Putting people first: an antidote to friction

In recent years, I’ve had the chance to speak to a lot of high-level leaders. Some dive right into an authentic discussion of their values and purpose — others struggle and have even stopped the interview. Few, however, have shown the level of authenticity and openness that I saw with MiTek’s Chairman and CEO, Mark Thom

MiTek is a Berkshire Hathaway company that leads a large team around the world. Their focus is on providing integrated software and engineering for construction worldwide — with an emphasis on off-site building methods. Since Mark took the helm, he has kept the billion-dollar company on its trajectory of consistent growth and thriving company culture. 

Opening up right away, Mark was straightforward about his faith which informs his leadership. As Mark offered, these beliefs have led him to focus on people’s unique gifts as “wonderfully made human beings.” It is through this that he has developed his people-first methodology. 

In hearing Mark’s philosophy and learning more about MiTek’s continued success, I found that his method of change is born out of the strong need to be effective and sustainable. His method offers an antidote to the friction that organizational change brings with it. 

I sat down with Mark to pick his brain on the way high performing organizations follow through with change and overcome the friction that comes with it. And, according to Mark, these are the 4 most important ways to solve the friction change causes in organizations. 

If you want to change, change your beliefs 

“Out of a person’s beliefs emanate all of their actions.”

Mark Thom

Whenever leaders are looking for a change, that means something isn’t quite right. The organization is not everything it could be. Here, Mark offers strong guidance, as he points out that whenever things aren’t as they could be we have to look at the beliefs that got you to where you are. 

“Our beliefs are our core ideas that guide everything we do.” As Mark pointed out, “What you believe is what you act on — not what you say you believe. So, if we find that we aren’t everything we want to be, we have to take a hard look at our beliefs.”

This was a realization Mark had as a young leader quickly ascending the corporate ladder. It was during this time he experienced a transformation in his own world view that led to a major change in his leadership and outcomes. 

Form deep relationships

Change is a daunting process. For someone to lead people through change, they have to trust you — and to trust you, you have to form deep relationships. 

As Mark assumed the role of CEO at MiTek in 2017, he was struck with the significance and daunting nature of his role. About his large team, he recalled thinking, ‘I’m supposed to lead all of you and I don’t even know you.’

This helped Mark realize that “how you see people is how you lead people.”  If you treat your team impersonally, you’ll never access their full potential. But, when you see your team as unique individuals, with gifts that can be harnessed, you’re much more likely to get the best from your people.  This means granting your team the autonomy and resources they need to do their jobs well: “liberate them to do what they’re gifted to do.” 

Now, several years into this role, other senior leaders have noted that he is in fellowship with the 6,700 people that he leads around the world. 

Treat your organization as an organism

An organization is fundamentally made up of people — living, breathing human beings. When leaders forget this, they begin to treat organizations like machines to be fixed — and the individuals within it as cogs. This may have short term expediency but often backfires. As Mark offered, “people vote with their feet” — when you leave your team dissatisfied, they leave. 

Like an organism, an organization has to be nurtured as it grows — tending to its growth along the way. This means that you can’t ignore the ground level problems and that you have to be in tune with daily operational realities.

Stay the course

“Maturity is not being swayed by emotions or feelings — but sticking to your compass.”

Mark Thom

Mature leaders understand that if they’re going to make and sustain change, they can’t be swayed by fleeting concerns. 

It may seem obvious, or easier said than done, but when leaders choose a direction, they need to stay the course. Too often, in the heat of things, it can be easy to abandon your values and forget your purpose for short term benefits. But it’s these values that help leaders keep their direction through uncertainty.  

The Takeaway

When leaders are looking to make a sustainable change to their organizations, they need to take a hard look at the core of their culture. They need to examine what guides their actions, the relationships they form, the way they treat their teams, and the direction they’re headed. 

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