5 CEO Lessons from Former Best Buy Chief Hubert Joly

July 22, 2021

Have you noticed an increase in turnover at your company? Are people leaving in droves? I have both good news and bad news: It’s not just you – it’s a national movement that experts are calling The Great Resignation, a phenomenon where millions of workers are quitting their jobs and reevaluating their careers.

The bad news is that you’re probably scrambling to fill roles with no proper training because the people who train are the ones who have quit. This scenario is where the lessons of Hubert Joly, the former CEO of Best Buy, become critical to helping your company, like Joly did for Best Buy, reevaluate your company and make a turn for the better.

Joly recently sat down with Verne Harnish, the founder and CEO of Scaling Up and founder of the Entrepreneurs' Organization, to discuss the now Harvard Business School professor’s new book, The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism.

Here I recap the top five takeaways I want you as a leader to know about so that you can chart the right path for your company.

1. Gather Intelligence Before Acting on Anything – Always

Leading without intelligence is equivalent to the blind leading the blind. I always tell my clients that wars, and yes markets, are won through intelligence. The first thing a business leader must do is gather intelligence, and that’s exactly what Joly did with Best Buy.

Even before taking on the chief executive role, Joly spent a lot of time of what he calls “mystery shopping” – walking into random Best Buys and going through the customer experience first-hand. Not only that, but for his first week, he spent it working at a Minnesota Best Buy. He knew that first-hand experience from the customer’s perspective was much more valuable intel than looking at a spreadsheet on a computer.

In a matter of days, he figured out what worked and what didn’t work – all from the perspective of the sales associates and frontline workers. Over the course of a few weeks, he and his senior team developed the plan that would turn around Best Buy and create a company to be reckoned with: Renew Blue.

2. Anchor Your Pivot with a Memorable, Emotionally Driven Theme

With a company-wide pivot, it’s your job to help sell the vision. A theme, such as Joly’s Renew Blue, helps get everyone aligned in a fun and valuable manner. Even deeper than that, though, themes help generate camaraderie and an undeniable commitment to better themselves and the company.

However, the twist is that themes can be difficult to create, sell and execute on. In reality, a lot has to do with not the company itself or its profit, but the people who make your corporation possible. Hence, the Latin root corp- meaning body.

3. Your Company’s Success Hinges on Effective Employee Input

People can either make or break a business. No questions asked. For Joly, he learned this lesson during his tenure at McKinsey & Company, where a client told him there are three imperatives in business:

  • Good people that are properly equipped and trained
  • Customers who are happy
  • Financial imperative to make money

For Joly, however, profit is seen as an outcome more than anything. It’s like the temperature of someone – it’s a symptom of someone’s health, not a goal. Therefore, a good business – a profitable business – isn’t defined by its margins but rather by its employees and customer satisfaction.

If inversed, all you’re going to talk about is financials and forget about the people and customers. Ask yourself:

What percent of your time are you focused on strategy, people, culture and major investments?

4. Ask Yourself: Would You Enthusiastically Rehire Everyone on Your Team?

As Joly says, if you don’t have the right team, there is nothing you can do to get things done. You cannot be a great company without great people in the right positions who are set up for success and live out your company culture. And as I have asked many of my clients:

Without thinking, would you enthusiastically rehire everyone on your team?

For Joly, it was a combination of metrics that can be measured and some that can’t be measured. In this sense, Best Buy tracked turnover and engagement, but they’d also go out into the field and host focus groups with employees.

I challenged you in January 2021, and I challenge you again to ask yourself these four questions:

  1. What is my plan to have the best team on the field this year?
  2. Do I have the right people in the right seats?
  3. Would I enthusiastically rehire each one right away?
  4. How would I feel if any employee resigned today?

5. Serving as CEO is What You Do. Not Who You Are.

The title of Chief Executive Officer is your job, it is not who you are. When Joly became CEO of Best Buy, in a famous statement, he said, “I am not the CEO of Best Buy.”

What does this mean? In my opinion, Joly wanted to convey that he wasn’t the keystone that came in and saved the company from self-destruction. In fact, his goal was rather the opposite; he wanted the organization to recognize him as a member of a team – not a higher power who makes sweeping decisions that affect the entire company.

It’s also telling of his willingness to be self-aware. As Joly said it:

“I have to do my best job, but I’m not entitled to this job. If one day I don’t have it anymore, I will still be me. It’s a way to put some distance because it is never about you as the CEO. It’s about the organization. It’s the idea that you are serving as opposed to being served.”

Chart Your Company’s Course by Putting People First

Are you managing – or are you leading? You’ve probably seen this cartoon once or twice on your LinkedIn. It’s a classic representation of what a true leader does: they inspire, grow, empower, and cultivate employees. And what a leader doesn’t: boss.

Joly, who has a track record of success leading companies, went on to become one of the best CEOs in the world, as per CEOWORLD Magazine. Now a Harvard business professor and author of his new book, The Heart of Business, Joly knows what it takes to become a true leader. And I can help you on your journey, too.

If you’re interested realigning your company so that your people and customers are at the heart of what you do, you look to your employees as the keystone of success, contact me for a free initial consultation. I can help you determine the status of your organization and provide insights into your next steps.

Look forward to more blogs on Joly’s new book, where I’ll take a deep dive into several of the concepts he presents.