Thursday, March 14, 2013

Carefrontation — The Ultimate Leadership Trait

Guest post by Mark Hopkins:

The best leadership tip I ever received came from a pastor’s sermon during a non-denominational service in Yosemite Valley Chapel.  Maybe it was the message or maybe it was that I had 5 hours to think about it as I hiked up Half Dome later that morning, but 25 years later I can still recall it clearly.  The reverend’s message was that if you find yourself in a position where you have the opportunity to help another person recognize their own limiting behavior, and make a change for the better, that you are obligated to help them.  He went on to explain that this kind of feedback was confrontational and would only be accepted and processed by the recipient if it was delivered in an extremely caring fashion.  In fact he had coined a name for the process when it was done correctly.  He called it carefrontation. 
The pastor was clearly providing guidance to parishioners on how to help others confront tough problems, but to me it sounded a lot like a leadership strategy.  As a new project manager at Hewlett Packard I found that I interacted with a lot of brilliant people, many of who had been conditioned by higher learning institutions to compete rather than collaborate.  It was clear that we would get a lot more done if we could move the culture toward a higher level of trust and cooperation and away from the zero sum game to which they were accustomed. HP had a great training program for new managers, but I decided to add carefrontation to my management style and had great results almost immediately.  When team members began to understand that I really cared about them and would always act in their best interest, we started building a level of trust that changed the way we worked. And it was contagious.  Team members started cooperating and collaborating at a level that got them, and me, noticed.
Over the years I have witnessed the powerful changes that occur when team members care about each other and truly have each other’s backs.  Trust based organizations:
1.    Execute faster: Stephen Covey calls it “The Speed of Trust”.  A trust-based organization spends less time on formal communication and more time getting the job done.  Speed = productivity.
2.    Innovate more: Employees who know the boss has their back think outside the box without fear of failure or retribution.
3.    Produce higher quality work:  Happy people simply care more and do better work because of it.
4.    Attract Customers:  If you think customers can’t feel the company culture, think again. They sense a trust based organization intuitively and want to be associated with it.
5.    Have lower turnover:  After working within a culture of carefrontation it’s almost impossible to go back — and they don’t.
The need for these kinds of organizational attributes has never been higher.  Here in Denver, DaVita Healthcare Partners has demonstrated how this philosophy can pay big dividends in the increasingly scrutinized world of healthcare service providers.  DaVita operates more than 1,800 dialysis centers and employs over 40,000 people domestically.  In spite of their size, or perhaps because of it, they have gone to great lengths to communicate a carefrontation mentality that you can see woven through their core values document.  Here’s an excerpt: “We are trusted because we are trustworthy… We genuinely care for and support, not only those to whom we provide care, but those with whom we work shoulder-to-shoulder.”  The company has used this foundation to achieve an incredible 11 straight years of improved clinical outcomes and financial results.
Regardless of the markets we serve, every one of us knows that our organization’s providence rests squarely on our ability to make the changes demanded by the fast moving target of customer satisfaction.  Creating a company culture where people genuinely care about each other is the best way I know of for a team to confront the challenges it faces and confidently drive improvement in the value chain as well as in itself.
Mark Hopkins earned engineering degrees from Cornell and Stanford and then spent the next twenty-five years deciphering the factors that make some people prosperous, successful and happy After building a leadership career with companies like Hewlett Packard and Emerson Electric, Hopkins founded Peak Industries, a medical device contract manufacturer, which he grew to $75 million and later sold to Delphi. He then founded Crescendo Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and Catalyst, a private foundation supporting Colorado-based nonprofits and micro-lending in the developing world.  He is the author of Shortcut to Prosperity: 10 Entrepreneurial Habits and a Roadmap For An Exceptional Career.


D'Anne Hotchkiss said...

Well said, and perhaps a timely reminder for managers as we reach the end of Q1 (already!). If our team is not reaching its goals, it might be time to apply some carefrontation.

Scott Hunter said...

Carefrontation, a unique and the most glorious concept that can indeed help organization lead by caring leaders achieve great heights.

A lovely read.

-Scott Hunter