Q&A with Richard Gallagher
In the new Jan. 26 issue, writer Glen McDaniel mentions Richard Gallagher's book The Soul of the Organization in his article "Truth or Consequences." Gallagher's book is about, according to its official Web site, "show[ing]you how your values, and not your business practices, are what drive your success." ADVANCE asked Gallagher a few questions about his book.
ADVANCE: Why did you decide to write this book?
Richard Gallagher (RG): I wrote this book for two reasons. First, to get across the idea the specific core values were at the root of most market leaders. Second, while not taking anything away from the business process movements of the last few years, to underscore how long-term, self-sustaining performance really starts with getting people to believe in something greater than themselves.
In my own career, I have had the honor of working for several very successful companies, including a West Coast software startup that grew to become a major NASDAQ firm. In each of these companies, you could practically feel something special as you walked through the halls, and my goal was to bottle up the specifics of those feelings as a game plan for business success.
Take, for example, Southwest Airlines. Their business model is founded around a fanaticism to teamwork, and former CEO Herb Kelleher's message on its Web site focused largely on how they could turn around an airplane at the gate in 20 minutes--roughly twice as fast as their competitors. To be able to do this requires everyone to work cross-functionally, and even though Southwest has one of the most highly unionized (and highly paid) employee teams in the industry, they all "get" teamwork, even if they never set foot near an airplane. This means everyone pulls together to be efficient, and this is why they remain profitable while leading in areas like employee and customer satisfaction.
ADVANCE: What are some of the most important values you need to have to be successful in any career?
RG: If I could boil the entire book into one concept, it is to focus on doing one thing really, really well--better than anyone. This is as true for your own personal career as it is for an entire business. In my own case, for example, I made a career of "turning around" the performance of customer support operations by focusing on the mechanics of a good service experience, such how we responded to customers, what we said in difficult situations, and how we did service recovery when something went wrong--and most of all, how to help every team member feel supremely confident in how they did their job.
The book discusses seven core values, ranging from having a system to building a service culture, but if I had to choose two that were most important, they would be getting the best from your team and dealing with change. In the first case, I feel the great unspoken secret of business success is helping everyone feel good about coming in to work every morning. I helped foster this on my own teams through training, coaching, giving people important roles, and most of all a positive, blame-free atmosphere where we respected each other and learned from our mistakes. If your workplace is oriented around rules, accountability and corrective action--like far too many--look critically at your morale, turnover and performance, and see how putting your employees first can help you join the best of the best.
As for change, one of the inspirations for this book was a 1992 Harvard Business School book titled Corporate Culture and Performance, which surveyed leading companies over time and showed, in glorious scatter-plot detail, how cultural values related to success. One of the book's conclusions was that the ability to change was the single biggest trait for lasting success; this is why, for example, many of the corporate culture icons of one decade eventually get displaced by other firms in other decades. Here as well, I feel the same is as true in one's own career as for business itself.
ADVANCE: How does your book relate to the healthcare industry?
RG: The healthcare industry will always have a warm spot in my heart because I was part of it at the time I wrote this book, as head of software customer support for a large firm serving the acute care industry. The book examines both successes in this industry, such as this firm's leading customer satisfaction ratings, as well as failures, such as a hospital receptionist who was too rude and too busy to tell me that my grandmother had died there the night before. Those of you who work in the healthcare laboratory testing business literally have people's health, hopes and fears in your hands, and I have tremendous respect for those of you who strive to be leaders in your field.