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HS 180 – “Touch Points” with Doug Conant

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Doug Conant

On this 10th show, Jason Hartman interviews author and leadership expert, Doug Conant on the topic of leadership models. In Doug’s book, Touch Points: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments, co-authored with Mette Norgaard, the small daily interactions that many view as interruptions are described as the greatest leadership opportunities in business, or touch points. These moments can be used as a method to promote the company’s values, purposes and agenda, while bringing about higher employee engagement and winning in the marketplace through improved growth. Touch points involve using the head, heart and hands to connect with and transform employees through listening, understanding and helping people advance their interactions in a significantly more effective way. Doug explains the “contribution profile,” which is asking, “How can I help?”

Practitioner Douglas R. Conant delivers a critical and transformative message for today’s times: Anyone, anywhere, can expand their influence and improve their results. Appointed President and CEO of Campbell Soup Company in 2001, he was the 11th leader in this iconic company’s 140-year history. Under Conant’s leadership, Campbell reversed a precipitous decline in market value and employee engagement — with much recognition since, including the prestigious 2010 Catalyst Award.

A key driver is Campbell’s success model: Winning in the workplace, winning in the marketplace, and winning in the community and doing it all with integrity. Conant joined the company with 25 years of experience with three of the world’s top food companies — General Mills, Kraft, and Nabisco. A native of Chicago, he earned his BA degree from Northwestern and his NBA from the Kellogg School of Management. Conant’s new book with co-author Mette Norgaard, available now, is TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments (Jossey-Bass). More on TouchPoints and leadership models can be found at www.conantleadership.com.

Narrator: Welcome to the Holistic Survival Show with Jason Hartman. The economic storm brewing around the world is set to spill into all aspects of our lives. Are you prepared? Where are you going to turn for the critical life skills necessary for you to survive and prosper? The Holistic Survival Show is your family’s insurance for a better life. Jason will teach you to think independently, to understand threats and how to create the ultimate action plan. Sudden change or worst case scenario, you’ll be ready. Welcome to Holistic Survival, your key resource for protecting the people, places and profits you care about in uncertain times. Ladies and gentlemen, your host, Jason Hartman.

Jason Hartman: Welcome to today’s show. This is Jason Hartman, your host. And as you may or may not know, every tenth show we kind of do a special tradition here that originated with my Creating Wealth show where we do a topic that is kind of off topic on purpose. Something just to do with general life and more successful living. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do today with our special guest. Again, tenth show is off topic and it is very much intentional just for personal enrichment and I hope you enjoy today’s show. And we will be back with our guest in just a moment.

Start of Interview with Doug Conant

Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome Doug Conant to the show. He is the author of TouchPoints and he’s got some amazing insights that may seem rather obvious to most people, however there are always new ways that we can apply them and be more effective in life and leadership, and I think you’ll hear a real transformative message here today. Doug, how are you?

Doug Conant: I’m great. Thank you for having me.

Jason Hartman: Well the pleasure is all mine. Give us a little bit of information about your background and then let’s dive into TouchPoints.

Doug Conant: My background has really come up in the corporate world. Less than two years ago I retired after over ten years as chief executive officer of the Campbell Soup company. Prior to that I spent a career in consumer products with General Mills, Kraft, and Nabisco and wrapped up my career with the Campbell Soup company in Camden, New Jersey right outside of Philadelphia. Along the way I’ve been heavily involved in all kinds of corporate activity, but a lot of nonprofit activity. So my focus today and my focus going forward, quite frankly, is helping to improve the quality of leadership in the 21st century. Sharing my experiences and trying to encourage people to lean into the notion of being more effective as leaders in everyday life.

Jason Hartman: And your tenure at Campbell Soup as CEO started in 2001, correct?

Doug Conant: Yes. January 8th 2001. It seems like yesterday.

Jason Hartman: But it’s actually quite a few years ago. Campbell’s is such an iconic brand for well over 100 years of history. Were there any big challenges when you came aboard? I haven’t followed the history of that company too much, but what were some of the things? And you probably incorporated them into the TouchPoints book and philosophy I assume.

