Category : Smart company stories

CEO Nancy Schlichting: find the disruptive people

“Find the disruptive people in your organization. They have the ideas that will drive change,” said Nancy Schlichting, CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, a $4 billion healthcare organization with 23,000 employees.

Speaking at the BIF8 innovation conference last week in Providence, RI, Nancy shared what has helped her transform an ailing health care system and create innovations in health care such as a new  $360 million health and wellness facility that feels more like a luxury hotel than a hospital.

Transforming healthcare is all about leadership, she said. Her leadership approach focuses on creating an “incredible” environment for every person to reach their full potential.  How she has created such an  environment:

  • Making a large organization feel small.  When the board approached her about being CEO of the health care system she was reluctant to take it because she likes being involved with people and creating working environments that are positive, personal and open-minded. The board assured her that being CEO of a health care would not preclude how she like to lead.
  • Saying yes to unusual ideas, like an employee who wanted to be able to creating fun drawings  on the disposable gowns worn by the kidney dialysis staff. “This woman creates this amazing designs on her own time on the weekends. On Monday mornings the staff can’t wait to see what she has that week for them.”
  • Helping people who are disruptors. These, she says, are the people with the ideas that can help you change and transform. One example she shared: a surgeon who wanted to put health kiosks in churches in the Detroit community.  Doing so has been a hugely successful way to help people learn about health and wellness.
  • Hiring people in with non-traditional backgrounds to help you see things in new and different ways. “This is essential,” Nancy stressed. One example: she hired Gerard van Grinsven, a long time Ritz Carlton executive to be CEO of the new Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, even though Bernard had no health care experience. His “otherness” has been a significant reason the new hospital has been so successful in its ambitious goals. (Here’s a link to a video of Gerard sharing his story about going from high-end hotels to opening a hospital.
  • Bringing together different thinkers. Creative ideas happen at the intersections, said Nancy. Bringing different thinkers together across silos creates better ideas faster.

Hearing her talk I was reminding of the wonderful poem by Kaylin Haught, “God Says Yes To Me.”  Imagine if CEOs said yes, yes, yes to more of their employees, especially the disruptive corporate rebels?

Not only would organizations be able to innovate and change more quickly, a wonderful sense of joy would permeate the workplace — even in high-stress environments in struggling urban areas, like the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.


Purpose = Profits

Check out this analysis by Morgan Stanley of some of the largest public tech companies in the world: Companies with “simple, focused” missions achieve the biggest gross margins.

Fascinating, yes?  Note that QlikView and Salesforce have the biggest gross margins AND more simple, focused missions than the other companies.

A clear mission is so valuable, but so many companies struggle with finding the courage and commitment for standing for something.  Or they fall into gobbledygook corporate speak that lacks inspiration and clarity. Or the “mission statement by consensus” process is so draining that people end up with “whatever” missions rather than something simple and great.

Big hint: If  the mission process gets painful, you have the wrong people involved.

(See the story that accompanied the chart over at Harvard Business Review, “Employee Values = Stakeholder Value” by Lars Bjork, CEO of QlikTech.)

Leadership advice from JetBlue’s CEO

David Barger, JetBlue Airway’s president and CEO, shared some of his insights about leadership recently in the Sunday “New York Times” column, Corner Office column..  Highlights I found particularly interesting:

  • Simplifying complexity: “You have to be able to simplify things that are complex. At the end of the day, if the 13,000 people on the front lines don’t understand what you’re trying to do, forget it. You don’t stand a chance of making it work.”
    •  (Note:  Four years ago JetBlue had 23 objectives, 14 in year two, 10 in year three, and now just two key objectives. Also, the company has just five values and it interviews candidates with those five values in mind: safety, caring, integrity, fun and passion.)
  • To lead doesn’t require titles: “Be mindful that there is incredible leadership all around you. Go find it. Go tap it. Go mine it.”
  • Key question: “Would you want to report to yourself?”
  • Leading is teaching: “I think the best leaders are teachers…You’re not just doing and communicating what you’re doing — you’re teaching people why you’re doing it.”

Courage to lead: Providence Mayor Angel Taveras

True leaders are rare. Especially among  elected government officials, who tend to make tough decisions based on how it will affect their re-election chances.

One of those rare leaders is Providence Mayor Angel Taveras,  guiding the city and its people through some exceedingly painful yet necessary decisions in order to fill a $110 million  deficit.  And Providence isn’t just any city. It’s been historically  fraught with corruption, closed-door wheeling and dealing, and an unhealthy influence of self-serving insiders.

