Kevin Barr believes that talented team members and a strong culture create a competitive advantage. During his 13-year tenure at Terex Corporation, a Westport, Connecticut-based global manufacturer of heavy equipment for a variety of industries, he has proven just that. Since joining Terex, the company’s workforce has grown from 6,000 to more than 23,000, and Barr has been on board to support the company’s vision every step of the way.
What do you consider HR’s chief role in Terex’s strategy?
On a high level, the HR organization is responsible for the quality of talent within the company. That role is, of course, shared with operational managers on the leadership team. In addition, HR is responsible for managing change, ensuring team alignment, executing HR processes, and fostering the right workplace culture, which includes promoting business knowledge among team members.
How do you find that talent?
We try to promote from within. Part of that is because we have a culture that’s unique among large multinational companies. We find that when we hire from the outside, our success rate is much lower than if we hire from within, unless we go into great detail describing the company culture to the candidate and see a good cultural fit. We focus a lot on succession planning.
What exactly is it about Terex’s culture that’s unique?
We have a small-company feel. We’re informal. We avoid hierarchy. We frown on negative internal politics. We like people at all levels to feel comfortable offering their opinions to senior leaders.
How do you create that kind of culture?
There are six values—integrity, respect, courage, servant leadership, improvement, and citizenship—that together we call the “Terex Way.” These values support our cultural vision. Two values, in particular, are worthy of special note. Servant leadership is a philosophy that a leader exists to serve his or her team members: we have a chain of support instead of a chain of command. Another noteworthy value is courage. One aspect is the courage to raise your hand if you see something wrong; another is the courage to be creative and take risks instead of maintaining the status quo.
How and when did you conceive of the Terex Way?
We experienced incredible growth from 2006 through 2009. When you grow quickly and add new people, there’s a real risk that you’ll lose your culture. We were hiring people from great Fortune 500 companies, and they were instilling some of the values of their prior companies. We wanted the best of their experiences, but we weren’t trying to create another company. We developed the Terex Way as a guidepost for all Terex team members, to ensure that everyone has the same understanding of what makes us “Terex.”
How do you maintain your culture in the face of extreme growth?
In many companies, people feel like they’re a small part of a large organization and the work they do doesn’t make a difference, so we try to get everyone to see that what they do does matter. You also have to reinforce this from the upper levels down. Unless the CEO and senior team are constantly talking about the values, giving examples of the values in action, and both recognizing people for living by those values and correcting people for violating them, people will only see them as words on a website or posters on a wall.
Can a strong HR strategy give a company a competitive advantage?
I believe that, as Jim Collins said in Good to Great, if you get the right people on the bus, they can figure things out. And since HR is responsible for finding the talent in the organization, then yes, HR can give a company a competitive advantage.
Are you working on any new HR initiatives?
The front-line team leaders out on our shop floors, who manage two-thirds of our team members, need good training to work well with the manufacturing team and help them be successful. About a year ago, we developed a program called “Supervising for Success,” which teaches these leaders how we want them to manage people. We’re now expanding this Terex-developed program to ensure that our mid-level managers are employing the same principles.