Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Three Steps to Transformation by Dave Elser and Myra Kruger (Book Giveaway)
Today's guest bloggers are Dave Esler and Myra Kruger. They are the authors of The Pursuit of Something Better, which tells the story of the amazing transformation of U.S. Celluar and of its unconventional CEO, Jack Rooney, who had the vision to see the limitations of the traditional business model a decade before it imploded, and the courage to replace it with something much, much better.
Dave Esler and Myra Kruger combined their 30 years of corporate communications, human resources, and consulting experience as Esler Kruger Associates in 1987. Their consulting firm focuses on culture change, organizational surveys, and executive counsel on effective leadership. They are based in Highland Park, Illinois and can be reached at www.eslerkruger.com.
Three Steps to Transformation
Our book, The Pursuit of Something Better, tells a story of genuine transformation: how an underdog company rebuilt its culture on a foundation of old-fashioned values in order to thrive in an industry of heavyweights. The company is U.S. Cellular, the last midsized wireless carrier left standing, after years of industry consolidation, to compete with the AT&Ts and Verizons of the world. The leader responsible for the company’s transformation into a competitive terror in its regional strongholds is Jack Rooney, its CEO for the past decade.
“Transformation” is not a word we use lightly. The changes at U.S. Cellular represent what is perhaps the most successful example of broad-scale, deep-down, root-and-branch, no-compromise corporate culture change in this country in the past 30 years. Many, many, many companies have undertaken similar changes; many of these attempts have been total failures, and most of the rest have achieved only token success. It’s worth paying close attention to one organization – and one leader – that got it right.
Of Rooney’s myriad contributions to this process, three stand out for their uniqueness.
First, he provided the company with not only a vision (corporate “visions” being a dime a dozen), but a detailed picture of what the new world he was asking his company to create would look like. Rooney’s “Dynamic Organization” is extraordinarily specific; beyond the six core values and ten desired behaviors that provide the underpinning of his vision, he posits several “key components” that describe the target culture in remarkably concrete terms.
For example: in the D.O., “associates operate close to their customers and are free from the distractions of running the business;” “leaders lead through inspiration, not by regulation;” “the customer’s experience with the company is more important than the product provided;” “associates – especially leaders – have a customer’s perspective and the ability to visualize the ideal customer experience.” (A full description of all the D.O.’s principal parts is provided in The Pursuit of Something Better.)
For Rooney, these statements are more than the usual wishful thinking; they are depictions of a workplace reality that was missing only one detail: they had not, in 2000, actually happened yet. But, he reminded the somewhat bewildered audiences at his new company, they surely would. In the years since, his description of what the new world would look like has become a set of standards that drive every endeavor at U.S. Cellular – and the company gradually came to look more and more like the Dynamic Organization Rooney had imagined.
Rooney’s second unique contribution was to provide one of the most complete and detailed systems for tracking and measuring cultural progress yet devised. Culture change can be frustratingly nebulous; that’s one of the reasons why so many executive eyes glaze over at its mention. That’s not the case at U.S. Cellular, where an extensive survey of the culture has been conducted annually since Rooney introduced the D.O. in 2000.
The survey was specifically designed to assess the company’s progress in putting the values and behaviors of the D.O. into practice. A statistical basis for measurement is provided by an extensive online questionnaire that examines every aspect of the culture and that is offered annually to every employee. Participation rates are phenomenal, ranging over the survey’s ten-year history from a high of 97 percent to a low of 92; associates are eager to contribute to the survey because they know from experience that the company acts on the results. One segment of the survey asks associates to assess how well their supervisors and skip-level leaders are modeling the culture; these results are used to drive leadership development and become a major component of leaders’ performance appraisals.
The questionnaire is supplemented by a series of individual group interviews in which between 25 and 30 percent of the company participate each year; these interviews are designed to provide explanations for that year’s numerical variations. Survey results are reported, to U.S. Cellular’s entire leadership team – some 1,500 people in 2009 – at the annual, two-day Leadership Forum, one of the major events on the company’s calendar. By the time it concludes, no participant has any doubt about where the company – and each individual leader – stands in relation to the D.O., and what they need to do to get even closer.
Rooney’s third main contribution to his company’s transformation was – and is – the absolute, unwavering conviction that the vision would happen. Many executives who embark on culture change get discouraged and waver; it is just too hard, too daunting, too disruptive. Rooney is different; he has had for many years in the center of his desk a plaque that captures his credo perfectly: “It shall be done.” This is not a statement of power or ego, but of simple fact: failure to implement is not an option. Success will not likely be easy, or cheap, and it may take longer than anyone expects. But it shall be done.
And it has been done. U.S. Cellular in 2009 bears no resemblance to the company Rooney joined nine years ago. Today, it is a proven winner among all its constituencies by every measurable standard: customer appreciation (five J.D. Powers awards in a row, and counting), associate satisfaction, share price, bottom line. The company that set out nine years ago in pursuit of something better has found it.
Here are the rules to win a free copy of The Pursuit of Something Better:
1) Comment here with your working email address so that we can contact you if you win.
2) Get an additional entry for blogging about this contest. Leave a comment here telling us where you blogged about it.
3) Tweet about this contest. Don't forget to tell us here that you tweeted!
Contest runs from today until on July 14, 2009 to July 28, 2009. The winner will be announced at this blog on July 29, 2009.
This contest is open to residents of the United States and Canada only.