Our general manager, Dan Roberts, is originally from Detroit, Michigan where most of his family still resides. He moved to Utah with his wife and four sons, all of whom have stayed in the Salt Lake Valley. This makes it easy to spend a lot of time with them and his 11 grandkids.
Before Walker Tape, he was a metal smith in the Navy for 15 years where he learned many of the leadership skills that he has put into practice at Walker Tape. In the Navy, lives depend on you knowing and doing your job. He took his work seriously and moved up in the ranks. After leaving the Navy, he bought his own semis and drove until about 2008 when the recession started. At that point, he sold the trucks and went to a temp service that sent him to work at Walker Tape for 2 weeks. He felt very comfortable here so he requested to come to Walker any time there was an opening. After six months, management sat him down and asked if he wanted a job. Thankfully, he said yes.
He’s still a student and always will be
He started making machines and found ways to make our bottling department more efficient. Because of his excellent work, he was promoted to the position of Production Manager which was his role until this last Fall when he was promoted to General Manager. During this time, he has been been able to work with Brent to refine his skills. He says he’s still a student and always will be. He loves working with his hands and being creative. Working with machines lets him do both.
Culture is Key
The keys to running a productive, happy team are to treat people well, cross train everyone and teach them as much as they can learn.
The first thing he noticed when working at Walker was that the ownership always walked around to say good morning to everyone in the building. Everyone was treated like a person, not like a number. He was used to a military environment so it took him a while to truly get used to the relaxed atmosphere where ideas and opinions counted and people are recognized for what they do. He carries on that same culture in his new role. He says the keys to running a productive, happy team are to treat people well, cross train everyone and teach them as much as they can learn. Along with supporting them at work, it’s important to support them emotionally as well. He treats everyone like family. Because his team is cross-trained and everyone has so much knowledge about different parts of the business, when issues arrive in people’s personal lives, it’s possible to give them time off and move others around to fill in.
Another important part of the culture Dan has built is the mindset that no one is better than anyone else. Everyone is on the same level. Instead of supervisors, he has facilitators. This title shows them that they are there to help others learn, to challenge them, praise them and let them know they are valued. It’s important for them to stay positive to keep a good working environment. When they have issues, they can and do come to Dan to find ways to help others in all areas of their lives. If someone is having a rough day, Dan and/or his supervisors will come to them to see how things are going and what they can do to help. If someone just can’t do it and needs to go home for the day, no one minds filling in because everyone cares about each other. He says that what it comes down to is realizing that people spend more time at work than they do in their own homes so work should be a great place to be.
Getting People in the Right Positions
The way employees talk about Walker’s impact in their lives and how much they genuinely love their jobs and who they work with makes it easy to come to work every day.
Dan is excellent at seeing people’s potential and getting them into the right positions. When a new person comes to work at Walker, management obviously has some preconceived notions about them due to their resume and application. Dan teaches that what you have to remember is that there’s so much more to the person than what they say in an interview or what you see on their resume. Finding out what people’s interests are and where their strengths lie is an important part of getting them in a position where they can thrive and help the company thrive. You can’t get someone into the right position without knowing them personally.
For example, Dan has an employee who he’s learned needs a lot of detail about a task before he begins. Before Dan realized that, he didn’t fully realize the potential and talent of this employee. However, Dan has realized that once he has the details, this employee is always the best guy for the job and gets it done right. This employee has a tough exterior and without getting to know him, you’d never know that he is an incredible opera singer. Dan has been able to see him perform several times. Dan wouldn’t know all of these things about this individual had he not spent time getting to know him personally. Without getting to know him, he may have missed out on the benefits of an amazing employee as well as the chance to support his employee in another area of his life. Everyone has gifts and talents you wouldn’t have any idea about without getting to know them well. Many times, learning these talents will help you know where they fit within the business. Learning more about who they are outside of work can help you to build stronger relationships and trust with your employees. When you have these types of relationships, your employees will be more motivated and come through for your even more with their work.
When it comes to building strong relationships with your team, Dan says the best thing you can do is resist the urge to push people, but look for opportunities to talk, welcome problems, build trust, convey that you’re there to help and are available to ask about work or personal problems. Show them that you’re happy to see them and like having them around. Eventually, Dan says they always come around. Even if some take longer than others. Dan puts himself into a counselor role and is always there for his employees. Because of this, they trust him and they work hard for him. Many of his employees come from traditional work environments and are shocked by how different the culture is at Walker. Eventually, they make friends and relax. Even though they have to start very early in the morning, they come in happy because they want to be here and enjoy their work. This is especially impressive when you remember that they are working on a production floor producing and packaging tapes and adhesives. The way employees talk about Walker’s impact in their lives and how much they genuinely love their jobs and who they work with makes it easy to come to work every day.
Meet Your Team Where They Are
You have to treat everyone as an individual and remember that not all problems can be dealt with the same way.
Dan realizes that not everyone can be lead or managed in the same ways. As a leader, Dan teaches that even when you’ve put people in positions that are a great fit for them, they’re going to make mistakes. You’ve made mistakes as well. Remember that when something goes wrong and learn from the experience. Move forward and don’t dwell on it. Mistakes just mean that you’ve found a problem and you can now learn how to fix it. Dan has found the best way to deal with issues is to put the employee’s mind at ease and not condemn them, but help them. If you see progression in your employees, that means you’re doing your job. The best reward for a Dan as a leader is watching growth, it has nothing to do with pay.
Dan believes it’s important to never turn someone away just because they are struggling. Often times, they’ve just never been given a chance to prove themselves to anyone. He has seen huge changes in people’s work and in their lives when he’s given them opportunities they’ve never had. When an employee is struggling, production managers and facilitators sit together and talk about the problem, then collectively decide what to do. You have to treat everyone as an individual and remember that not all problems can be dealt with the same way. For every issue, every member of the leadership team comes together to talk about Walker goals and how they can help with the problem. This helps facilitators learn the thought process behind solving problems and get training on how to help solve them. Once facilitators feel ready, they are given the opportunity to handle smaller problems and grow from there. They must learn how to think about problems and be understanding about how to help the individual without hurting the company. Once they are comfortable with small issues, they move on to larger issues.
Keeping Yourself in Check as a Leader
You have to keep the right perspective and understand yourself before you’re able to lead others.
Dan teaches that it is vital to think about your impact. As someone’s facilitator, you impact every part of their lives. Any decision you make about that employee affects them and their families and others around them. Therefore, be sure that you’re never sending leaders out without a lot of training. At the same time, make sure that you’re always looking inward. Dan always wants the best for others. He is constantly reflecting on how he needs to change himself to help those around him so he can “be the person [he] need[s] to be for everybody down there”. You have to keep the right perspective and understand yourself before you’re able to lead others.
When asked if there was anything he would want to make sure people knew most of all, he said he is happy and proud of everyone in the Walker Tape building and feels privileged for the opportunity to work with such high caliber people.
As you can see, we’re incredibly lucky to have Dan as a part of our team.