Nancy Johnson Dahl, President & COO of Lifetouch National School Studios in Minneapolis, shares her thoughts on running a successful organization.
What is going on for your business and your industry?
We have experienced a shift in the photography marketplace as photographs become more relevant in consumer’s lives. Technology has given people greater access and, as a result, our customers are more engaged in what they would like to see in their photographs. This engagement has changed how we run our business. We have had to be razor sharp on a “solid capture”. We have to differentiate as professional photographers and show this point of difference. And in addition to the technical aspect, we have to be very convenient for Mom and Dad, given their busy schedules.
What has the result been on the people in the organization?
Two years ago, when I become president, we actively sought to shift the mindset of our team members to think about the collective success of the team and to be students of the business. Previously, team members had focused on their own functional areas and their own expertise. As customers have become more engaged, team members have had to deeply understand our business to know where to add value for our customers. We needed to solve challenges as a cross-functional team – across sales, photography, and operations – where we could collaborate to build solutions and collectives processes together.
Our culture shift was to remind people that through a team collaborative approach, we could all win. There is an “I” in win and we had to show how to win for us individually and how to win collectively for the customer. We did this by helping people see that they could accomplish more together than individually. When a school picture day goes successfully with the photography team and when the operations team provides the best quality photos, it facilitates the sales person’s ability to renew for next year. This is turn helps us serve our customers – for the schools, the students, and their families – as we have deeper knowledge of what they value in the photos we provide.
Why is developing leader capability important for Lifetouch?
The heart of a business is the people. We have been very clear that engaged employees are a critical piece of the success of the business. When team members are more engaged, they create a better product for our customer. That is why we are focused on developing leaders. By encouraging them to continually learn and creatively learn, we grow our business and our team members.
We seek to create an environment to ask “what if?” I call it learning out loud. People learn by doing, analyzing the process, continually iterating, and developing a better way of solving a business challenge. As team members embrace learning and experiment with trying new approaches, we accelerate our progress individually and collectively. We become more flexible and more in tune with each other, our business, and our customers.
What do you enjoy most about developing leaders at Lifetouch?
I get jazzed by inspiring people to go places they didn’t think they could go on their own. As you help people get clear about their gifts, they will more deeply believe that they can expand and extend beyond their current level of success. The key is to make sure that promoting high performance is relevant – tied to the mission and strategy – for people to know the “why” they are doing what they are doing. Having these tied together provides the purpose and joy in our work. And, when these factors come together, it helps me get better as a leader.
As we’ve focused on formal and informal leader development programs, we’ve seen our culture evolve and this has had a ripple effect. When we develop a group of managers and encourage them to continually learn, we see the impact they are having on their team members. That is a must for investing in development programs.
One interesting note, in talking with a Territory Manager recently who had participated in one of our leader development programs, he told me that he would have been ill prepared for his recent promotion had he not participated in the program. That’s what makes me smile. We’ve increased his ability and confidence to turn around a territory in short order. How did he do this? He focused on rebuilding school relationships and up-skilling his own team members. That’s the ripple effect that benefits everyone.
Grayce Belvedere Young leads the Organization Development practice area at the Prouty Project. She brings twenty years of strategic planning and organization development expertise in numerous industries as well as the nonprofit world. Grayce partners with leaders to set strategy, drive alignment and execution, and develop talent.