Doug Conant: Yes. A lot of the thinking that’s captured in our book TouchPoints was born out of my experience at Campbell Soup Company. Campbell Soup Company is an iconic company. It’s about 10 billion dollars in sales with 20 thousand employees, products sold in a 120 countries. And we were very committed to having an enduring business proposition for our company. It was over 140 years old, only had 11 CEOs over those 140 years – I was the 11th. And it was a troubled company. We’d lost half our market value in one year, which is unheard of by a large food company. And we had very toxic work environment. Business had fallen apart for a number of reasons. Employees were very ineffective and I was challenged to come in and make sure we had the right strategy and rebuild the organization top to bottom. Which is what we did.

As we did that, TouchPoints became an obvious critical part of what I had to do. I had to reconnect people to this notion that as a community we could do something special. We could focus on winning in the market place but also creating a winning work place where they could thrive and prosper. And as a result, over a decade we dramatically improved our market place performance, but more importantly we created a highly engaged culture where every employee felt valued and challenged to do their best work. And they felt as if the people of company had their back. And not a better a feeling when you’re working in a tough environment, is to feel like you’re not going it alone.

Jason Hartman: And just to get a little background on Campbells, how many employees? And I’m curious – was that workplace unionized? It was probably unionized, I assume, right?

Doug Conant: We have 20 thousand employees globally. There were pockets of union activity but by and large no, we weren’t heavily unionized. And we were focused on meeting the needs of our employees to such an extent that they never felt the need to unionize. But by and large we did that, but we did have some union activity and we navigated through that typically pretty effectively in my decade there.

Jason Hartman: And you say that TouchPoints is really, and by the way the subtitle of the book is “Creating powerful leadership connections in the smallest of moments”. And you say that it’s a blinding glimpse of the obvious, but maybe not really that obvious, is it?

Doug Conant: Well no. You know, today most employees and most people in general feel as if they’re getting a sip of water from the fire hydrant of life. They’re having 200 to 400 interactions a day, either via Email, Twitter, text messaging, phone calls, people stopping by their office, and the list goes on and on and on. And as a result, they struggle with, “how do I navigate this crazy life?” and that’s a good question. So if I go around the country, this issue seems to be the biggest issue of the day in most corporate cultures, and quite honestly in the non-profit government sector too. These people are overwhelmed with all these interactions.

And so what we’ve tried to do with TouchPoints, is say don’t think of the 400 interactions you have, think of the next interaction you have and how can you be more effective in the moment there, so effective that you’re able to be more efficient with it as well and more helpful to the other person? So we created this notion of TouchPoints. And we said there’s three things that you need to do: you need to listen intently to what’s coming at you in the moment, you need to make sure you can understand the context of the decision and then you need to help the person advance it. So we challenge people to bring a how can I help mentality to their work, listen carefully, frame the issue, then advance it – listen, frame, advance.

And then when the interaction is over you say how did it go? And what we have found is that when people just focus on the moment and try and be helpful in an earnest way, they can get traction with their life again and they get traction with their coworkers. We have found that if you can just advance 3-5 more interaction in a significantly more healthy way today than you did yesterday out of the 200-400 you had, 3-5 more interactions managed in a more healthy way, you could change your contribution profile in your place of work or at home. And that’s what we encourage people to do, to take this simple approach and apply it every day in a disciplined way, and they can start to lead a much more fulfilling life.

Jason Hartman: One of the phrases you just mentioned, just even having that phrase occur to oneself is probably a huge step forward. And the phrase is “contribution profile”. Very interesting.

Doug Conant: It’s all about, how can I help? If you were to go to my website at ConantLeadership.com, I’ve just kept ten TouchPoints in my life, where somebody said the right thing, the right way at just the right time and I carry it with me today. In fact, of all the education I’ve had in college graduate school, continuing education courses, they’ve been wonderful and I’m a better person for it. But frankly, those ten TouchPoints, which when I added all up and I say all the words together it’s about 40 seconds, or it’s about 6 words per TouchPoint. Those small TouchPoints, they actually guide my life.

One of those TouchPoints was only four words: How can I help? It occurred to me when I was fired from a job and the outplacement guy, everything he’d answer the phone he’d say “Hello. This is Neal McKenna. How can I help?” And since that day, gosh it was 27 years ago, I have gone into every interaction in my mind saying hello, I’m Doug Conant. How can I help? How can I contribute? And the more I focused on raising my contribution profile, the more I flourished in my work experience. So I just try and encourage people to do the same thing.

Jason Hartman: That’s a great question to ask. It’s a great context to just come from that point of view of the how can I help point of view. Can you give us any examples of maybe an interaction where someone might do this and increase their contribution profile? And when you mentioned that, when you were talking about that, it made me think of a few key words in relationships that I have and how literally even a text message to someone saying the right thing at sensibly the right time makes a whole difference in the relationship or the friendship for years to come. It’s incredible.

