Thoughts + Articles

10,000 Steps for Soup

Many of you, on a cold winter day, have enjoyed a hot bowl of soup. Maybe the soup you were having was from Campbell’s Soup.

In 2001, Campbell’s Soup Company stock prices had fallen and performance had hit rock bottom. In order to survive, they hired Douglas Conant as the new President and CEO. Within a few days, he realized that the company had an extremely toxic culture. Great people were leaving the company in droves. 

He observed, “You can’t expect a company to perform at high levels unless people are personally engaged. And they won’t be personally engaged unless they believe their leader is personally engaged in trying to make their lives better.”

How did Doug Conant turn around Campbell’s Soup Company?

He vowed to flip the culture from a “top down” leadership style to an inverted pyramid where the people inside of the company were the most important asset. 

When he walked through the door for the first time, he observed the rusty barbed wire surrounding the corporate headquarters and a large level of distrust. 

As a part of “The Campbell Promise”, Conant promised to treat everyone with respect and dignity. At the heart of the pledge was a guarantee that he would conduct himself with integrity and honor.

He realized that at the root of a toxic company culture is toxic leadership. During his first 3 years as CEO, he replaced 300 out of the 350 leaders within the company. This was unheard of in the retail industry. 150 were promoted from within and 150 were hired from outside. 

What does “Leading with civility mean?” It means acknowledging people’s contributions, listening better, respecting others’ time, and making people feel valued.

Conant wore a pedometer on his belt, put on a pair of walking shoes, and in headquarters buildings in New Jersey, at a production plant in Europe and in Asia. He interacted with as many employees as possible. His goal was to log 10,000 steps every day.    

He engaged his team and asked questions.

These encounters helped him stay informed with the goings on through the company, enabling him to personally connect with people at every level.

Each day, he also hand wrote 20 notes to his employees celebrating their successes and contributions.

Doug Conant said, “I was trained to find the busted number in a spreadsheet and identify things that are going wrong.”

He continued, “Most cultures don’t do a good job celebrating contributions. So, I developed the practice of writing notes to our employees. Over 10 years, it amounted to more than 30,000 notes, and we had only 20,000 employees. Wherever, I’d go in the world, in employee cubicles you’d find my handwritten notes posted in their bulletin boards.”

His hand-written notes were “treasured more than an email message.”

Once the culture started turning around, Campbell’s Soup became a breeding ground for innovation. Whether it was the “rolling can gravity feeding shelving …clearly labeled soup…..retail display racks found in stores worldwide; or the concept of making a soup that would work in a microwave oven…The magic was on the inside.” 

By 2009, Doug Conant’s “Change-friendly leadership”, at Campbell’s Soup Company had outperformed “the S&P Food Group and the S&P 500. Sales and earnings were on the upswing, employee engagement was at world class levels.”

Conant called his “daily interactions he had with employees, “touchpoints.”  

“Listen, Frame, Advance.” His “3 Step Touchpoints”

How did he start?

Ask the question, “How can I help?”

1) “Listening intently helps you figure out what is really going on and what others need from you.” It demonstrates that you really care.

2) “Framing the issue ensures that everyone in the touchpoint has the same understanding of the issue.”

3) “Advancing the agenda means deciding what next step to take and who will take them.”

 “Listen- Frame-Advance triad changes the communication dynamic from “It’s all about me” to “It’s all about us because we are in this together.”

As you practice Doug Conant’s 3 Step Touchpoints you will be better at “helping your employees feel listened to, respected and valued.”

Remember it all began with changing the toxic culture to one of “Civility and Respect”.  Every year at Campbell’s, Doug Conant and his colleagues surveyed the organization to make sure leaders in the company were using the Campbell’s leadership model, with Inspire Trust at the center to increase engagement.”

If leaders fell short and “could not, or would not demonstrate their willingness to adapt their approach they were let go…..replacing those ;leaders with people committed to a more civil approach.”

How do you treat people?

You treat them with curtesy and respect, and ask them questions.

Madeline Frank, Ph.D. is an Best Selling Author, speaker, business owner, teacher, conductor, and concert artist. She helps businesses and organizations “Tune Up their Business”. Her observations show you the blue prints necessary to improve and keep your business successful. Her latest book “Leadership On A Shoestring Budget” is available everywhere books are sold. If you need a  speaker or video speaker contact Madeline at:

This entry was posted on Friday, March 18th, 2022 at 1:20 pm and is filed under Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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