How to Build and Lead High Performing Teams with Christie Wilmer

LS International

I’ve always admired people that are able to get the most out of teams, especially when these are formed by people of different backgrounds, ages, nationalities, or even goals in life. This curiosity to understand great leadership and management skills, brought me to invite Christie Wilmer as a guest on the Career Success Podcast. Christie is a commercial leader that’s worked for the likes of Philip Morris, Pepsico and Kelloggs, managing big teams and customers. She was also recognized as one of the Top women in Grocery by Top Grocer in 2016.

Topics covered on this Podcast

  • How to assess talent
  • Keeping team’s motivation up
  • Leading high performing groups
  • Assessing the results of these actions

Daniel: Great people management and leadership is one of the most sought-after and yet hard to crack skills. I’ve always personally admired people that are able to get the most out of teams, which are predominantly formed by people of different backgrounds, ages, nationalities and even goals in life. This curiosity has brought me to invite Christie Wilmer as a guest to the podcast today. Christie is a strong commercial leader that’s worked for the likes of Philip Morris, Pepsico, Kellogg’s, managing big teams and customers. She was also recognized as one of the top women in grocery by a Top Grocer in 2016. With Christie, I’m going to try to crack how one individual can motivate the whole team and get the most out of it.
Hi Christie. Thanks for joining us today. How are you?

Christie: I am well Daniel. Thanks so much for having me.

Daniel: It’s a pleasure and, as I said in the introduction before, people leadership management is a challenging one. But let’s go to the start, actually, because I know that you’ve entered positions where you found the team there and when you enter a management position like this, how do you actually assess the talent that you have in that team?

Christie: Sure. Thanks, Daniel.
Well, I’ll start by saying that I’m a big believer that one of the most important things you can do in a new leadership position is get the right people in the right seats and once this is done, results will follow, but this takes time. So, getting back to your question when entering a new leadership assignment, there’s really, you know, three things I’m going to tackle in the first 90 days. So, the first is, I’m going to dive into the team and individual results but I’m also going to observe behavior. So simply put, is the individual or team delivering against objectives? For example, our revenue and profit goals being achieved, is performance being effectively managed? Some organizations link this back to the what and the how. I’m also going to, from an observation perspective, look at: are the values of the company being upheld? Are they being demonstrated day-to-day? And then, you know, finally, is there trust within the team and are they accountable and do gaps exist within this area? And the reason why I hone in here is because trust and accountability are two skills most commonly found in high-performing teams.

Daniel: Yes

Christie: So second, I’m going to ask a lot of questions. So it’s important to hear from the team at large where possible by asking all employees if possible or employee groups and larger teams, a handful as simple questions and they need to be consistent. They could be as simple or basic as what are working, what’s not working and maybe a third that you’re curious about. What you’ll find very quickly is that there are common themes or threads that rise to the top, that are going to provide a lens on what the opportunities are within the team and what the strengths are within the team and that then helps you prioritize areas where you should invest time in your first 120 days. And I’d also suggest during this time to understand the why behind the way things are being done so you’re not dismantling things that are effective or important to the team culture because you certainly don’t want to create any unnecessary headwinds to create that high-performing team.

Daniel: Okay.

Christie: And the third is it’s simple but it’s a lot of listening and there’s a couple ways to-do this but I typically have my direct reports are functions update me on the business and organization as I enter new assignment. And of course, this is going to bring clarity to their work but it also provides insight into their skill sets and I’ll also through different forums like staff meetings or team meetings, one-on-ones, customer engagements and the like, assess through listening.
So at the end of 90 days, the picture is typically clear on what priorities need to be executed to begin working towards managing a high-performing team. And then what also happens is you’ll have a line of sight on if you the right players on the team and what you may do, what you might need to do in terms of managing performance if necessary.

Daniel: Okay, and actually once you’re in that team, you’re managing it, you see a different talent, the caliber that you have within. What are your actual top three tools to keep this team motivated?

Christie: Yeah, sure. Well and this has become increasingly important as employers expect more from their employees today than they have in the past.

Daniel: Okay.

Christie: This is a subject I’m sure you’re, you know, very familiar with in your role.

Daniel: I am.

Christie: I’ll lead by saying that the backbone of the three tools I’m going to talk about today must be communication and the more the better, of course.

Daniel: Okay.

Christie: But the first is, the creation of a game plan and this establishes the vision for the team in the mission or, you can think about it like a road map, and that the benefit of this is that, this document will clearly define the business and organizational priorities. And this is different than “what are my objectives for the year?”. This is going to lay out what’s going to happen over the next year plus from a priority perspective. And the team creates the tactics and action plans that will be executed and the team then further engages by committing themselves to the execution of the action plan for the year. So they buy in, they enlist in forming a team to ensure that action plan gets executed and they’re accountable for progress along the way updates and the benefit of this is that this process creates buy it and enlist the team. So, the first is critical in terms of vision, priorities, “this will be the game plan”.
Two is celebrating success through a recognition system. You know, first and foremost, this allows the team to see the impact of their work and, you know, from my early days in my career I think I made a mistake of thinking recognition had to be formal and elaborate, expensive, resource-intensive and my teams taught me over the years that this is you know really not the case. What’s more important is you know the process, the consistency, the frequency in which the team can really rely on that you’re going to deliver that, it becomes ingrained in your culture. So, I just– I’ll share some ideas..

Daniel: Yeah, go for it.

