Creating a Culture of Open & Direct Communication: Thoughts from Grainger’s DG Macpherson

Amber Johnson Culture, Leadership

Macpherson_DGRecently, DG Macpherson, Group President of Global Supply Chain & International at Grainger, spoke with an audience of leaders at the Executive Breakfast Club of Oak Brook.  Grainger is a business-to-business distributor of more than 1.2 million maintenance, repair and operating  products in a wide variety of industries including healthcare, manufacturing, government and hospitality.

Macpherson is part of an Executive Leadership Team at Grainger working to create a culture where team members (as Grainger calls its employees) at all levels are encouraged to share their opinions directly, even if it contradicts someone in leadership.  In his hour-long conversation with the breakfast club, Macpherson offered several tips:

How to Create a Culture of Open & Direct Communication

  1. Find people who offer a truthful perspective. Macpherson says they exist in every organization.  Find team members who will speak honestly with you and consult them regularly.
  2. Get feedback. You can’t get at the truth by sitting at your desk, Macpherson says. Whether it’s with customers, suppliers or team members, it’s important to meet with them and learn what they are doing, hear their concerns, ask questions and be a catalyst to help solve their problems.  Gathering feedback from a variety of sources is a critical component to an organization’s ability to implement change and innovation, and take advantage of opportunity.
  3. Don’t know what you want to hear. Macpherson works to withhold opinion until after all perspectives have been considered.  By taking longer to make decisions, he holds open the possibility that a new approach, or a contrary opinion, could be valuable.  When you form an opinion too quickly, it closes off other courses of action, Macpherson says.
  4. Pursue genuine diversity of thought. Embrace teams that bring together individuals with diverse backgrounds, interests and personalities.  When diverse individuals align around the shared objective of getting work done, Macpherson finds it creates a freer flow of ideas and information that benefits the company.


Grainger strives to create a culture where diverse ideas are valued, and where senior leadership welcomes direct and candid feedback. “If you do create this environment,” he says, “you’ll see ties to profit and other metrics.” 

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