Doug Conant: Yeah, Jason, it’s an amazing thing. The best way for people to grasp the concept is when I’m speaking with an audience we get to the point very early in the presentation where I just ask them to close their eyes and think about someone who’s had a profound influence on them in their life, a teacher, a coach, occasionally a boss but typically it isn’t, a parent, a grandparent, and aunt or uncle, or a good friend. I ask them to close their eyes and imagine that that person is sitting there with them now. And then I ask them to think about a moment where that person was totally there for them, where they were listening carefully to what was going on and they were totally there for them and they found a way to say just the right thing in just the right way at just the right time. And then I encourage the people in the audience to turn to the person next to them and share that experience with them. And then I encourage the other person to share back. It takes about two minutes.

Everyone has a story about, for example my story about how can I help. And I’m sure you have your story. Everybody has a story. And then I challenge these people – I say that is the essence of TouchPoints. And my challenge to you is to try to be that person for the people whom you live and work. And as people reflect on that, they get it and they get it in the marrow of their bones. Because they’ve lived it. They’ve had people that have had that kind of profound impact on them in small moments, not big long lectures. None of us, most of us don’t have those kinds of experiences that create traction in our lives. It’s those people who were there for us and said just the right thing at just the right time in just the right way. And I just challenge people to be more like that with the people with whom you live and work. And you don’t need to go any further than that – they get it. And then the challenge is to bring the discipline to it, to try and behave that way a little more today than you did yesterday. You don’t have to get all the way to bright but you do have to do a little better today than you did yesterday.

Jason Hartman: Just that constant progress – that movement in the right direction can make such a difference. Do you profile in the book any sample interactions? It would be good to sort of compare the wrong way to do it and the right way to do it type of thing. I’m probably putting you on the spot, so I apologize, but if you could think of an example I think it’d be helpful for the listeners.

Doug Conant: Of the ten I have an example in one of my videos at ConantLeadership.com. One of them was a horrible example with a negative experience. All TouchPoints are not positive experiences. In one case I went into work one day. I’d been working for this company for nearly ten years, and the acting vice president of marketing had me come to his office when I came to work that day and he said your job has been eliminated. You need to be out of here by noon. And he couldn’t look me in the eye, and here I had nearly ten years of my career over in a snap. And I had to go home to my wife, my two small children, my one very large mortgage, feeling every bit the victim. And in that moment I was devastated and I was bitter. And that was a negative TouchPoint.

That same day I was sent to an outplacement counselor, who I at first said I’m not going to go see him because I was so angry. But then I called him later in the day because I realized I was really having trouble processing all of this. And it was my friend Neal McKenna, a guy who went on to become my friend, who said “Neal McKenna, how can I help? Come right over. I want to hear all about it. Let’s get to work on this right away.” And I had one of the best experiences of my life the same day I had one of the worst experiences of my career. Those were two TouchPoints.

The first TouchPoint has influenced how I’ve dealt with people in difficult situations for the balance of my lifetime, where I have said I will never treat anyone as poorly as I felt treated in that moment. And it has guided me in the direction of being more thoughtful, still being tough minded on issues but tender hearted with people. And then the second interaction with Neal McKenna as I shared earlier in this conversation has influenced how I try and bring a how can I help attitude to everything I do. So those are two small interactions that I’ve had with others. One was negative, one was positive that have had a guiding influence in my life.

Jason Hartman: Very good.

Doug Conant: As a CEO I was always looking for how can I connect with people in a positive way and reinforce things that they’re doing right? Because in corporate cultures you’re pretty much trained to find everything wrong. I can find a busted number in a spread sheet like no one else. But we need to also celebrate what’s going right. So every day when I was CEO at Campbell, virtually every day, I would write 10-20 hand written thank you notes, no more than 50 words typically, to employees all around the world who had done something right, who had delivered a project on time and on budget, or who had done some extraordinary thing when we had the Japanese tsunami or the tsunami in the Philippines or whatever it was. So I would send out 6 days a week 10-20 notes over 10 years. When I retired we added all the notes up and it turned out I’d sent over 30,000 notes to employees and we only had 20,000 employees.

Jason Hartman: So you touched them more than once.

