Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Road to Organizational Excellence

            In many ways, I’ve had a calling to help people and organizations achieve excellence my entire adult life. Since high school, I’ve been both informally and formally developing the theories and concepts I share with organizations throughout the Western U.S. My experiences in workplaces—as an employee, a manager, a state senator and as a consultant—reaffirm the theories I’ve come to hold as truths.
            In simplest terms, these two facts, when coupled, are the most important things I now know for certain. 1. Work isn’t a source of inspiration and excitement for organizations as a whole and for many people within an organization. 2. Work can be both energizing and inspirational—every hour, every day—for every person who works toward an organization’s success and for the organization itself.
            The first fact causes many workers and many organizations to underlive their lives, with a significant opportunity cost to themselves and society. The second fact, though, suggests we can achieve our highest potential—and have fun doing it.
            I grew up in Anaconda, Mont., a small town built around a copper smelter that has generations of good, hard-working people. My family lived across the street from the Butte, Anaconda & Pacific Railroad (BA&P) office, and every day I would watch people come to work in the morning and leave at quitting time. These were good people—many of them were parents of friends and people I knew —and I know they worked hard. But they looked joyless as they came and went, and that left an impression in my mind.
            I saw the same absence of enthusiasm when I took my first job with the Boeing Co. in Seattle after graduating from Carroll College in 1967. I worked in a room with 200 people in a one-story building that held 2,000 employees. The 747 jumbo jet, now the most recognizable commercial airliner in the world, was in development at the time, and it was an exciting time for a company heading toward a milestone in aviation history. You wouldn’t have always known it, however, by watching the employees and management. I say this knowing that Boeing was then and is now a top-tier global corporation. Still, Boeing and its wonderful people had and have a higher level of excellence they can achieve.
            I returned to Montana a short time later to teach high school math and to coach. It was in the classroom and on the basketball court at Anaconda Central High School that I got a taste of teaching inspiration and dedication to excellence. My best lessons didn’t involve teaching algebraic equations or the pick and roll. Rather, they involved using my desire and ability to motivate and lead by example, and I believe that helped my students succeed. Even though I only taught for a couple of years, I still run into former students who remember some of the life lessons I tried to weave into my lesson plans. I took that passion for excellence with me to South Bend, Indiana, where I earned a master of business administration (MBA) degree from Notre Dame.
            After graduating Notre Dame, I returned again to Big Sky Country and took a job with The Montana Power Co., a company with which I would spend 30 years. At Montana Power, we had a united purpose, a common cause that was pretty cut and dry: generate and deliver power and natural gas to the homeowners and businesses in our state. I am deeply indebted to my fellow employees at MPC for their commitment to stakeholders and their friendship. As with other organizations, though, we also had a higher level of potential to serve that we could have reached.
            As my career progressed, I started to assert my beliefs into my management style. I became more and more “other focused,” leading in such a way that I concentrated on helping those around me achieve what they needed to achieve to be inspired by their jobs and successful in their careers – and to collectively help the organization achieve its full potential. By the time I was Chief Operating Officer at Montana Power, I focused on helping other executives and managers to know their aptitudes and passions so they could excel at their jobs and actualize their potentials.
            I left Montana Power in 2002 when the company was acquired, but I haven’t stopped developing my theories and concepts for achieving organizational excellence. Indeed, it has become my passion, my calling, and the passion of Jack Haffey & Associates.

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