Believe it. Live it! – Leading through mutuality and trust by Chris Charters

One of the things I love about BMMI, and why I am extremely happy to be working here again, is the culture of trust and mutuality that I experience in the organisation.

The concept of mutuality is really important to me, and I would like to discuss it here with you, as well as discuss the importance of trust in your employees. For me, mutuality is about treating everyone with respect, in everything we do and in all our relationships, whether it is with suppliers, customers, or fellow employees. I am a great believer that everybody should be treated the same. The sort of respect you show people should always be consistent. Whether you’re dealing with the merchandiser that is stocking our products in a supermarket or dealing with our President & CEO, it is important that you respect everyone equally. I truly believe that this is crucial to the success of yourself as an employee and for the success of the business.

To me, respect, mutuality and trust do not work in an environment where a leader uses fear to manage. I’ve personally worked with people before who rule through fear and I found it to be extremely uninspiring and claustrophobic. I feel privileged that we do not subscribe to this culture in BMMI. We place a huge amount of trust in people here and it is one of the most forward thinking examples I’ve seen in my career. We trust everybody to get on and do their job, while at the same time placing mechanisms in place to manage performance, such as goal setting, appraisals and KPIs. There is a massive amount of self-driven performance in the company, there’s no fear of others, rather there is the fear of judging yourself and your own performance. For me, that’s how I work, I am committed and I put a tremendous amount of effort that my fellow employees can be proud of. I don’t want anybody to ever say ‘he isn’t as good as we thought he is’. This is also the kind of attitude I want to instil in my employees. I trust them, just as I am trusted, and I want them to work towards making themselves proud.

We are much more likely to inspire people and give them confidence when we show them that we believe they are capable and when we trust them to do their role. Rather than always being worried about what the next person up the line is thinking, through our trust, our employees gain a huge amount of confidence to do their work and they view themselves as equal to each other.

When I think back to my first time at BMMI, from 2003 to 2008, it was a wonderful experience and I was greeted with trust, respect and mutuality. I was told to go ahead and build the business I was hired for; it was as if they were telling me ‘it is yours’. And I am proud to say that we did build a really good wine business. We were able to achieve this because I was trusted. Instead of me coming into work every day and reporting to somebody who was constantly instructing me what to do, I was allowed to be creative, think big and be entrepreneurial. While my current position might be relatively new to me and while I am still getting a grip of the business I’m taking over, I think that BMMI is an environment where I can do things boldly and take calculated risks. Also, since BMMI is a learning organisation, we can focus on learning from our mistakes, rather than worrying about them. That’s why BMMI has been so successful in diversifying its business streams, we take risks and nothing is out of the question. We trust people to think out of the box.

This would be impossible to do if we were constantly dictating to people, rather than trusting them to be more constructive and productive. At the same time, this means that we need to acknowledge that we do not have all the answers. By making my team feel included in the decision making process, this leads to more innovation and working towards a common goal, which encourages them to work together and increases their satisfaction in what they do. That’s why my team knows that my door is always open and that they can walk in at any time and discuss their ideas. A part of being honest and open is being prepared to allow yourself to be challenged and criticised. I don’t mind anybody who works for me coming into my office and questioning me, because I might learn something new. Being open to learning is a huge thing to me and I don’t believe that the way I do things is necessary the best or only way. You need to allow people to give you advice and to share their knowledge.

The key to a successful relationship with your team is not by dominating them, but also by not being subservient. As a manager, you need to be firm, display leadership, make decisions and trust that there was a reason you were put in charge. The crucial point is to listen to people, hear out their opinions and not be afraid to use it. Our Winning Hearts culture and the environment here at BMMI make it easier for us to be leaders who subscribe to a leadership style of mutuality and trust. There are known parameters in which we operate, we’re not dictators, we’re open and honest and we are challenged to reach our KPIs and achieve results. People are recognised for their talent and their achievements, and if we all treat each other with mutual respect, trust each other and are allowed to think creatively, we will take BMMI to even greater heights.

Best regards,

Chris Charters
General Manager, FMCG Distribution