The path to success is simple: Be original - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

The path to success is simple: Be original

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MORGANTOWN, WV -

Really successful organizations don't just try to out-compete or outmaneuver their rivals, according to William C. Taylor.

The most successful organizations redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas.

Taylor, author of the 2011 book "Practically Radical," keynoted the 10th annual West Virginia Leadership Summit April 19 in Morgantown.

"What do you as a leader and as an organization promise that nobody else can promise?" he asked the summit's nearly 200 participants. "What do you deliver that nobody else can deliver?"

Taylor himself has delivered what others could not.

His much-awarded publication Fast Company sold for $340 million in 2000 after less than six years of publication.

As a long-time student of innovative business models, he turned to sharing what he's learned, publishing the best-selling "Mavericks at Work" in 2006. Last year's bestseller, "Practically Radical," draws on in-depth access to 25 organizations that are making deep-seated changes under trying circumstances.

A graduate of Princeton University and the MIT Sloan School of Management, Taylor enlivened his talk in Morgantown with stories of organizations that transcend the molds of their industries.

Simple, mold-breaking ideas

Given the problems health care has in the U.S. and the economic turmoil Detroit has been in over a period of decades, Taylor said, you'd think the downtown Henry Ford Health System would be a mess. Not so: It excels in all of the fundamental measures of health care.

So when the century-old system was ready a few years ago to build a new hospital outside Detroit, its leaders asked what 21st-century health care should look like. They had the inspiration to make a hospitality executive CEO of the new facility.

Checking into Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital is more like checking into a resort than a hospital, Taylor said. The facility itself looks like a lodge, with beautifully landscaped grounds. Patients are greeted by a concierge, walked to their rooms and offered help with logistics for family visits. They're treated to high tea at 4 p.m., and the kitchen is run by a renowned chef.

Unlike any hospital anywhere, this facility has hosted a wedding — and the kitchen actually caters meetings.

"People are paying good money for hospital food," Taylor laughed.

He pointed to the simplicity of the ideas driving the Henry Ford Health System: to take health and healing beyond the boundaries of imagination. And, he said, the same is true of other revolutionary organizations: Southwest Airlines, for example, sees itself not in the airline business or the transportation business, but the freedom business, making air travel affordable and enjoyable for everyone.

Taylor challenged participants to think about the organizations or departments they lead. He asked how they are defining the legacy they want to leave. And he challenged individuals to think about their careers and lives: What do you want your colleagues to think about the way you conduct yourself?

Strategy = culture

Taylor highlighted the unity in successful organizations between external mission and internal workplace management.

"Your strategy is your culture, your culture is your strategy," he said.

He gave the example of USAA, the financial services giant that does business only with active and retired service members and their families.

USAA begins cultivating the company's culture in its 13,000 customer service representatives the moment they arrive for their 10-week training — or rather, from the moment they're "deployed."

Everything is done on 24-hour military time. Some meals are MREs, "meals ready to eat." Sometimes, trainees carry 65-pound military backpacks from session to session. And at the end of each day, they break into groups and read aloud letters from soldiers in the field to their families.

"USAA really wants to immerse their trainees in what their customers go through — not just to strengthen the connection between employees and customers, but also to strengthen the connections among employees," Taylor said.

Inspiring innovation

The best leaders are no longer the smartest guys in the room, whose employees simply execute; they're seekers and synthesizers who draw ideas from everywhere. Innovation flows through and around their organizations in all directions — and even comes from outside.

Taylor gave the example of former Goldcorp CEO Rob McEwen, who bought the money-losing Red Lake gold mine in Canada with good reason to believe it could produce. Years of investment later, his geologists still hadn't found the gold.

McEwen had a new idea: Instead of operating on the traditional model in mineral extraction that keeps all the geological information secret, why not share the mine's 70 years of maps and all the drilling data and offer a prize for the best advice about where to look?

In the end, 1,400 geologists and engineers participated, and 140 scientists, from 18 countries, submitted detailed strategies. Because McEwen gave up an obsolete business model, the company he paid $50 million for is now worth $20 billion.

Attracting greatness

To draw that kind of participation from within and outside their organizations, Taylor said, leaders have to ask themselves two things: Why would great people want to be part of what I'm doing? And how do I know a great person when I see one?

Southwest Airlines knows how to identify great people, he said.

Interviewees are flown to their interviews — on Southwest, of course. Their tickets bear codes that let other employees know they're being considered for employment. The employees watch how the applicants carry themselves when they don't know anyone's watching: checking in for the flight, interacting with other passengers, and then during larger meetings of applicants.

The employees report their observations up to human resources, which uses the information to hire people who naturally fit the company's culture and strategy.

"Success today is about so much more than just price, performance, quality, pure economic value," Taylor said. "It's about passion, emotion, identity — sharing your values as an organization and as individuals from that organization who come into contact with the outside world."

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