Learn about Top-Down Leadership Approach
The following is an excerpt from The 50: HR Leaders Reimagining the Filipino Organization. Authored by Monica Padillo, this chapter is titled, “Instilling Values Through Top-Down Leadership.” In it, Rexy Vagilidad, the Cice President for Human Resources of Pioneer Adhesives, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in eliminating barriers between employees.
Top-down leadership doesn’t mean leaders can’t be hands-on
We often imagine CEOs and other business leaders just sitting in their clean and sleek offices, waiting for papers to sign and projects to approve. But more often than not, there are still some leaders who prefer to get their hands dirty and create a mighty bond with their workers. Such leaders are found in Pioneer Adhesives, formerly Republic Chemical Industries.
Rexy Vagilidad, Vice President for Human Resources at Pioneer Adhesives, said that the company attained the success it continues to see today because their pioneers have perfectly embodied top-down leadership. Instead of just sitting in meetings and observing their workforce from afar, they worked side-by-side with their workers, personally teaching them how to pull ropes and operate machines, among other things.
They espoused the concept of malasakit (concern or empathy in English) like a father, posing like a true head of a family. In fact, that concept is part of Pioneer Adhesives’ 4Ws of corporate values: Warm the Heart (malasakit), Wow in Everything (excellence), Win Together (teamwork), and Walk the Talk (integrity).
These values are cascaded to their international team as well. When their management counterparts in India and Indonesia travel to the Philippines to attend planning sessions, they are grounded with the concept of malasakit and their other values. They are also given the same materials that the Philippine team uses when onboarding new recruits. The only difference is that India and Indonesia localize the values by translating them into their own language but retaining the meaning behind them.
Pioneer Adhesives’ owners and leaders are similarly proactive in getting to know everyone in the company, even as their organization in the Philippines alone now is composed of more than 500 people. For instance, during company events and even informal celebrations, they go to every table and get to know people by name and learn about their backgrounds.
“The owners, like our CEO John W. Spakowski II, feel bad that they don't know the new ones so they really exert effort to talk to people and ask for their names and when they joined the company. So the employees really feel the personal connection with the owners,” she said.
Because the leaders are down to earth, Pioneer Adhesives employees have grown to trust them and held high regard for them. Employees felt that they could easily talk to the company heads because they knew they would be received well. This has led to staff members becoming very understanding when the company implemented new policies. When the company meets an obstacle, the employees immediately brainstorm for solutions instead of complaining.
“People have very big trust with the leaders and they’re very open in suggesting. That is a big factor in the four Ws, that they really know that it will affect their lives so they give suggestions, they ask, and they embrace whatever decision they come out with,” Vagilidad said.
She added that she doesn’t experience many challenges when talking to everyone because they have different mediums for communication. They also have social media messaging groups like Viber, Whatsapp or Hangouts, and they also host regular online meetings through Zoom or Google Meet. They also ensure to cascade every bit of information that can affect business operations. They adhere to responsible transparency, which essentially means that employees need to relay the information that they have, whether it’s good or bad, because it will affect the entire company. And this is what Vagilidad said makes change management easy.
Since the company’s leaders are firm in instilling good values such as malasakit and open communication within the organization, it has led Pioneer Adhesive to become proactive in leadership development as well. The leaders want future heads of the company to have the same values that they’re embodying so that Pioneer Adhesive can be known for more than just a manufacturer of adhesives, sealants, and coatings.
Potential leaders are groomed by the company’s general manager, chairman, and owners themselves through informal meetings such as monthly half day sessions and breakfast learning gatherings. The management committee would share things like real life tips, learnings from a book they picked up, or topics that they’re passionate about, much like how a father would teach his son or daughter about their learnings in life.
“When everything is easily accessible, these potential leaders look forward to hearing life stories from the company’s heads. We don’t have something formal but leadership development in this way is cost free and it's very powerful in terms of appreciation of the assessment and feedback due to how real it is,” Vagilidad said, adding that she sees role model leadership as an effective method for letting apprentices directly learn from existing leaders and ask them questions as they converse. Employees also tend to trust their leaders more when they get to know them on a personal level.
Sometimes these leadership development training sessions are done through panel discussions or talk show type of meetings as some leaders are shy to talk to a large audience on their own. However, those who are more vocal and passionate in teaching others on the floor have their own talk. Pioneer Adhesives customizes these discussions and meetings based on the profile and comfortability of the leader so that they can communicate their messages well.
“We also conduct the meetings as if they’re just conversational. Usually, it makes the discussion more personal and it makes people see that the leaders have character. We want the people to see that the leaders are real and fun people as well,” Vagilidad said.
She emphasized that it is important for employees to build a relationship with leaders. As a leader herself, she believed that she needed to be in good terms with her peers and business partners so that it would be easy to communicate with them.
“As an HR professional, seeing snippets of good culture and harmony in the workplace would lead us into being successful. It makes our lives easier. If there’s anything that we can do within our circle of influence to ignite the culture, it will be a rewarding experience for HR professionals,” she said.
To get more insights from other HR leaders like Rexy Vagilidad, please check out the full book, available for purchase here.
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