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In the Hot Seat with Andy Lock, President of Herman Miller International.

  1. What sets Herman Miller apart from its competitors in the design and manufacturing industry?

Deeply researching on a global basis to understand the trends in our industry and heavily invest in partnering with design talent to produce unique solutions. We are good at telling the future- not just what the market wants but we try to look for innovation in materials and concepts, bringing in things that the market doesn’t know it needs. A brilliant example is the Aeron Chair- the world didn’t know it needed a mesh chair, when we launched it wasn’t recognized as a office chair. Bill Stumpf who we partnered with researched aging, we always try to look for new innovative ideas and designs that will lead the market to a new place and we are always willing to put the money behind making those ideas work. We are also a very people-centered company it’s more than about making money.

  1. Prior to joining Herman Miller you worked as an HR professional, what led you to begin your career at Herman Miller?

Her name is Joyce Bateman. I was working in the mining industry and the company was taken over by an organization I didn’t wish to work for. A head-hunter I knew said I should go and meet this company Herman Miller. I had never heard of them, and said it sounds very boring- “I don’t want to do that thanks”. After much convincing, I arrived at the Head Office at Bath in 1990 and pulled up outside thinking why do I even bother. I got out of my car and walked through the door and behind the counter sat a blonde lady, a huge smile came over her face and she looked up at me said “you must be Andy Lock, welcome to Herman Miller”. I was so taken aback that she had looked through the schedule of the day and guessed who I was to make it personal. I thought if everyone else is like her I want to work for this company. So I often say Joyce Bateman hired me. And by the way 27 years later she is still behind the counter of that office, she’s one of the best sales people we have. She’s fantastic- just fantastic!

  1. How would you describe your management style?

Lock laughs and says: “You shouldn’t describe your own management style; you’d just flatter yourself so I asked someone who works with me”. He pulls up a message and starts to read: In a few words, autonomy, course correction and quick decisions and all of this with a lot of compassion for people. I don’t like to do the jobs of the people in my team, they are all better qualified to do them than I am. My job is to orchestrate, develop a strategy with the team and help them implement and deploy in order to keep us all on the same page at the same time. I do make swift decisions, not because I want to be hasty but because the world is moving very quickly, most decisions are shades of right and wrong based on judgement. Apply it, make a decision and move on quickly. Be very prepared to do course correction 20 mins later if you think you’ve got it wrong. You’ve got to carry the vision of where you want the business to be and the culture you want it to have. The culture of the company matters to me more than anything else at all. There is a guy called Deming talked about plight of the willing worker- people. I don’t want willing workers being frustrated by what they see around them I want a culture where people feel enabled, able to take a risk, try something out and move forward. I like people who smile in the office.

  1. As an experienced leader, how do you suggest balancing the needs of the customer with the needs of the employee?

I think as long as you are truly clear about what the customer needs and you focus your entire organization around servicing that need as best you can, the needs of the employee will get looked after.  The needs of employee is that they need to earn an income, if you aren’t servicing your customer well and get the return the business needs you can’t possibly look after it. So having a whole organization that thinks about the customer and feels engaged with work. I think the two sit by side.

  1. All Office is the sole distributor of Herman Miller in South Africa, what do you believe makes it a great fit?

Shared values is simply the answer. Just as we believe in designing and developing innovative very high-quality products. All Office focuses on developing and delivering that same level of quality and reliability in the service they take to their clients. It’s very important in a business model where you sell through a distribution channel that this channel is well-aligned to what you are trying to do. All Office and Herman Miller are in lockstep and have been for the last 20 years. We work together to bring a result to our customers, they care about their people like we do and care about the customers like we do that’s what makes it so successful.

  1. What are the key elements that you believe contribute to a healthy working environment?

Great ergonomics. I’ve met so many people in my life that would tell you that chair (pointing to Herman Miller chair) makes a physical difference to how they feel. It supports your body in the way it should, it brings rest and relaxation to your body so you can focus your mind. It’s enormously important. We work a great deal with people about posture of the back and we build these findings into our chairs. The spiritual environment, having a sense of purposefulness and meaning by engaging people in the company and taking the ability of the org beyond four walls as well as doing something for the community you live in. We have quite an active programme of giving which is driven by committees of employees who decide where the money gets spent. We try to take people out in the community and engage with whatever that work is and actively support an orphanage or a school. So it’s physical and spiritual engagement with your hand, your head and your heart. Once you can do that you bring all of yourself to work.

  1. How do you think well-designed office furniture contributes to better productivity and communication in the workplace?

Ergonomics is vital I can’t be productive if I hurt. Things are where I need them to be and fall naturally when I sit down to work. Thinking deeply about ergonomics, creating the right kind of multiple environments where we can communicate in different ways at different times for different reasons. If you look at our research 70% of collaboration happens at somebody’s work station not that we go off into a meeting room and put stuff up on the walls. What kind of environments have we got that encourage you to sit down, relax and engage. And when there do we have the sort of tools we need, we have a product call Exclave part of that is a series of white boards which hang on a rail and are made of super lightweight material. You can stack them and write ideas and when we leave we can take the whiteboard with us, this creates the right kind of environment for multiple chances of communicating. Sometimes that’s as simple as putting in a coffee machine and creating a purposeful design that allow people to communicate. Heads down work needs one setting, collaborative work needs another. Creating touch points where people can communicate freely and widely.