A sea captain and his chief engineer got into an argument about which one was more important to the ship. Finally they decided to trade places for a day. After a few hours, the captain suddenly appeared on deck, covered with oil and soot.
“Chief!” he yelled wildly waving aloft a monkey wrench. “You’ll have to come down here! I can’t make the ship go!”
“Of course not!” replied the chief engineer. “We’re aground!”
This story demonstrates that everyone is important. As I like to say, “The boat won’t go if we all don’t row.” You must be committed to each other.
This concept is not new, but it is more important than ever in these challenging business times. Even as some businesses start to rebound, many of them have come to realize that their departments look radically different than they did pre-recession. They understand that workers who have worn several hats simultaneously have demonstrated better work flow and streamlined operations. And as those businesses slowly expand, they see that the old practices and procedures probably needed changing long before.
Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, coined the phrase “the boundaryless organization.” He believed that GE would be much more effective if the cultural, geographical and organizational barriers that separated the employees become more open. He put emphasis on the boundaries’ ability to enable business to function, rather than to get in its way. In other words, everyone is important and must be included. Once every plant understood this, employees began talking to everyone across the aisle – shipping to sales, manufacturing to R&D, and so on down the line.
We have employed this thinking at MackayMitchell Envelope Company since we opened our doors over 50 years ago. For example, I am often asked how many salespeople we have. My answer is always the same, “500.” “WOW!” is the usual response, followed by “How many employees do you have?” My answer is the same: “500.”
Perhaps that’s why they are also amazed when I tell them our company motto: “To be in business forever.”
You see, we believe that everyone is responsible for selling in our company, if not a specific product. We are committed to the notion that the sales force may bring in the orders, but the factory must produce the quality product that our sales force promised. Our customer service department needs to be in constant communication with the folks who bring in the business and those who work on the factory floor.
And the officers of the company are charged with making sure their departments understand the challenges and strengths of each of the other departments.
It all sounds so simple, but as a company grows, it takes a commitment at every level of the organization.
Howard Schultz, the entrepreneur who bought the original four-store Starbucks chain and turned it into a company that serves 50 million customers a week, wanted to establish a company where employees were respected.
What was his inspiration? Memories of his father’s life of working one low-paying job after another and going without decent compensation or insurance. Schultz wanted to create “the kind of company that my father never got a chance to work for, in which people were respected.” Schultz was selling coffee machines for a company when he noticed how many Starbucks was buying. He made the move to Starbucks and began to market the growing coffee company.
Inspired by the “coffee culture” in Italy, he wanted to make that type of culture available in the Starbucks shops. Eventually Schultz bought the company. Starbucks’ principles demonstrate exactly how they view each of their employees:
- Provide a great work environment and treat each other with respect and dignity.
- Embrace diversity as an essential component in the way we do business.
- Apply the highest standards of excellence to the purchasing, roasting and delivery of our coffee.
- Develop enthusiastically satisfied customers all of the time.
- Contribute positively to our communities and our environment.
- Recognize that profitability is key to future success.
Those principles include and embrace every worker in the company. The employees know from the start what is expected of them and what they can expect from their employer.
You don’t have to be a coffee drinker to appreciate that attitude.
Mackay’s Moral: No one is as important as all of us.