Scott DiGiammarino is the CEO of MovieComm, a technology company that helps leaders lead through the power of movie clips.
Prior to MovieComm, Scott was a senior executive at American Express. During his tenure, he turned around one of the worst performing offices and achieved the top ranked spot in a year, then held that spot for 20 years. He grew the business significantly, and in the process, applied creative solutions to motivate and engage a geographically distributed, expanding, and increasingly younger workforce.
Turning Around a Culture from Ground Zero - The Challenges
When Scott was promoted to run the D.C. office of American Express in 1992, it was ranked 173rd out of 176 offices. “Think about the worst environment in the history of mankind. That’s what I walked into.”
Scott had three big challenges to overcome:
There were no systems in place.
Leaders didn’t matter (and there weren’t many leaders). They weren’t seen as adding value.
Employees were negative, not committed, and without a common purpose.
The culture simply needed to change. Creating an engaged workforce required buy-in based on a clear vision and shared principles and values. But it also took ongoing communication and measurement around the heartbeat of the organization to set things in motion and sustain momentum.
This transformation led Scott to achieve the top ranked spot in just a year.
You Can’t Do What You’ve Always Done - Motivating the Millennial Workforce
Following this success, Scott’s roles and responsibilities grew. Within a six year period, he went from one office to 207, 32 people to 1600, and three leaders under him to well over 100. With more people and offices to manage, he was also dealing with the challenges of a diversified workforce who didn’t engage and learn in the same ways.
His employees were getting younger and younger and, as a result, he had leaders that were less tenured. These Millennials demanded a different form of training and motivation than those before them. Three-hour classes, four times a week, weren’t going to cut it any more.
”It was an entirely different generation that demanded to be trained, engaged, motivated, and communicated to differently than how I was trained. So we had to pivot to address this, because if we didn't, we were going to lose all of them. And as you know, In a world where attention is everything, if you start losing people that's not good for your environment or your culture.”
To solve this problem, Scott decided to be creative – he applied his passion for movies as way to motivate them in a fundamentally different way.
Through a weekly email campaign, Scott would include a short statement about a particular theme reflecting his principles and values (something like Courage), a short movie clip that was related to the theme (e.g. a Braveheart clip may be used for the Courage email), and a request for employees to share their own stories related to the theme.
The outpouring of responses (2-300 responses every week) reflected personal and emotional stories not even related to the business. By sharing a few of those stories with the rest of the organization, Scott was able to foster a culture of caring and facilitate a deeper feeling of connectivity amongst his employees. His goal of making these principles come alive and be embraced was realized.
“It built a lot of transparency in the organization. Transparency leads to trust, and when you are in a trusting environment that genuinely cares about one another, I think you can do great things – and that's what we proved.”
The success in impacting thousands of people at AMEX was incredibly fulfilling. Yet it was his desire to impact millions of people that ultimately led him to start MovieComm. We learn about Scott's entrepreneurial journey and the making of MoveiComm in Part 2 of this episode.
To be a an effective leader, one that matters and is relevant, you have to create a clear and compelling vision that gets everyone aligned and committed.
“If they don’t understand why they're doing what they're doing, there's no reason in the world why they're going to give their best efforts”
Make sure your people understand what the company stands for – its principles and values. That will ultimately help them make principle-based decisions by themselves.
Be engaged and in tune with your workforce just as much as you expect them to be engaged with your organization. The way you go about doing that may have to change based on the way they best learn and connect with you.
Embrace change – apply creativity. Don’t let your fear or inertia stop you from taking action.
Ongoing communication and assessment of your organization is critical. You can’t manage for improvement what you can’t measure.
Great leaders genuinely care about the people that they lead – and they show it.
To create a high performing organization, it’s important to invest in development of your leaders. Not everyone is going to be in the top 10% so you have to train and elevate them so they can tap into their true potential.