What Happened at Ralph’s

This tale begins at a ranch-style home in a suburb of Minneapolis not far from a lake. Heck nothing in Minneapolis is far from a lake. Seven key employees were attending the session. We were sitting around Ralph’s, the CEO’s living room and were hammering out what mattered to them as a company. We were specifically working on the mission and reason for being for the firm. One of the things we discovered was that the whole decision to get into the Workman’s Compensation insurance business was because it gave leverage to the ability of this business to transform that industry.

This was an exciting possibility to Ralph. He had experience with a disability and was passionate about helping companies and workers deal with health and safety issues. The “Reason for Being” of this company became the transformation of the workman’s compensation insurance industry. This meant something to the whole group.

To support the Reason for Being, it was decided that this company was going to organize itself into real work teams. This was, at the time, a radical design and construct for the insurance industry. The “work team” design supported and leveraged the company’s ability to transform and impact their industry. It brought underwriters, nurses and sales people together working to impact the cost and quality of their workman’s compensation insurance. The design was chosen specifically to improve the service delivered to injured workers and their companies.

At the time, this company was in the forefront of their industry. Offering work to injured workers they could actually do so that they could get back to work as soon as possible was, at the time, a radical idea. In seven years, the company went from seven million to 250 million in revenue. The company went from seven employees to 200. The organization grew from one office to five. In addition, the company went public.

The success of the company had an impact on the industry. Many companies emulated their approach in managing this type of insurance. At some point the leadership of the company even began to talk as if the Workman’s Compensation industry had indeed been transformed. What was interesting was that when this occurred the vision seemed to change for Ralph and the leadership team.

In the years after the event at the suburban ranch house, this company became very corporate. It now occupied a turquoise-glass encased tower. Ralph’s corner office was all windows overlooking a park and manmade lake.

I remember the founder telling me how much he was worth. This became one of his major conversational themes. It seemed that the company, at that point, lost the magic and became just another corporation. This organization became average and ordinary—where before it was special and driven. The point is: that having a vision can drive and motivate people. However, if it is not authentic and relevant the momentum can be lost.

Here is good news. There are simple ways to facilitate leadership groups to help them come up with a purpose, values and BHAG’s. Here is more good news. Whether or not this foundational material is important and relevant is to up to you and the top leaders of the company. For purpose and values to take hold within a company and shape behaviors and attitudes, employees must perceive and understand that the leadership group is actively demonstrating the Reason for Being, Values and BHAGs.