This post is a bit different. It’s not about a project or a major change. It’s a story about one man’s values and the lasting legacy he left through the actions he took over time. However, it does relate to project and change management in this sense, as Peter Drucker once so succinctly put it: “Culture eats change for breakfast”. Projects that fail to consider their relationships to an organization’s culture and core values are destined for trouble. Perhaps that’s a useful start for a new year.
Thanks to D.T. for the details on this story.
My friend, let’s call him Thom, was the owner of a retail franchise store for about thirty years. As a previous high school history teacher, he knew next to nothing about managing a retail operation so he had a huge learning curve to climb. And climb it he did, to the very summit. Even though he served a small market, his store was one of the most successful in the franchise. Thom was also an engaged leader in the community and a kick-starter and participant in many community initiatives.
How did Thom achieve his success? Certainly hard work and an ability to learn and adapt were fundamental. However, he had a strong set of values based on three principles:
- Do your very best to satisfy every customer’s needs
- Help, support, recognize and reward every employee fairly
- Be an active and valuable member of the community
He attributes his success to these principles and the values they helped instill in him, his company and his employees.
When my friend was telling me the story that follows, it occurred to me that he was doing business at the same time as Thomas Watson Jr. was running IBM. In 1962, Watson, IBM’s chairman, addressed an audience of future leaders at Columbia University. IBM had just turned 50, and he was invited to offer his thoughts on what half a century of corporate life had taught his company. He focused on IBM’s basic beliefs.
“I firmly believe that any organization, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions. Next, I believe that the most important single factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs. And finally, I believe that if an organization is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except those beliefs as it moves through corporate life.”
In 1963 Watson published “A Business and Its Beliefs: The Ideas that Helped Build IBM.” In it, he wrote that IBM’s philosophy could be contained in three beliefs: One, the most important, was respect for the individual employee; the second, a commitment to customer service; and third, achieving excellence.
Wow! Sounds a lot like Thom’s principles. Thom claims he and Thomas Watson never spoke. And now to the story.
Early in his retail management career, Thom had a six week store refurbishing project that required extra temporary staff working the night shift so as not to disrupt the normal daily operations. He advertised for temporary workers, had lots of candidates and began the interviewing process. One of the candidates was a young, unemployed man named Sam. He was short and slight and didn’t appear to be physically suited to the arduous physical effort required in the refurbishing project. He didn’t even have a high school diploma. But for some reason Thom liked him. He was well spoken, personable, very eager and asked a bunch of intelligent questions about the project so Thom offered him a spot on the team. Thom stressed this was a temporary, six week assignment only.
The project went smoothly. Thom monitored the performance of the temporary staff he had hired, recognizing them as a potential pool for future permanent positions. Sam’s performance stood out. He was always early to the job and late to leave. He did quality work. He worked well independently and with his teammates. He was great with his full time staff and the few customers he came into contact with. At the end of the project, Thom offered Sam a permanent position. When Thom retired, Sam was still working at the store and would work there until he too retired. He was never a manager but he was a model employee, worked hard and always pitched in to helped customers and peers.
Recently, Thom received a phone call from a former manager at his old store to say that Sam’s wife, Sheila, was dying from terminal cancer. Of course, Thom knew Sheila from the many company and community functions they attended over the years so he decided to give her a call and offer whatever support he could. When Thom called, Sam answered. They chatted for half an hour about their many shared experiences. They talked about Sheila’s illness and how Sam was doing. Finally, Sam put Sheila on the phone.
Thom and Sheila chatted for another twenty minutes or so about old times, her cancer and how Sam was doing. Then Sheila said “Thom, I want to thank you so much for giving Sam that initial opportunity and helping us experience the wonderful life we’ve had together. Because of your generosity and caring, Sam will have no financial worries after I’m gone. We’ve managed to save all the profit sharing cheques over the years. That will give Sam more than $1 million to fall back on.”
Thom was overwhelmed. He had always believed in profit sharing and had offered a profit sharing program from the first year of his ownership. He believed it was one of the reasons his staff were so productive and so loyal and his turnover so low. But a million dollars in savings? Sam had never had a big salary but the profit sharing proceeds could amount to 20% of salary annually. Sam and Sheila had been frugal with their funds.
When Thom ended the call, he was saddened but gladdened. Saddened by Sheila’s looming death, of course. But his heart soared with the realization that running his business and managing his relationships according to three principles formed and acted on so long ago had had such a positive and appreciated impact on a valued employee and his family. It was a fitting stamp of approval to a long and successful career.
The moral of the story for project managers and staff, change practitioners and stakeholders is perhaps best summed up by this quote from Gandhi:
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
And remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering stakeholder, process and decision area best practices right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors, including culture and core values.
Finally, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, past or present, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens and published in this blog, don’t be shy! Send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your insights. Thanks
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