A Management Tip learned by Reebok

By Cliff Dumas
CMA, ACM & CCMA Winning Broadcaster

Reebok’s near collapse and rebirth can teach business how to empower their teams to be accountable and more productive.

In 1984 Paul Fireman bought Reebok for 75 thousand dollars because he thought it had promise. He discovered that people hated buying new running shoes because it took too long to break them in. His idea was to create a running shoe that was already broken in (innovation!). Within 18 months, Reebok had 43 percent of the market share. In the late 80s Paul did what some other entrepreneur-CEOs were doing; he turned control of the company over to “professional management”. In the late 90s, after five different presidents, the company was struggling and had lost its market edge.Paul decided to take back control of the day-to-day operations of Reebok and instituted a new style of management. He initiated the process of rewriting the company’s future together; making his entire team accountable for the company’s present and future.

One employee wrote “In other companies, I’d just get memos instructing us on procedures or changes in policy that were just words on a paper, like things I was supposed to do. But now I own the future, as though I wrote every word of it”. Paul began to exercise leadership that empowered others to create the future together as a team.

How many times has important information in your been revealed through a mass email? How many decisions are made at a closed-door management session and then simply passed out to the staff to follow like lemmings? Imagine a structure that is inclusive- that involves everyone, that is communicative and interactive. Just like Reebok proved, holding people accountable makes them more attached and engaged during the entire process.

Reebok went on to again earn market dominance, and Paul eventually sold the company to Adidas for 3.78 billion dollars.

Take the tip from Reebok. If you’re a General Manager, Sales Manager, or team Manager at any level- ask your staff for their opinions the next time you sit down to develop a new policy or plan for change. Involve them in the process, and they will have more ownership and feel more empowered. Asking is better than telling.

Businesses can rewrite its edge in the market when management replaces “compliance” with authentic expressions of ownership and authorship of the company’s future.

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