Doug Conant: I had touched them in a personal way. It was hand written. I didn’t want them thinking some CEO is having somebody Email them for him. And people felt like I was connecting with them. I was paying attention, I was reinforcing the behaviors that we were looking to get in the company in terms of performance. They were not gratuitous notes, but they were saying look, we’re paying attention. We value what you’re doing. The more I leaned into that, the more I saw employees lean into their work and feel as if they were valued. So that was a simple way that I created positive TouchPoints to counter balance all the other stuff we had to do which was make a lot of tough calls.

Jason Hartman: That’s a great TouchPoint. That isn’t very scalable, but it is very cumulative. So very powerful, obviously, handwritten notes, etc. But what are some of the TouchPoints? At times Doug, you’ve definitely got to use TouchPoints in a mass media format. CEOs have to do that, media personalities have to do that, politicians have to do it. Do you have any advice for mass media TouchPoints, even if it’s someone holding a sales meeting for ten employees. It doesn’t have to be a giant corporate leader or a political or celebrity figure, but just a Touch Point when it’s not one on one.

Doug Conant: Well I have some guiding thoughts on that. I guess I hear a couple of them. First of all, make it personal. If you want people to take their work personally and really lean into the work, they need to believe that they are connecting with you in a more personal way. So in whatever commination you choose to have, whatever format it is, in fact the more you have to lean into social media formats, the more you have to be evermore thoughtful about how you can make personal.

The second thing is that people can smell a rat a mile away. Don’t play games. You have to show up in an authentic way as well as a personal way. And if you want to have credibility over time, people have to believe that what you see is what you get and that you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do. So you have to show up with great authenticity. If you make it personal and you show up with great authenticity, those are kind of the Do’s to get into the game. Then you have to show up with confidence. If you really want to have influence with people over time, they have to believe that you know what you’re doing.

When my wife was in theater years ago, and if you’re in theater you work nights and weekends when other people aren’t working. So I would come home and have to help out with our children. And I had to cook dinner. Now they thought I was a person of good character, and I was a pretty good father, but they did know that I couldn’t cook with a hoot. They couldn’t count on me for dinner – I didn’t have a lot of credibility there.

So it was a reminder to me that if you really want to have influence with people, and you want to inspire confidence, you have to have two things: you have to have character, you have to show up in a personal and authentic way, but you also have to know what you’re doing. And if you don’t you have to acknowledge that. So as a leader, those are the things you need to bring to the party if you want to start to have impact with people in the moment through TouchPoints. You have to show up in a truly authentic way, and you have to know what you’re doing.

Jason Hartman: Yeah, character, trust and competence trust. Both of those are so, so important. Are there any examples you can think of in the mass media world from leaders in whatever position, media life, political life, corporate life, that have in a speech for example, successfully used TouchPoints in a positive way and really connected and inspired their audience?

Doug Conant: In my lifetime, we had one particular president who was good at connecting with people and there were a group of people that called him the great communicator.

Jason Hartman: Yes, good old Ronny.

Doug Conant: Ronald Reagan, who could connect with people in a deeply personal way. He had enormous credibility with the everyday man and woman. He brought the conversations onto a level that was approachable by those people, he showed up in an authentic way, and by and large he led a life where he did what he said he was going to do. Those are simple rules to live by, but that’s the cost of doing business today. We have a very jaded perspective of leaders today. And I think the challenge for leaders today is to show up in a truly authentic way and Ronald Reagan would be the guy I would go to who touched people in a way that I haven’t seen many other political leaders, quite frankly, before or since connect with. To me he was the gold standard when it came to mass media.

Jason Hartman: And I couldn’t agree more. When I listened to his speeches I literally sometimes get goose bumps. He is such an effective communicator. And it’s before my time, but Jack Kennedy also was quite inspiring like that. And so you’ve got both sides of the isle there.

Doug Conant: Actually I thought Bobby Kennedy. Bobby Kennedy to me was showing up in a more authentic way. Jack was incredibly inspiring, and we were going to go to the moon and we were going to do extraordinary things. Bobby Kennedy to me, was touching people in a much more personal and earnest way. He was an amazing communicator. So it’s not about political parties, it’s about authenticity and doing it in a way that connects with the hearts and minds of people. And in the book TouchPoints we say you’ve got to do three things: You’ve got to connect with the head and the heart and you’ve got to use your hands in terms of developing the practices to be more effective over time. So it’s head, heart and hands. And if you can do that on all three dimensions, you can connect with people in a meaningful way.

