Todd Lachman has over 25 years of experience as a business leader, but he says that doesn’t define him — it’s his charity work, his outdoor activities, and spending time with his family that fulfills him most.
The Founder, President, and CEO of Sovos Brands tells Thrive Global how he encourages work-life integration — both for himself and colleagues — approaches workplace stress, and empowers his employees both to speak up and take time off.
Thrive Global: What small steps do you use to accomplish your ultimate goal? How do you stay on track?
Todd Lachman: It’s really not a small step, but it all starts with hiring the best talent and then empowering them to do the job. Once you have the right people, you need to create an environment where everyone has a voice. The ability to debate, disagree, and ask tough questions enables our employees to make great decisions quickly and work together to accomplish whatever the ultimate goal may be.
TG: What is one small habit that has improved your life significantly?
TL: Engaging in exercise every day is a habit that clears my head, gives me energy, and enables some of my best thinking. It isn’t uncommon for me to brainstorm while I’m cycling, whether its potential product ideas or how to solve difficult challenges.
Another habit that I continuously try to maintain is to be a better active listener. I think a lot about active listening — sometimes on my bike rides! — and how I can create an environment where people feel comfortable making their voice heard because it’s so congruent with our culture.
TG: How do you approach workplace stress?
TL: At some points I certainly use humor. In no way is that saying this is not a serious job. But you have to have a sense of humor; you have to be able to make jokes and have fun. This helps both me and the people around me.
Another thing is remembering to keep things in perspective. During challenging situations, I remind myself to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what we are doing: providing the most delicious and high-quality food we can to the consumer, and providing a safe work environment for our employees. As long as we live by those guiding principles, the rest will fall into place.
To help minimize overall workplace stress, I try to encourage an environment that gives employees the permission to be wrong. I would rather have an environment where we take risks and make decisions, maybe being wrong 30% of the time, versus procrastinating and trying to be right 100% of the time, or worse yet, not making any decisions at all.
TG: What are three things that help you thrive outside the office? What about inside?
TL: First is my family. I am blessed to have been married to my best friend, Christine, for almost 27 years. We have three awesome kids, Kyle, Paul, and Isabella, and we spend as much time as we can together — although it has recently been more difficult since the kids are all out of the house! Our two dogs, Francis and Colby, now get more of our attention, and they always help to keep everything in perspective.
The second thing is spending as much time as I can being active outdoors, which is also something we enjoy as a family. In the winter you can find us snowshoeing, cross country skiing, or downhill skiing, and in the summer we’re hiking or cycling, which are all passions of mine.
The third thing that helps me thrive is paying it forward, which has been a big part of my life that started 30 years ago when I became big brother to Tremaine through the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization. Tremaine has become a lifelong friend and we are still in touch today. My wife and I have been active in several nonprofit boards over the years, and I’m currently on the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area Board. These experiences have given me perspective and have taught me so much.
TG: What is one key piece of advice for someone newly entering a management role?
TL: My top piece of advice to someone newly entering a management role is: Go slow to go fast.
That means allowing yourself the proper time to onboard and transition into the new role. A big part of this is having an open mind, asking plenty of questions, and having the confidence to ask for advice, listen, and learn from it. Another important part of this is putting together a solid transition plan in partnership with your leadership team to ensure you’re all on the same page from day one in terms of what success looks like.
TG: Can you share one story where you went from surviving to thriving?
TL: Taking a new job in Santiago, Chile ended up being one of the greatest adventures of my life, which really allowed me to thrive as I embraced stepping out of my comfort zone. We had to learn a new culture, a new language, and a new way of doing things — not to mention, our sons were only 2-and-a-half and 8 weeks old when we did it!
Taking a chance on a new job in a completely unfamiliar setting allowed me to transition from a job and a city where I was surviving to an opportunity in which I truly thrived.
TG: What type of work environment do you thrive in? Why?
TL: I thrive in an environment where everyone has a seat at the table, where all opinions are welcome, and everyone can speak their opinions and disagree with one another. I call this a high-performing horizontal organization, in which people are working interdependently to reach a common goal. I firmly believe that the best decisions are made in an open and collaborative environment where employees feel empowered to have a voice. That is how you grow personally, grow the business, and deliver great results.