Christie: Yeah. So, if you think about recognition and you want to put a process in place from a monthly perspective, recognizing wins and goals from a monthly perspective are important and you can do that through an informal team gathering or a webinar depending upon how big your team is. You can host small lunches. You can supplement through monthly newsletters, cascading on video monitors. I’ve seen really great recognition through pulling together peer recognition where peers recognize one another; that’s been very successful. And also doing still the company’s values are being met; quarterly value recognition awards also instill that you’re operating in the how and the right way which I think is fantastic.
Finally, I would say celebrating with the team after, you know, big meeting and a big accomplishment, something that you’ve been working on for a long time works great. But you know, these ideas aren’t necessarily new or really innovative. Again, it’s the consistency in which you execute these ideas, where your culture becomes performance-based and the team becomes recognized for their achievements and I think that is the linchpin to the recognition system, no matter what tools you use to recognize.

Daniel: That is an interesting point because I think that, usually, we’re more used to it as you are saying, seeing recognition seen as a big thing and maybe it is more a systems thing that is consistent more than the actual recognition prize.

Christie: Yeah. So, third and last in terms of the tool is providing development opportunities and experiences for the team and this goes beyond a performance development plan that we’re going to create individually for our employment. This is for the team and you know, after you’ve assessed your team and you have a keen understanding of what the development needs are of the team, you can use this assessment to begin to structure training for your team. So if you think about today’s environment and what employees are looking for out of their employers, they’re looking for consistent development opportunities and the ability to grow. So, this offers up a bit of a retention play but then it also provides additional benefits like elevating the total team’s performance which then can turn to build future leaders for your organization, which then can make your team a tower powerhouse, which then can attract new talent to your team.
So really you know, investing in your team and people is always a good thing and you know traditionally a great spend.

Daniel: Christie, how do you actually lead high-performing teams? How do you get this team, apart from being motivated, to perform well?

Christie: Yeah you know, I think everyone has a different slant on what leadership means to them, and I tell you I lead my teams through five leadership principles.

Daniel: Okay.

Christie: The first is results orientation and, you know, think about driving sales revenue profit etc, but the common thread here is that we all have a job to do. The company has hired us to deliver results, and I think sometimes that gets lost, but that has to be number one in terms of how I’m leading, is that we’re here get results and we’re certainly going to do it the right way. We’re going to do it through operating with the value system of the organization but it’s important that that’s at the base of what we’re doing.
Second, is excellence. A high-performing culture is not complacent. They’re there to make things better, continuously improve, and have high standards. And so that’s how I’m going to lead and how I’m going to expect the team to operate.
Third is accountability. So, we’re going to be accountable for our wins, accountable for our losses and accountable to one another. Four is a commitment to work and team. You know, I often lead by teams by saying: “hey! I don’t want to see one person in the office until 10 o’clock at night”. I’d rather I’ll be here until six or seven and all leave instead of one person being here all-night long.
And then last is trust and none of this happens without trust as everyone knows.

Daniel: Yeah, absolutely. And finally, how do you assess that the tools that you’re putting in place, you said, “The three tools to keep your team motivated; the five traits of high-performing teams.” How do you actually assess if what you’re actually doing as a leader is effective while working? How they do that due diligence?

Christie: Yeah, you know, there are several keys to knowing where you stand as a leader and there are three, I’ll talk to. The first is you’ve got to look at the results. Whether it’s the business results, promotion, retention, cultural survey, improvements, etc. But you know, you can’t just look solely at the numbers because there are some things that the numbers aren’t going to tell you.

Daniel: Yeah.

Christie: So, then I go to the second area, where it helps you understand if what you’re doing is working or not, and that’s employee engagement. So, what do I mean by this? And I just give a suggestion here, and this could be to have some sort of separate committee or a passionate group of employees committed to building a strong culture that would solicit feedback formally and informally from the team and provide updates to leadership on a certain frequency of time rather would be quarterly or bimonthly. And what this does is it gives employees a voice and a comfortable environment with their peers or colleagues to voice things they’d like to see done differently or ideas that they have.

Daniel: Yeah.

Christie: And the benefit then becomes, as a leader you learned so much about what’s important to the team that may have never reached your radar because maybe you didn’t think it was important. I know for me, personally, I implemented so many things over the course of my career that weren’t necessarily maybe important to me, but they were important to the team and I would have never put those initiatives in place if I were just sitting in an office by myself trying to think about what the team needed, so that is so critical.
And then, it also empowers the team to see their ideas brought to life. So, getting that level of employee engagement is so important to understand if what you’re doing is working.
And then last is this feedback loop for yourself and asking the team: how am I doing? What can I change? Is what we’re doing effectively as a team? And being open to constantly evaluating whatever systems process these infrastructures you put in place that you’re comfortable and changing in re-evaluating. So, I have to like to say I have an open-door policy and that might be a little outdated due to this new open environment–

Daniel: Yeah, that’s true.

Christie: — offices have today but if you could create that kind of trusted environment within you know, your team that feedback loop is going to come naturally straight to you and I think that’s what we’re striving for as leaders.

Daniel: Yeah. I know, absolutely because I also think that without that trust, people won’t feel the empowerment to be able to feedback. Right?

Christie: Yeah exactly.

Daniel: Okay, fantastic. Well, Christie look, thanks for sharing your secrets with us; really appreciate it.

Christie: Well, I certainly appreciate the opportunity and also wanted to thank that the teams that I’ve had the opportunity to lead because their feedback has been certainly instrumental in my journeys, my leadership journey over my career.

Daniel: Well, thanks again, Christie. Thanks to all our listeners and we’ll see you in the next edition of the Career Success Podcast. Have a great day!