SAN DIEGO -- "It doesn't matter if you are big or small, the principles are the same," said Richard Stocking, president and COO of Swift Transportation, in discussing how his company got back on track following the recession.

Speaking at Qualcomm's Vision 2012 Management Conference this week, Stocking referred to a quote by George Wood Bacon, who had said, "fortunes aren't made in the boom times ... fortunes are made in depression or lean times."

The recent recession forced Swift to reevaluate how it did business.

"We'd Lost Our Way"

"We'd lost our way at Swift," he said, and were "close to disaster," but the company instituted changes that turned things around. Before the downturn, he said, "We were growing for growth's sake. The recession was the best thing that happened. It made us look more closely at our company."

Borrowing on concepts from the Michael George book, "Lean Six Sigma," which combined managerial concepts found in the Six Sigma and Lean Production manufacturing initiatives, Stocking said his company established guiding principles, a mission statement and a vision of what the company wants to be.

"We don't want to be just a trucking company," he said. "We want to be a provider of best-in-class transportation solutions for our customers."

Whole Person Paradigm

He advised the audience to tap into the "whole person paradigm," of body, heart, mind and spirit when leading employees to get the most out of people. "You want to make sure you treat people right," and not look at employees as simply an expense. You need leadership that inspires trust, clarifies purpose, aligns systems and unleashes talent, he said.

You get there by developing a strategic plan that looks at "where are we going," in one year, five years and 20 years down the road.

Such plans require discipline, Stocking said, and his team has learned to distinguish between "wigs and "pigs" - wildly important goals and pretty important goals. "If you focus on only the pretty important goals, you can't be great," he said.

Stop Doing

Part of the strategic planning at Swift was developing what he called stop-doing lists -- anything that isn't furthering your goals, stop doing. But he cautioned against trying to accomplish too many goals; three or four is the max.

Keeping score is important, he noted, because a company can't measure their progress without a scorecard of some kind. The scorecard should be easy to understand, he said, using a scoreboard at a basketball game as an example. "You need to know within 3 seconds if you are winning or losing." And there has to be accountability.

As an example of how the company has evolved, Stocking said that by using elements from Lean Six Sigma, improved processes in their shops helped them avoid buying 300 trucks -- a huge savings due to developing better processes. They were able to grow the fleet by increasing utilization instead of adding equipment.

Goals From Within

Strategic focus groups within the company work on developing future goals.

"You don't want a leader who comes down from the mountain," and delivers directions he said, just as you don't want a leader who can't make a decision. Rather you want a leader who can "get people involved from all levels. It's all about momentum."

A great leader is one who, when he leaves, the company continues on without missing a beat because the vision and processes are already in place. In the end, it's about the power of belief, Stocking said. Your people need to buy into the vision. Then, the right combination of leadership, execution and results equals a winning culture which perpetuates itself, regardless of who sits in the top chair.