TG: What are your travel tips for staying on track during long trips?
TL: One tip is to maintain your everyday routine as best as you can and make time for the things you would normally enjoy, whether it’s exercising, reading a book, or watching your favorite show. Too often I’ve seen people on long business trips who feel obligated to follow a packed and strict work schedule, when in reality you need to make time to recharge your batteries just as you would at home. And it’s a win-win: By taking the time for yourself, it allows greater productivity and output during your working hours.
And finally, when traveling internationally, do what you can to acclimate to your destination time zone the minute you set foot on the plane. Even small things like resetting your watch or altering your sleep habits on the flight can make a difference and allow you to hit the ball out of the park once you land.
TG: With so many distractions and interruptions throughout the day, how do you stay focused?
TL: I believe it is important to make yourself accessible as a CEO, but of course there is a need to balance that with being protective of your time. I think the key to doing both is over-communicating and, again, stepping out of your employees’ way and empowering them to get the job done.
Earlier in my career, I did find that my day was full of distractions, so I took a step back and assessed what I was doing to create that type of an environment. It turns out a lot of my distractions came from being part of all the conversations and wanting to be the final decision maker. Once I learned to better delegate — a hard skill to master as you progress in your career — I found myself less distracted. This goes back to what I mentioned earlier: Hiring top talent is critical to accomplishing your goals. I hire great people who can speak for themselves, and always make myself available to engage, coach, and help them where I can.
TG: How do you ensure your company’s mission starts within the company, and what are some ways you incorporate your company’s office mission into your culture?
Our company’s mission is Delicious Food for Joyful Living, and we try to embody joyful living in our workplace by creating a fulfilling, collaborative work environment that translates to joy inside and outside the walls of our office.
Additionally, we try to inspire joyful living by encouraging a healthy work/life balance. I am a big believer that a company culture is merely a reflection of the action of its leaders, so our leadership team also tries to embody joyful living by using all of their PTO days, and encouraging their reports to do the same.
TG: What is your favorite hobby or out of office interest?
TL: Being active and enjoying the outdoors. Whether it’s taking a long hike with my wife and the dogs or taking a cross country skiing trip, staying active and spending time outside are my two favorite ways to decompress and unwind.
TG: What is your relationship with feedback? Do you ever struggle to give or receive feedback?
TL: One of our guiding principles is to communicate with candor and respect, and fundamental to that is giving and accepting feedback. Having a feedback-rich culture is critical to our success, as it encourages growth and accountability.
I always seek out feedback, and I enjoy working with people who are transparent and straightforward with their feedback. Our Chairman, Bill Johnson, is a good example — we speak very openly and honestly, and he gives me feedback every time we speak. And it’s a two-way street, which, to me, is a true testament to our relationship.
TG: What are three things that make a successful meeting?
1. At Sovos Brands, we send out pre-reads in advance of every meeting to ensure everyone has a chance to read them beforehand. In the meeting, we assume everyone has read the materials, and then use our time to have a group discussion, rather than walking through the materials. Having a robust dialogue focused on the issues versus death by PowerPoint changes the group dynamic significantly and has been extremely successful for us.
2. It is important to level set at the start of the meeting by clearly stating the meeting objectives and key decisions that need to be made. Taking five minutes to ensure everyone is on the same page on the front end avoids confusion and miscommunication later in the meeting.
3. Another important thing for me is that everyone needs to be an active participant or an active listener — no multitasking or spectating. That means putting your phone down and being present.
TG: What do you do when a project or personal goal isn’t on track? What small steps can you take to get it back in motion?
TL: I seek to understand why the project is off track, see what needs to be done to get it back on track, and determine if I have the time and resources to get it to that point. Often times, after reassessing, I determine that I’m focused on too many things, and if something is off track, it’s not the right priority.
It is crucial to focus on the most important and urgent tasks, and understand what should be rectified and what tasks can be removed or deprioritized.
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