People are any organization's most valuable asset, but for some reason we keep forgetting this simple point.
Instead, we get caught up in the latest system that is going to make everything and everyone more efficient and economical, ignoring the fact that it is people who make systems work.
I watched a television interview the other night with Jack Welch, the dynamic CEO who recently retired from General Electric Co.
Mr. Welch did an absolutely miraculous job of turning the company around. Although his image has taken a beating of late, that doesn't take away from the point that he used the team concept to perfection at GE. He proved that putting together a group of quality people who are loyal, committed and focused makes the team formula work in business. Conversely, if you have a bunch of talented but selfish people who won't work well with colleagues, you won't have a team whose sum will be greater than its parts.
The best example of this that I can think of is team sports, where you can, with a little knowledge of the game, watch how well a team performs. Of course, you have to have good athletes to succeed in sports such as football, hockey or basketball. Nobody wins without talent. But how many times have you seen top players end their careers without winning a championship?
On the other hand, there are teams that didn't have overwhelming talent but made up for that with team chemistry and won titles. Too often the so-called superstars worry about their own statistics and awards and forget they need teammates to win the big games. Well, the same is true in business, where one individual, through either ego or ignorance, can throw a monkey wrench into the morale and productivity of any group. It happens too much, and it's hard to correct.
That's where leadership comes into play. Good leaders understand that success depends on getting good people to work together toward common goals. Most successful companies not only spend a lot of time recruiting the right kind of staff, but they also make sure that once on board the new hires get the attention and training they need to succeed within the team concept.
Now, there isn't a manager I have ever talked to who hasn't been willing to tell me about his or her superb training program. One CEO told me: ``We leave nothing to chance. We drill our people constantly so they understand the significance of what it is they do.''
That is an admirable goal, and a lot of companies train their people thoroughly-at the beginning, that is. Later, when seasoned employees want to learn new skills, no new training is available because it's seen as too expensive.
Good people wouldn't stand for this type of treatment and often will leave a company because they are not being challenged or stimulated by their leaders. So what to do?
It's really pretty simple. To use that sports analogy again, start with a good game plan. How many people in any organization really understand the organization's mission? I'll guarantee you that too many companies lose their edge and market share because they don't remind their people of the shared goals and the plan to achieve them.
Each department and individual should know how they fit into the corporate plans. This takes a lot of work and there is some risk involved, especially if someone leaves your organization and tells a competitor what your plan is.
Years ago, there was an international airline that was a hair away from declaring bankruptcy. It hadn't shown a profit for many years, and the red ink seemed to be getting worse all the time. The CEO was mediocre. He worried more about the inventory (airliners) and gate leases than the actual product, the quality of the flying experience.
What he couldn't seem to understand was that for any business to survive and prosper it needs customers. That seems so rudimentary, but too often top execs are under so much pressure they forget what it is they are there to do: make intelligent decisions.
Things had gotten so bad after a time that the board was called into emergency session to discuss the possibility of bankruptcy. The board was set to vote to seek bankruptcy protection, but one member of the board wouldn't let it happen. He persuaded the board to hire a young executive who had made incredible changes at a competing airline.
Consequently, the young CEO was brought in to save the day.
His first move was to bring all of his execs together and ask them what kind of business the airline was in. One executive raised his hand and blurted out, ``the airline business.''
Everyone laughed. But the new CEO suggested what he meant was for his people to arrive at a consensus of what the particular mission of that airline should be.
It took days for all the execs to arrive at a consensus, but during that time they got to know each other better and began to think of themselves as a team.
Eventually a consensus was reached, which was ``to take passengers from one location to another safely and on time.''
And so executives of the airline fanned out all over the world to bring all the thousands of employees on board with the company's new mission. Along with the new mission statement, the new CEO introduced a new customer service program, and the airline soon became known for its coddling of passengers and its profitability.
Team play in business is not a new concept. But teams still need leaders and too often that leadership is unfocused and weak. When quality people see this, they move on, leaving the company less and less effective-with failure a distinct possibility.
People need to be inspired day after day, month after month and year after year. It takes a sense of purpose and a lot of hard work, but isn't that what leaders are paid to do?
It all comes down to people.
Charles Lauer is publisher of Modern Healthcare, a sister publication of Tire Business.