Written By: Brent Allen
A hunter tracked a set of prints through the mountains. He eventually came upon the largest looking grizzly bear he had ever seen. The animal was recently killed, and a small man stood beside it. Amazed, the hunter asked, “Did you kill that grizzly?” “Yes,” he replied. “How could a little guy like you put down a huge beast like that?” “I killed it with my club,” the man replied. “Wow!” the astonished hunter exclaimed. “How big is your club?” The man thought for a moment. “Oh…I guess there are about 30 of us.”
This little story is an accurate depiction of Med One. Rather than 30 strong…we are over 100 strong - and we are much more than a club, we are a family. We are a family striving for “shared success.” WE ARE MED ONE! We are not out hunting grizzlies, but we are united in a common purpose. We focus on “MAKING MEDICAL EQUIPMENT AVAILABLE.”
I sincerely believe that the secret to accomplishing this objective lies in creating a unique company culture. But what is culture? For me, it is very challenging to define. I think that it has a lot to do with an organization’s people, values, and practices. I am proud of the people we have hired. I am proud of the values and practices that Med One has embraced. I am also proud of the very special culture we have here at Med One.
Someone once said, “I don’t believe that culture is just one aspect of the game… I believe that it is the game.” I completely embrace this concept. I think maintaining a positive culture is so important, in my opinion, it even trumps strategy. I believe that the shaping of our Med One culture was put into place when we hired our team. Mahatma Gandhi said it best, “A company’s culture resides in the hearts and the souls of its people.” At Med One, our culture is our people. Med One is defined by the capacity of our employees to create value. We are a family. WE ARE MED ONE.
We recently held our annual meeting, an event where the company gathers together from across the country. During a session of the meeting, we were asked to write down our definition of the Med One culture. I reviewed many of the responses and was impressed with what I saw. The following is my response to the question. “The Med One culture is people working together and helping one another. It is called teamwork - this is how we achieve our objectives.”“The Med One culture is people working together and helping one another. It is called teamwork - this is how we achieve our objectives.”
I was also interested in Larry’s (my business partner and the CEO of Med One) response. He wrote, “Our uniqueness is sitting here in this room. We give them the power to solve problems and then provide the tools and permission to implement the solutions.”
I find it interesting that both of our perspectives pointed to our people. There must be some truth in the statement, “At Med One, our culture is our people.”
PEOPLE WORKING TOGETHER AND HELPING ONE ANOTHER
I believe that the real competitive advantage of Med One is one word and one word only. It is our people. No company can ultimately win without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it. Our competitive edge is having exceptional people. A single person doesn’t change an organization, but a team of good people will. No matter how brilliant our minds might be or how thoughtful our strategy is, if we are playing a solo game we will always lose out to a team. Teamwork rules! People helping people is what Med One is all about. We focus both on helping our customers as well as helping one another.
I love the story about Charlie Plumb. He was a Navy pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, he was shot down by a surface to air missile. He ejected and parachuted into the jungle. The Viet Cong captured him and held him prisoner for six years in North Vietnam. Today, he lectures about his experiences.
He tells a story of him and his wife sitting in a restaurant, and a man from another table approached them. “You’re Plumb,” the man said. “You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down.”
“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.
“I packed your parachute,” he said. Plumb gasped in surprise. The man pumped his hand and continued, “I guess it worked.”
Plumb couldn’t sleep that night thinking about the stranger. He wondered how many times he might have seen him on the ship and not spoken because he was a fighter pilot and the man who packed his chute was “just a sailor.” He thought of the many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table in the bowels of the carrier, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t even know.
This powerful example of Charlie Plumb prompts me to ask a few thought-provoking questions:
- Who is packing OUR parachute?
- Who is making certain that OUR landing is soft and safe?
- Who is giving US encouragement and support?
- Who out there has OUR back?
At Med One, we don’t need to look very far for the answers to these questions. We merely need to look around us. Who is packing our parachute? Our co-workers. Who is making certain that our landing is soft and safe? Our co-workers. Who is giving us encouragement and support? Our co-workers. Who out there has our backs? Our co-workers. We are a team, and we are packing each other’s parachutes. I am convinced that a team aligned behind a vision can move mountains. But it only happens when the team is focused on the vision and willing to help one another achieve their objectives.
GIVING PEOPLE POWER TO SOLVE PROBLEMS AND THEN PROVIDING TOOLS AND PERMISSION TO IMPLEMENT THE SOLUTIONS
What a refreshing perspective! I think this suggests that we have been successful in developing a positive culture at Med One. We have hired people in whom we have complete confidence. As leaders, we respect our employee’s ideas and suggestions, and we have sincerely tried to be empathetic to their concerns. Creative leaders do not need to have all the ideas or answers. Everyone must express ideas without fear of retaliation. I believe we have been successful in creating such an environment.
A perfect example of this occurred a couple of years ago in Southern California. A group of our delivery drivers got together and coined the phrase, “Sick babies should not have to wait.” It was their commitment to delivering equipment day or night to make certain that we did our part in saving lives. It was a commitment to customer service. Customer service is a critical part of Med One culture.
Over the years, we have tried to determine what our employees want. Someone once said, “If you are lucky enough to be someone’s employer, then you have a moral obligation to make sure that people look forward to coming to work in the morning.” There is nothing quite like having happy employees! But how do we discover what really makes them happy?
Harper Lee, in her book To Kill a Mockingbird, offered a palatable suggestion. In this story, an inexperienced teacher punishes Jean Louise (Scout) unfairly on the first day of school. That evening, Scout’s father explains empathy to her:
“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Whenever any of us engage in conversation with another person, what do we see? Sometimes we pay more attention to the background that surrounds them. Often, we focus on the clothing they are wearing. Other times, we notice their facial expressions or the way they comb their hair. Sometimes, we try imagining what the person might be thinking. But rarely do we “climb into their skin and walk around in it.” Too often, we fall short when it comes to showing empathy. Empathy is looking on the heart – gaining a deep understanding of their feelings.
What a challenge – looking at things from another’s point of view. As we have worked to develop the Med One culture, we have tried looking at things from the perspective of our employees. We hope that we have not missed the mark. We know that culture has a huge impact on their happiness and success.
In conclusion, I’d like to make one additional observation about culture. Culture defines our behavior. It picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Culture dictates how we respond in unique and uncommon situations. It determines whether we choose to surface or hide problems. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about new ideas and suggestions. When employees need to make decisions on their own, culture is their guide.
With the right culture, the right people, and the right values, we can accomplish great things. This is why I am so optimistic about the future of Med One. Over the past 29 years, I have learned three measurements that tell us nearly everything we need to know about Med One’s overall performance and health.
1. Employee Engagement
2. Customer Satisfaction
3. Cash Flow
In these areas, I believe we can proudly hold our heads high. I believe Med One is very healthy and positioned for a bright future. Med One will never be successful in hunting and killing grizzly bears. However, because of our culture, we will continue to achieve our lofty goals and remain focused on our mission, “MAKING MEDICAL EQUIPMENT AVAILABLE.”
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