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Michael Sanders of BeehiveFund: “Choosing your battles”

Choosing your battles — Although product-centricity works well, humans are fallible and problems always occur. Knowing when to deploy the “Come to Jesus” meeting makes all the difference. While it should be rare, it sometimes has to be done. In my own experience, I had a boss that applied it to me. While I was outraged at […]

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Choosing your battles — Although product-centricity works well, humans are fallible and problems always occur. Knowing when to deploy the “Come to Jesus” meeting makes all the difference. While it should be rare, it sometimes has to be done. In my own experience, I had a boss that applied it to me. While I was outraged at the time, I quickly realized how right my boss was. Over the years, I think that one course-correction made a huge difference in my life and I am grateful for it. As the saying goes, nothing cleanses the soul like a good butt kicking!


As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Sanders.

Michael Sanders is the co-founder of BeehiveFund, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting industry. With an excess of 30 years in the field, he has worked at every phase of the supply chain with a wide variety of companies on organizational structure & psychology, strategic direction & culture, and system & process optimization.

In addition to his work as a seasoned executive and practitioner, Dr. Sanders is sought after for his expertise in negotiation, organizational psychology, six sigma, quality systems, & regulatory compliance. He has delivered speeches worldwide with topics that include global supply chain optimization, lean & beyond lean production systems, quality & regulatory systems, optimal & effective leadership, product-centered sustainable growth, organizational culture transition, and emerging technologies. Dr. Sanders has a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering and an MBA from Texas Tech University. In addition, he holds certification as a Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He resides in Houston, TX with his wife, two sons, and one daughter.

For further information, please refer to the LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-michael-sanders-8049a290/.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

It’s a long one, but I’ll make it brief. I was a young boy when I started my manufacturing training in welding. By the time I was 14, I was a master welder, hydraulic press supervisor, and industrial painter. It took me about five years to come to America as I lived in the middle-east and former eastern-bloc countries before I made my way to Italy. From there, I arranged to come to the US. In all that time, I have been educated in the school of hard knocks, at universities, learning many languages, and in a lot of different industries.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One time, as part of a technology transfer from China to the United States, I traveled to China to negotiate a deal with a fuel cell company. When I arrived at the airport, I saw my contact holding up a sign with my name on it. Although I’ve never been into fancy trappings, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the limousine that was provided. It had a wet bar, television, and all kinds of nice appointments. When I got to the hotel, I was blown away by its opulence and that there were all kinds of people greeting me saying “Congratulations Mr. Sanders!”. I thought “I could get used to this!”.

And just when I was feeling like a big shot, the hotel manager reviewed my passport and informed me that the hotel had pick up the wrong Michael Sanders! As it turned out, there was another guy on my flight who shared my name and was getting married to a Chinese dignitary’s daughter. All the fuss had been targeted at the wrong guy! This served to remind me that matter how good the accolades might seem, never let it go to your head!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early on, I worked at a plant that had a lot of problems and a management that had no interest whatsoever in addressing them. Despite this, the leadership loved to throw around buzzwords like “World Class”. Whenever the phrase was publicly uttered, you could feel everyone’s eyes rolling. Mine sure were!

As is common in hypocritical environments, the rank-and-file pushed back in a joking way by spreading the phrase “Third World Class” and upper management didn’t care for this. In fact, it was widely understood to never repeat this in front of managers.

While I thought it was funny, I considered it negative and never encouraged it. What’s tragic was that I never used it as an opening to initiate an authentic conversation. It was only later that I understood what a missed opportunity it was. What I learned from this is that there is no better indication of where a workforce is parked than the grapevine. Even if the negativity is thick, there is valuable insight that can be gleaned and this gives leaders a chance to build a real connection with people, establish trust, and find out what needs work. In my experience, facilitating the free flow of ideas (even negative ones) is vital for any viable organization.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to retain great talent today?

It’s the key point I make in my recent book “Quantum Lean”: Keep a laser-like focus on your product.

For starters, great employees tend to be very bottom-line and nothing is more bottom line than the goods themselves. This appeals to top performers.

Second, maintaining a product-centric approach concentrates on what the product needs rather than on employee performance. Exceptional employees tend to be their own worst critics and placing a spotlight on their shortcomings can amount to piling on. However, focusing on problems with the product allows people to reach their own conclusions on how to improve performance. For example, if deliveries are taking too long to get to customers, it’s much more effective to frame the problem as the product getting stalled rather than one of some person dropping the ball. The former angle allows a blame-free and quicker resolution to the problem. At the same time, it gives great employees a chance to self-correct. Often enough, that’s exactly what they will do.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

Again, product focus. In most companies, there are so many distractions and barriers that doing a good job is far harder than it ought to be. When a company adopts product-centricity, major simplifications become possible. With this, large teams have a lot less to think about and juggle. In addition, consistently communicating this frame of reference results in an aligned workforce that has a consistent interpretation of what the customer needs and what the company should be doing.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)

To need to know and/or understand:

  • The product — You must absolutely know, revere, and safeguard the products (goods or services) that your organization provides. Without the product serving as a compass, your company will be adrift pretty quickly. Focusing on product makes all communications ‘open and honest’ at any level in an organization.
  • Your own limitations — Self-reflection and understanding what you’re lousy at makes it possible to find the right people who can fill your gaps.
  • The difference between a good and bad idea — Put another way, a sense of taste and an ability to judge how a potential audience will judge an idea, product, or service. A great example of this is Steve Jobs. While many think of him as a great technical mind, he didn’t come up with the ideas. What he really excelled at was an ability to cherry pick the insanely great ones. In my opinion, the best leaders aren’t the ones who come up with ideas, but the ones who can consistently separate the good ones from the bad ones.
  • That nothing should be taken at face value — Even when people are trying to be honest, being true to yourself is the most difficult challenge of all. Minimizing what’s said and judging people by what they do and its effect on the product has worked pretty well for me.
  • Choosing your battles — Although product-centricity works well, humans are fallible and problems always occur. Knowing when to deploy the “Come to Jesus” meeting makes all the difference. While it should be rare, it sometimes has to be done. In my own experience, I had a boss that applied it to me. While I was outraged at the time, I quickly realized how right my boss was. Over the years, I think that one course-correction made a huge difference in my life and I am grateful for it. As the saying goes, nothing cleanses the soul like a good butt kicking!

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Do everything in your power to help your employees be successful. Look out for their career. The one boss I look back on with utter fondness (the same one that gave me the “Come to Jesus” meeting) put his neck on the line to get me pay increases and guided my professional development in a huge way. While anyone likes money, the vote of confidence he showed in fighting for my career is what will always stay with me. I have tried to live up to this in my own approach with employees. When I have, it’s much appreciated by the workforce.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I hope that the idea of product-centricity as articulated in the book “Quantum Lean” can become so widespread that it becomes a household word. If it does, you will see so many improvements in the workplace and in societal prosperity. I believe it will astound. It has worked miracles in my career and with the businesses I have been involved in. I hope that everyone can experience it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

To quote Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that was used to create them.” Although it’s easy to fall into the traps of old thinking and hard to think anew, I have found that my greatest successes have come when I rejected conventional wisdom. While conventional wisdom is definitely conventional, I have found that it is anything but wise a lot of the time.

Thank you for these great insights!

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