April 2017

Case Study: Saddle Creek Logistics Services

By Kristen Lowers

Each year Academy Leadership presents our Leadership Excellence Partner Award to client organizations that recognize the importance of leadership development as a key resource for continued outstanding performance and bottom line results. We are proud to announce Saddle Creek Logistics Services as one of our 2016 award winners.

Pictured: Dennis Haley, Kristen Lowers, and Jim Emerick

I started my career in sales/marketing and changed to technology ten years ago. I've worked in the food industry, healthcare, and now logistics as Director of IS, leading three technology teams with ten direct reports for Saddle Creek Logistics Services (SCLS).

SCLS is a third-party logistics provider founded in 1966 by David Lyons. We are a privately-held company headquartered in Lakeland, FL and are one of the largest family owned 3PL in the country, employing over 2800 full time associates. We have over 17 million square feet of warehouse space in 41 locations and own 550 tractors and 2000 trailers. Our services include warehousing, transportation, fulfillment and packaging. The biggest commodity that we handle is food/beverage. Some of our customers include Sam's, P&G, Lowes, Pepsi, Brother, Rack Room Shoes, and Arizona Tea. SCLS is committed to growing leadership bench strength and has been partnered with Academy Leadership for about four years now.

To me, leadership is simply enabling others to be the best they can be by providing motivation, direction, and vision. It's about putting others first, including your company, and adopting a servant attitude. Early in my career, I was exposed to some formal leadership training, including Meyer's Briggs. To my surprise, this personality test told me that I was an introvert. I could hardly believe it, but as I studied further, I found that it was true — posing as an extrovert all my life was what had been draining my energy! From that point on, I've always been a big advocate of continuous learning, especially in the area of leadership. I was introduced to Jim Emerick with Academy Leadership (AL) through a peer at SCLS and quickly signed up for the Leadership Excellence course. As everyone in the class does, I completed my pre-work and received the results of my E2L. The E2L is pure genius, it exposes traits in combinations that no other test does and truly gives you a picture of who you are and how you lead. I quickly signed the rest of my team up to take the test. The output included a team sheet with everyone's "colors" as well as a cheat sheet to how to best associate with each of us. That's when the revelation of revelations hit us and the leadership challenge began — I was leading a team of blue dominant people and I myself was blue blind. That means that I do not have a natural ability to read between the lines, expand on why we should do things, pick up on non-verbal communications that contradict verbal communications, etc. while my team is very strong in these areas and needs these things from me. Jim then coached me to help us plan how to close this blind spot. Improvements began immediately just from the fact that this was out in the open — my team understood who I was and I understood who they were and we were all able to adapt and better communicate.

Another piece of the solution that helped close this gap was the creation of the Personal Leadership Philosophy (PLP). As with all tools that we gain in course work, they need an action plan or they will stay in that class binder for all eternity and produce no fruit. I decided to turn my PLP into a piece of artwork, worthy of framing and displaying in my office. I even designed it such that the colors would complement the d├ęcor, but the important item to grasp is that it's a constant reminder of the leader that I want to be, sitting right there in my face. It is now a physical, tangible item that I can refer to when having conversations with associates as well as when I'm self-evaluating my performance as a leader. It holds me accountable.

After completing the Leadership Excellence Course, we organized an on-site workshop with my team. At the end of this workshop, I shared my PLP with the team for the first time. This exercise helped complement what we all learned in the E2L about our blue differences and showed the team what I was working on. It was a very positive experience and I concluded with an encouragement for each of them to start writing their PLP. They all did their own PLP, read in our staff meetings, and gave each other feedback and encouragement. This initiative has proven to be very beneficial to the team. Not only are they getting to express themselves and bring to light their expectations, operating principles and non-negotiables, but their leader and peers are getting a deeper dive into what drives them. This is aiding in our communications and team-building as we understand and help one another grow as leaders.

Setting expectations directly and clearly (and most importantly, in writing) allowed me to focus more on strategic initiatives rather than managing associates, as my PLP is like an extension of their handbook. The transparency of the PLP encourages discussion and feedback. How does one grow without feedback? It's impossible and one of the most valuable levels includes the people that are receiving your leadership.

When we saw the impact the PLP's were having on our teams, Jim and I planned another on-site workshop, but this time focusing on a need that the team brought up — feedback. We did some pre-work and read Thanks for the Feedback and Crucial Conversations. The result of the workshop was a team social contract to hold us accountable for what we learned including: 1) Ask for each others' opinions 2) Grow our safety zone 3) Solicit feedback.

Not only has Academy Leadership's techniques helped me become a better leader, but it has transformed many individuals and teams within our organization. Johari windows were introduced to SCLS as a way to learn how much you give and receive feedback. The department embraced this exercise and allowed their peers to rate them. They even requested a follow-up after a year had passed so that they could measure their individual growth. The results were eye-opening; as two associates saw tremendous progress, which has motivated them to continue their quest. One of these individuals is preparing for a leadership role, so this growth was essential for his toolkit. The leaders at SCLS have also used the Academy Leadership Boot Camps to send exceptional talent who are not quite sure if leadership is their career path. We've already had two of these associates promoted to managers, and another one is on the path to promotion. Utilizing these tools has really helped SCLS stack our leadership bench.

Jim continues to support our leadership initiatives by training our potential and current leaders as well as facilitating 360's and 1-1 coaching. Partnering with Academy Leadership is a strategic initiative; however, it has been utilized mostly within the IS department, so our next focus is sharing our successes with the rest of the organization so that they can learn and adopt these tools and opportunities. Our department has seen great growth, and would benefit further if those that we work with could relate on the same levels in which we now do. This broader partnership will help ensure that we continue to have a strong leadership team and provide formal training to ready the upcoming generation that will take our company to the next level.