I often hear people excuse leaders’ inability to lead, saying things like, “Well he’s got a complicated situation to deal with.” Or, “It will take years for anyone to be able to change this place.”

Yet Taveras is deftly guiding the city through difficult change in order to get on firm financial footing. Imagine being a first-time urban city mayor and having to make tough decisions like closing schools and laying off community teachers, firefighters and police?

Despite these always unpopular decisions, Traveras is earning respect and collaboration from his constituents. The reason? He’s focused on doing what’s right, and working WITH diverse constituents. He isn’t dictating how to get to financial stability; he is collaborating in the true sense of the word with the people in the city who best know how to make changes on a tactical level.

Six critical leadership competencies that Taveras brings as mayor:

  1. Focus on a clear, shared goal: restoring the city to a sound fiscal foundation. Taveras’ message is clear about the urgent need to solve the deficit crisis.  Period.
  2. Honesty: revealing the city’s dire financial situation right after his election. No spinning bad news. No taking time to socialize ideas and tend to politics. Taveras has been a straight shooter, presenting the reality, and calling for people to come together to figure out solutions.
  3. Transparency, sharing: sharing the data to help everyone make better decisions.  Fire union president Paul Dougherty recently said that previous mayoral administrations would withhold financial information and often say, “Find it yourself.”  Taveras’ negotiators, however,  have “been straightforward, and they give you information when you ask for it.”
  4. Admitting missteps: acknowledging mistakes and learning from them. “They’re right,” said Taveras of crticism from the teachers union on how the city revealed teacher layoffs. “We certainly could have done a better job with our teachers and I learned from it.”
  5. Not having the answers: great leaders set goals and ask people with a stake in the outcome to create the best way to achieve those goals.  This approach speeds change. The solution isn’t dictated from above, it’s created by the people closest to the issues who know the issues, and will  be responsible for executing them. Taveras doesn’t claim to have the answers, and believes that Providence’s leaders have the ability to create the “how” now that the why is so vitally clear.
  6. Belief and fortitude: Taveras has a steadfast belief that the city will solve its problems, and he’s steadfast in his belief and his values. “He’s showing me intestinal fortitude that I didn’t think he had,” says Joseph Rodio, a lawyer for the police union. “Most politicians, in their first 60 days in office, become somebody different. He hasn’t.”

Quite simply, Mayor Taveras seems to have the courage to govern for the people and with the people.  That’s the type of leader — not politician — we should be supporting if we really want to make our cities, states and country a better place to live.


Putting words to why your company exists

A great company purpose  is a rallying cry that inspires employees and customers.  It moves people emotionally, creates a differentiation that has nothing to do with products or price, and can be explained by anyone in the company.

The best example is Nike. While most of us know the company’s 20 year-old “Just Do It” motto, there’s much more to why Nike exists. Simon Sinek, author of the great book “Start with Why” shares this story about Nike founder Phil Knight over on his re:Focus blog:

Looking across the audience, Knight asked those who run to stand up.  And a good percentage of the room stood up.  Then he asked those who run three or more times a week to keep standing; everyone else was asked to sit down.Looking out at the people left standing, Knight said, “we are for you.”

“When you get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to go for a run,” he went on, “even if it’s cold and wet out, you go. And when you get to mile 4, we’re the one standing under the lamp post, out there in the cold and wet with you, cheering you on.  We’re the inner athlete.  We’re the inner champion.”

Without a single mention of their latest technologies or which athletes wear their products, Knight makes a vastly more compelling case for Why we want Nike in our lives. Nike may or may not be better, but we are drawn to them because they have a cause.

Nike doesn’t want to make products for everyone, they want to make products for champions.  Champions are not the ones who always win races, champions are the ones who get out there and try. And try harder the next time. And even harder the next time. Champion is a state of mind. They are devoted.  They compete to best themselves as much if not more than they compete to best others.  Champions are not just athletes.  Champions are entrepreneurs, politicians, nurses, soldiers, students and Hall of Famers.  Nike wants to make products for all champions.

Most companies have clever or meaningless tag lines (marketing) and bland, gobbledygook mission/vision statements (corporate communications). Few can express why they exist in a way that inspires.

Imagine what might happen if you could?  And you can.

A simple workshop exercise is to ask people, “If our company were a cause, what would our rallying cry be?”

Be prepared to be amazed at what your own people believe. And if they are stumped? Time for some corporate soul searching. If you don’t know why you exist — other than making money and improving shareholder value — you really can’t lead effectively. Manage, sure. Lead, no.