you could create radically empowered teams.
Mastering the art of leadership means creating the environment where people can soar.
Bob Vanourek is co-author, with his son Gregg, of Triple Crown Leadership.