Jack and Suzy Welch share 6 lessons on teamwork and engagement with Cleveland Clinic CEO Dr. Toby Cosgrove

Toby Cosgrove, MD, president and CEO of Cleveland Clinic, recently met with Jack Welch, who Fortune Magazine called the "Manager of the Century," and his wife, Suzy Welch, a Harvard-educated business journalist, to discuss some of the life and business lessons from the couple's new book, "The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team and Growing Your Career," according to Cleveland.com.

Mr. Welch's success leading General Electric substantiates Fortune's praise. After joining GE as a chemical engineer, Mr. Welch spent the next 40 years rising up the ranks, eventually becoming the company's youngest chairman and CEO in 1981. During his 20 years at the helm, GE's value shot up 5,000 percent, and its market capitalization rose from $13 billion to $400 billion.

After leaving GE, Mr. and Mrs. Welch wrote the book "Winning: The Ultimate Business How-To Book" in 2005 and opened an online MBA program through the Jack Welch Management Institution in Herndon, Va.

During their meeting, Dr. Cosgrove asked Mr. and Mrs. Welch why they wrote "Real-Life MBA," to which Mr. Welch reasoned business is faster, more global and more digital than 10 years ago, according to the report.

Mr. and Mrs. Welch shared several lessons from their new book with Dr. Cosgrove on how to succeed in business today.

1. Business is a team sport. Mr. and Mrs. Welch open their book with a discussion on the importance of teamwork in business. "Business is the ultimate team sport," they assert in the opening chapter of the book. "Doesn't make any difference what size your company is: five people, or 5,000 or 150,000, for that matter. Doesn't matter if it's in Gary, Indiana, churning out steel, or in Palo Alto cooking up code… Business is not a 'me' thing. It's a 'we' thing. It's an 'I'll take all the advice and ideas and help I can get' thing."

One of the biggest detriments to businesses today is disengagement. Citing a recent Gallup poll, Mr. Welch pointed out that approximately 65 percent of employees said they are not engaged in their work. If the team with "the best players" wins, how can a team where 65 percent of the players are not engaged succeed?

"Getting engagement is critical," he told Dr. Cosgrove, according to the report.

2. "People are more engaged when they think they're in a truth-and-trust environment," Mrs. Welch told Dr. Cosgrove. In a truth-and-trust environment, an organization's leadership clearly communicates to the employees where the company is going, how it intends to get there and, importantly, what's in it for the employees.

Establishing a trusting environment requires enhanced transparency and encouraging honesty, not agendas.

"Every conference room should have neon lights flashing, 'Only truth in this room,' [instead of] spin this way and spin that way. We call it relentless flexing the trust muscle," Mr. Welch said.

3. Building an A-team is tough. Dr. Cosgrove asked the couple for advice on how to hire the right people to create the best possible team. "When I hire people, I get it right about 50 percent of the time," he confessed, according to the report.

Mr. Welch agreed that hiring is one of the hardest things for leaders to do, but pointed to creating a strong, embracing and tight-knit culture to attract the best minds. "You have to create that cool kids' basement feeling," he said.

4. Ranking employees into tiers will help keep them on the right track. According to Mr. Welch, ranking employees increases transparency and helps motivate underperformers.

While the top 20 percent are the company's superstars and the middle 70 percent are working their way up, the bottom 10 percent can actually benefit from being ranked into the lowest tier, because they will know where they stand and what they need to improve upon.

Mr. Welch told Dr. Cosgrove the story of a manager who fired an employee after three decades with the company.

"Why me? Why me? I've been here 31 years," the employee argued. When the manager told her that she hadn't been performing well, she asked, "Why didn't you ever tell me?" Mr. Welch used the story to show that even worse than the employee's underperformance was her manager's lack of communication with her during all of those years.

5. Work-life balance is a choice. Instead of calling it a work-life balance, Mr. and Mrs. Welch call it a work-life choice. According to the report, Mrs. Welch said there is a period of time between the ages of 25 and 40 when your work needs 200 percent of your attention, and "because of biology," your kids need you during those same years.

While people's work lives and personal lives often seem to compete, Mrs. Welch told Dr. Cosgrove that ultimately, how you spend your time comes down to your choices.

6. Inspire your employees by including their ideas and celebrating them. Mr. Welch suggested the most effective way to engage and motivate employees is to include them in decision-making, according to the report.

"You give people more rope, you encourage risk-taking, you promote your people and then you support the hell out of them," Mr. Welch said.

A productive exercise for leaders is to ask 100 employees what they would do differently if they had their boss's job, because the people on the frontlines know the work on a much deeper level than executives, according to Mr. Welch.

Dr. Cosgrove agreed, saying Cleveland Clinic employees contributed more than 900 suggestions on how the system can cut costs, and have collectively saved approximately $3 million so far, according to the report.

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5 thoughts from Michael Rowan, president and COO of Catholic Health Initiatives

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