I have been looking for answers to what it takes to create a winning corporate culture in the midst of today's confusing economic indicators. If I rely solely on history or economic indicators, I won't find the answers. Company profits are up, yet job growth is sputtering. Communication happens at breakneck speed, yet we often feel less connected to our peers than we ever did.
That's why I was especially eager to interview Dr. Stephen R. Covey, Chairman of FranklinCovey, leadership visionary, and best-selling author. Dr. Covey has taught leadership principles and management skills for more than 30 years. He has worked with more than 150 of the Fortune 500 companies and thousands of smaller organizations. His work in principle-centered leadership has been successfully adopted by thousands of organizations to improve business results.
I began the interview by sharing my dilemma with Dr. Covey. I told him that I work with professional services and technology companies, and that I see a major disconnect between how we design our companies, and the expectations of today's educated workforce. Worse yet, the disconnect seems even more acute among companies who view themselves as technologically enlightened and operationally efficient. Although we pride ourselves in hiring "knowledge workers," we are running our companies using older industrial business models. Many of us (myself included) have been treating our employees as things that can be moved and removed. We dictate policies and procedures from our corner offices and expect people to comply.
The Data Proves It
FranklinCovey's recent survey of 12,182 workers further fueled my concern. They measured employee perspectives on how sharply they focus and execute on their company's key strategic objectives.
The disturbing findings tell us that most companies suffer from major "execution gaps." In fact, only 48% of the workers say their organization has a clear strategic direction. Only 44% of workers say their company has clearly communicated its most important goals (usually fewer than three). So much for technology delivering on its promise to streamline communication.
I asked Dr. Covey what is causing this dichotomy. Says Dr. Covey, "the industrial system that still runs most of today's organizations and people is a 'thing' model. We fail to realize that when we deal with people, we are dealing with four aspects: body, heart, mind, and spirit."
Does your company really, truly understand and embrace this model? Here is a way to test it. Dr. Covey continues with a four-question assessment any leader can use:
1. Does your company pay you fairly? (body)
2. Are you treated kindly and respectfully? (heart)
3. Are you given the opportunity to continue learning and growing, both personally and professionally? (mind)
4. To what degree do you find your work meaningful? (spirit)
As we shared thoughts on these questions, Dr. Covey handed me an oatmeal cookie. In hindsight, I realize he was demonstrating these principles through that simple, graceful action. I had no need to question his beliefs, because he was practicing what he preached.
I immediately wondered what else I could ask Dr. Covey. Let's face it-when you're 71 years old, have 40 grandchildren, and hold the Chairman title at a publicly-traded company, you don't have much more that you need to prove or say. The wisdom just leaks from your pores. The interview could have concluded nicely right there. I continued anyway.
Three Growth Accelerators
What actions can you immediately take to bridge the gap between your knowledge workers and these industrial age business models? He suggests three strategies to help you get started.
1. Start with yourself and learn your own style. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, "We must become the change we want to see in the world." Surround yourself with advisors and employees who share your desire to create a knowledge-based business model. Hire a coach who can accelerate your own ability to identify what is truly important to you. Your old community and circle of friends usually want you to maintain status quo, and don't always have your best interests in mind.
Dr. Covey continues, "If you want to know what really matters to you, write your own epitaph. What do you want your tombstone to say when you die? Also, write a mission statement with your family. This will help you determine what you can say "no" to in your life, versus what is important."
Use this free mission statement builder on FranklinCovey's website.
2. Build on your integrity by keeping a small promise. This helps you begin living a life of workability. Focus on four areas of your life and get them 100% handled. Look at your current relationships throughout your communities, your health and wellness, finances, and every environment where you currently operate. What areas are messy, broken, or neglected? The faster you get them handled, Dr. Covey says, "the more prepared you are to be a person who is known to keep a promise." Then you'll be ready to keep big promises.
3. Involve your teams in the problems you are facing. That's right-be truthful and vulnerable. Be willing to admit when things are not "fine." If you have been trained in industrial-era management models, this will be a challenging feat.
One of my clients had the courage to do this. He's the General Manager of a rapidly growing software company, yet he didn't let success and complacency stop him. He sat down with his key managers and asked for their input. He learned that his employee performance plans were inconsistent with the business model they needed to ensure profitable growth and high client retention. Within a few months, they revised their performance and compensation plans to ensure they rewarded the right behaviors while driving financial results. Since that time, three of their new hires have proven to be excellent contributors, and they secured another $7.5M in sales.
FranklinCovey's research will shake the core of many business foundations, and leave some paralyzed. I am honored to have shared this dialog with someone who leads the knowledge worker revolution.
Borrowing again from Gandhi, I see Stephen Covey as a man who is "the sum of his actions, of what he has done, and of what he can do." His leadership gives us the courage to help each of us transform ourselves and our organizations during these confusing economic times.
Copyright 2004, Nirell & Associates
About Lisa Nirell
Lisa is President of Nirell & Associates in Del Mar, California. She advises senior services executives who want to hire and retain their best people in order to drive more client value. She has over 22 years' IT industry and consulting experience. Lisa has served on 3 Boards of Directors and recently completed a ten-month research study of top performing services CEOs. For a free copy of her Special Report ($59 value), and to subscribe to her monthly ezine,email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.nirell.com.