What happens when you discover that the problem in your company is you?

March 22, 2021

AD CEO Bill Weisberg shares his personal journey with AD staff as the company starts its sixth cycle of the AD Way fundamentals.

Last week brought closure to our fifth cycle through the 34 AD Way fundamentals! We started 179 weeks ago, December 18th, 2017, sharing personal insights and stories regarding one fundamental a week, every workday of every week.

So, now I want to ask you something important.

Should we stop here, or should we keep going? Should we pat each other on the back for a job well done and call it a day; or should we roll up our sleeves once again and start anew?

I’m asking you.

You see, there’s no law that says we have to keep doing this. I checked our group’s By-Laws and Operating Agreement. There’s not a single word in either of them about it. And surely the world will keep spinning either way.

So, let’s say for a moment that stopping or continuing, whichever YOU prefer, is what we all have to do. What’s it going to be? Shall we stop or shall we keep on going? And how will you decide?

While you’re thinking about your answer, I’d like to share a little story.

I was 27 years old when I joined AD. It was a very small company back then. Member distributions were around $2 million (they are over $700 million now). Total company headcount was two. One of those two was my Dad. The other was his secretary. I learned a lot from Dad. But due to the size of the company, he didn’t have much opportunity to teach me about corporate culture or managing people. He’d mostly just talk on the phone with members and suppliers while his secretary fielded calls, processed remittances, and filed paperwork. And inasmuch as Dad and I didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things (shocking, I know), “The AD Way” wasn’t always pretty to behold.

I was 35 when I became the CEO. The company had grown a good bit in the years leading up to that. I think maybe we were up to eight people. Member distributions were $28 million. I was good at most of what I had to do as CEO. Some things came easy to me. Other things, less so. Frankly, I still didn’t know much about managing people or culture. In my view, the shortest and fastest path from Point A to Point B was always the best path. Too bad for those standing in the way.

The company grew a lot taking that aggressive approach. We launched new programs and services. We expanded into new industries and countries. Remittances and distributions shot up. Big time. But man did we turn over a lot of people. Good people, too.

Why were we losing good people? Because our culture was bad. People worked in silos, hoarded information and were afraid to speak openly. Some folks openly mistreated others, without consequences. The pay and benefits at AD were good. The environment left a lot to be desired.

What was the problem? The problem was me. My focus on generating results was out of balance with a proper focus on other people and culture. My drive to get “there” was costing us good people who were helping us get us there and needed to stay there.

Exactly how I came to realize this is a story I’ll tell you some other day. Suffice it to say that when I realized it, I went to work on fixing it.

There are a lot of things we did to turn the culture around at AD and a lot of people who work in the company who deserve the real credit. Associates, just like you, who told us where we needed to improve through direct feedback and anonymous surveys. Other associates who built and carried out action plans based on the feedback shared. Managers who took training and increased their focus on associate training and development. An associate committee that met regularly to guide us into becoming a Top Place to Work (and is still meeting). And last, but not least, we came together to craft and learn The AD Way, so that we’d all know how we ought to treat others and how we expected to be treated in return.

Has all this made a difference? You bet. Let me share a telling statistic. Back before we started this journey only 60% of the people who worked at AD reported that they would recommend working at AD to others. Today, that number is 93%.

But what about our operating results? Has our increased focus on people and culture made us less effective in getting from Point A to Point B? Hardly. Over the last five years (including 2020) member purchases from AD suppliers have grown by $2.5 Billion and net distributions to members have grown by $200 Million. That’s 9% and 8% growth on a compounded annual basis, respectively.

This change in focus has resulted in AD earning Top Place To Work recognition from our own Associates each of the last two years, lowered employee turnover, increased our ability to attract amazing talent, improved the quality of our working lives and generated record operating results year after year. It’s quite the case study on the power of this week’s fundamental. “Do What’s Best for Others.”

So, let’s get back to the question I asked you near the top of this message.

Should we stop teaching and learning the AD Way; or should we keep on going?