8 Leadership Tactics From a CEO Who Orchestrated a Successful Turnaround

A CEO who’s an expert in communicating goals and ideals with the people in his company can go a long way in advancing progress or in turning things around. For Kim Yost, chief of a major mid-market retailer in the Midwest called Art Van Furniture, one key to such success has been his use of symbols, icons, slogans, self-published books and even an internal video network to motivate the troops.

5. Link the company with internal TV. Yost has expanded the use and reach of the firm’s internal television network that keeps employees updated on company events and promotions and other information pertinent to the strategic direction of the company.

“We have over 100 50-inch flat-panel television screens across our organization,” he said. “We are now able to broadcast all of our daily happenings … in real time … throughout our corporate office, our distribution network and our 50 stores.”

“Yost is a firm believer in management by walking around and in deeply listening to what Art Van Furniture’s employees have to say.”

6. Publish annual “game books”. Adapting an idea for a promotional “game book” that Van Elslander began, Yost publishes annual booklets that explain to employees the company’s business plan for the year and helps align them behind it. They’re written by the company’s 16-member executive-leadership team through a collaborative process and outlines a series of specific initiatives that will be Art Van’s focus in the year ahead.

The themes reinforce Yost’s thinking about priorities for that year. Going in order from 2010 to 2015, the themes were Clarity of Purpose, The Next Level, Act Now, Focus, Grow, and finally, Inspire.

7. Positive thinking. Of course, like any good leader, Yost’s communication isn’t only one-way; he’s a firm believer in management by walking around and in deeply listening to what Art Van Furniture’s employees have to say. At the same time, however, Yost has spent much of his first five years at the company having to firmly push back against legacy negative thinking that he said seemed like it was from the Nineties. “People would list all the reasons ‘why not, and I would list all the reasons why,” he said.

8. Put your life on the shelf. Yost is nothing if not transparent, and he has made sure Art Van Furniture employees know what he’s all about by publishing a three-book series of autobiographical and inspirational musings under the main title, Pumptitude. “Attitude determines altitude,” Yost said in one of his favorite aphorisms, followed immediately by another: “If it doesn’t start in your inner mind, it’s never going to occur in the outer world.”

In another device meant to inspire, two years ago, Yost began publishing a book he called the 68-Day Challenge. Described as a “process to jumpstart your New Year,” the book initially was meant as a way to help employees focus on goals for the company—but then grew into a sort of general statement of encouragement toward their individual goals as well.

“We’ve seen people lose 40 pounds and others quit smoking,” Yost said, “and some decide to take piano lessons. All of it is inspiring people to make more of themselves.”

And why 68 days? “That’s about 20 percent of the days in a year,” he explained. “And if you set the first 68 days of your year right, the remaining 80 percent goes along with it. It’s like [choosing] a flight and [then] determining your basic direction at takeoff.”

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