Saturday, October 4, 2008

Good leaders understand people

There are lots of management and leadership books you can read but this week I saw a great example of good leadership and vision with my own eyes. I visited Port Sunlight in the UK, which is on the Wirrell not far from Liverpool. It is a whole village built by William Lever of Unilever fame to house his staff close to his Soap Factory. Sunlight Soap was one of his brands, hence Port Sunlight.

His view was happy and healthy staff make better employees.Lever wanted his workers to be in decent housing and to have plenty of room. He wanted each house to have a garden and he also wanted to look after their welfare, so medical facilities, insurance, social clubs, churches and other facilities were built. He wanted what was called a ‘garden suburb’ that also had other buildings such as a post office, a bank and a village hall.

This was all good thinking but the really interesting thing was that he suspected his staff liked being inviduals and his master stroke was that he did not build hundreds of homes that all looked the same, he employed teams of architects to design 268 different cottages and homes. How is that for really understanding human behaviour and your staff. It would have been so easy to build a big block of flats but without having to ask, William Lever knew.

This staff obviously loved it, and even though the factory at Port Sunlight now produces detergent instead of soap, Port Sunlight still stands there today as private housing but many Unilever employees still live here. Incredible leadership and vision