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Rockstars@Work: Dreamworks Animation Practices Fearless Leadership

Why was DreamWorks Animation listed in Fortune’s top 100 companies to work for in 2009? Meredith Berens, human resources spokeswoman for DreamWorks, answered that question in her keynote speech at the RockStars@ Work Conference on October 22, 2009.

Why was DreamWorks Animation listed in Fortune’s top 100 companies to work for in 2009? Meredith Berens, human resources spokeswoman for DreamWorks, answered that question in her keynote speech at the RockStars@ Work Conference on October 22, 2009.

Besides free breakfast and lunch for all employees, a vibrant working environment, mentorship for young employees, and a beautiful campus, DreamWorks also has a commitment to strong leadership from its top management. In a world that often lacks real leadership, I think this is one of the most important aspects of the company.

At DreamWorks, leadership does not mean an aloof figurehead issuing orders from his throne. It means daily employee-manager interaction, opportunities to grow in management skills and leaders who don’t run from challenges. 

Here is one example of the accessibility of managers to the employees. Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO and director of DreamWorks, makes a point of being involved with his employees. Katzenberg personally offers the job to each potential employee, holds a breakfast with the new hires, and interacts with employees on a daily basis.

DreamWorks also offers university-type in-house classes that teach management, leadership and communication skills. These are open to anyone regardless of their position, but are especially encourage for people in leadership roles. Berens said that because it is a challenge to manage artists, this system works very well in giving managers the skills needed to do their job well.

Finally, what I think is the most important part: top leaders at DreamWorks maintain their hands on approach and honesty even in the face of challenges. They don’t run away. DreamWorks has a policy of openness, and Katzenberg is always available to answer the hard questions from his employees. He was especially engaged when the economy plummeted last January. Katzenberg held a meeting with all employees and explained the company’s policy of no layoffs. Afterwards, he fielded all questions that people asked.  

Berens said that this attitude of honesty and courage was a big hit with employees. “Our leaders were not afraid to talk about what’s going on in the company and country and how it affects them,” she said.  

I hope these examples can help you foster real leadership in your own business. 

Melissa Hackenmueller
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