In my last post I linked to my piece on the psychological challenges of culture change published in Dialogue Review.
One of the items left on the cutting room floor and not published with the article was an interview with an Elliott Davis Decosimo client, David White, then-President of Shealy Electrical Wholesalers. David was kind enough to respond to some questions about the challenges he experienced with Shealy’s own culture change. Since I found his responses insightful, I’m posting the interview in two parts so that others can read his experiences. I’ll post Part II on Tuesday.
At the time of the interview, Shealy Electrical Wholesalers, Inc., established in 1945, was a $225 million supplier of electrical products and services to customers in the construction, industrial MRO and OEM, utility, retail national account and international contracting segments. Shealy was a closely held S-corp with 18 locations throughout the Carolinas and 340 full time employees. (Shealy is now with Border States Electric, an ESOP company in North Dakota, and Doug is Executive Vice President there.)
What strengths does your company have — what does it do well?
We have developed a culture that manages rapid changes well – we are able to identify a new opportunity (customer segment, product segment, customer, product, etc.) in the marketplace and have the ability to quickly engage, make a decision and execute a plan to take advantage of that opportunity. We are not afraid of taking a risk or trying something new.
We have a well communicated strategic/shareholder vision supported by specific, achievable long and short term initiatives. The organization, from top to bottom, has embraced the vision and strategy.
We have a strong, well-respected brand in our market, and long lasting relationships with some of the most coveted customers and suppliers in the industry.
What weaknesses does your company have — what might it do better?
We, at times, have a tendency to be more opportunistic than strategic with sales – we will shoot at anything we see rather than act intentionally with our strategy and selectively with our efforts.
What one or two major instances of culture change has your company experienced?
We’ve grown from 3 to 18 locations in the past 12 years and have built a matrixed sales organization that requires the leadership to trust one another and to work collaboratively. We expect the organization to act as “one Shealy” and not 18 independently managed business units. The combination of rapid, intense growth and the different structure has involved significant culture shift.
As we’ve grown we have developed more managers and a larger leadership team. These managers had a wider range of responsibility when they worked in smaller organizations — they pursued a wide variety of activities. One challenge for those managers at Shealy is to learn to work with a more limited range of responsibility.
What were the primary challenges of that culture change?
A matrixed organization requires trust and collaboration – leaders must be selfless and put the interests of the customer, supplier, and fellow associate in front of their own.
Trust takes time to develop, particularly when you’re an acquisitive organization that is continually bringing into the company new leaders and ideas with each acquisition.