Jason Hartman: Sure. Just one more thing on the political spectrum, so many people say that Clinton was effective like that, and I never saw it in Clinton. I just didn’t get the greatness of Clinton’s charisma that some people comment on. I would love your feedback on that. I just never saw it in him, like everybody else.

Doug Conant: I don’t pass judgment on people. He was clearly highly effective with a lot of people. He clearly did connect with people. He was elected twice and he had an approval rating that was extraordinary. So it would be hard to argue.

Jason Hartman: Yeah, and I have friends who have met him who are critical of him and don’t like him politically, but say you meet that guy in person and he’s just a likeable guy. So obviously something was working there – I guess I kind of missed that one. But when you dissect these great communicators, going back to Reagan, any thoughts on how Reagan did it? I think he appeared to be a common, very relatable person. He used metaphor and visuals, humor, certainly humor but humor seems to be a thing that is not available to everybody. Some people have it and some don’t when it comes to humor at least as far as I can see.

Doug Conant: I would connect it back to our TouchPoint model. You felt as if Reagan would come into every moment with this “I want to be helpful” kind of mindset. And people felt heard by him. He would listen intently and then he would frame issues in a way that would make people say okay, you get it. And then he just tried to make things a little bit better today than he did yesterday. And Ronald Reagan I would argue had a wonderful and continuous improvement mindset with a very aspirational model for how the world could be.

He was just trying to be helpful every day and my observation was that was somewhat unmistakable. And people kind of looked at him in general saying what you see is what you get. We’ve got just a regular guy who’s listening to us, who’s showing that he understands issues that we feel are important, and he’s trying to make things a little better today and he’s with us. I found that applying the same listen, frame, advance mindset and bring a how can I help mentality to the work, Ronald Reagan was incredibly effective. I also saw that quite frankly with FDR. And we can go beyond that.

You can also find that with Gandhi and mother Teresa, and a variety of other leaders around the world. They all bring a how can I help mindset to the work that people grasp, they all are wonderful listeners. They make sure they understand the issue and they just try and advance things in a way that works for them. So I think it’s a simple model, it’s not a new model, but it’s how can I help? Listen, frame, advance and then ask yourself how did it go? And try to do a little better today than you did yesterday. And in today’s chaotic times I think it’s easier to go back to things that are elegantly simple, and get to the far side of complexity and get to things that are approachable and that you can actually bring to life in your everyday life. And that’s the power of TouchPoints.

Jason Hartman: Yeah, very important. And if you look at that in the high tech world, certainly Apple has brought simplicity. And I think people are craving that sort of simplicity and that high touch thinking. Well the website is ConantLeadership.com. Of course Doug, the book is available in all the usual places I’m sure, right?

Doug Conant: Yes, absolutely. Amazon, anywhere you’d be you can’t miss it. And we also provide information on the website.

Jason Hartman: And New York Times and Wall St. Journal best seller. Good work. I think it’s high time that the market place have a book like TouchPoints. And anything else you’d like to say in closing?

Doug Conant: I guess my observation is that we can all do better, and if we want to have a better world we all have to lean into that notion and we all have to try and do a little better today than we did yesterday in terms of working shoulder to shoulder with the people in our work community and our lives to make things a little better. If we bring that continuous improvement mindset to the work with this notion of we can do better, in my opinion, we will.

Jason Hartman: Fantastic. Well, Doug Conant thank you so much for joining us today.

Doug Conant: Best of luck to you Jason. Thank you very much.

Narrator: Now you can get Jason’s Creating Wealth in Today’s Economy home study course. All the knowledge and education revealed in a 9 hour day of the Creating Wealth Boot Camp. Created in a home study course for you to dive into at your convenience. For more details go to JasonHartman.com.

Narrator: Thank you for joining us today for the Holistic Survival Show. Protecting the people, places and profits you care about in uncertain times. Be sure to listen to our Creating Wealth Show, which focuses on exploiting the financial and wealth creation opportunities in today’s economy. Learn more at www.JasonHartman.com or search “Jason Hartman” on iTunes. This show is produced by the Hartman Media Company, offering very general guidelines and information. Opinions of guests are their own, and none of the content should be considered individual advice. If you require personalized advice, please consult an appropriate professional. Information deemed reliable, but not guaranteed.

Transcribed by Ralph

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Episode: 180

Guest: Doug Conant

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