Strong Leadership Drives Culture

As I travel around the state meeting businesses and presenting to different trade groups, I am continually impressed by the strong business leaders who make Maine unique.  These leaders, who make considerable changes in the way they conduct business to stay viable, are often operating ahead of the curve.  The founding members of the Wellness Council of Maine embody these qualities.  In 2002, a group of business leaders took meaningful action to improve the health of their employees and try to get a hold on increasing healthcare costs.   I was reminded of these leaders last month when I attended the Maine Development Foundation’s Leadership Unplugged series with Charles “Wick” Johnson, President of Kennebec Technologies.

The subject of the 2012 MDF series is “Empowering Maine People to Power Maine’s Economy” and Johnson has certainly done this through his leadership around employee wellness at Kennebec Technologies (KT), a 60-employee precision machining company located in Augusta.  During his talk, Johnson emphasized several points that stayed with me.  These are points that other business leaders can learn from when working to improve the health of employees.

At KT, like many other organizations, the company’s core values guide their decisions and are integrated into every aspect of the work they do.  Among the core values, a few stood out that impact the success of an employee wellness program: “We invest in people and expect people to invest in themselves”, a respect for work-life balance and the importance of long-term relationships with employees.  These type of values build a supportive culture where the personal and professional needs of employees can be met.  A positive workplace culture makes a significant impact on the lives of employees and cannot succeed without strong leadership.

Johnson also emphasized that he prefers to use positive rather than negative enforcement when it comes to his wellness program.  This approach sets a positive tone for their voluntary wellness program.  Rather than punishing those who are not participating in the wellness program, KT has decided to reward those who do.  I see many companies taking the approach of using “carrots” instead of “sticks”.  This allows employees to join a program for the right reasons and extends the impact and longevity of the program.

Another asset Johnson presented, that aligns with the company culture, was the idea of empowerment.  Not only has his leadership fostered dynamic business growth, but he has empowered his employees to take charge of their well-being and improve their health.  Johnson told the audience that he provides employees the opportunity to make their own decisions.  In my opinion, this is part of the reason the investment in the wellness program at KT has been so successful.  The personal and collective responsibility represented here drives the program, which has had an outstanding participation rate.  Leaders who provide the opportunity and skills to succeed will energize employees to improve their lives and the business they serve.

Kennebec Technologies, and many other Maine businesses, demonstrate that strong leadership can drive the changes that businesses and employees desire.  These changes can improve employee health, boost employee morale and change the entire culture of an organization.  We’ll continue to discover the many resources and tools available to help you along the path to improving employee health in the coming months.  In the meantime, this article will help you learn more about improving leadership in a small business wellness initiative.