DaVita: a 65,000 Person Corporate Village, or Just a CEO’s Nutty Dream?

What if a global business was not a soulless profit machine, but a community, a “village” where everybody had a brain, made important decisions for the corporation, and promoted and lived in community? Could it work? It already is, and we can all learn something important from them.

In 1999, a company called Total Renal Care, a kidney dialysis provider, was nearly bankrupt. In October of that year, Kent Thiry took over as CEO and started the long road back, taking a very different course than traditional turnarounds.

Instead of a classic top-down, heavy-handed strategy, Thiry and his leadership team set a seemingly crazy course to build a more democratic company where everyone helps to make the important decisions together. Instead of telling everyone where the company needs to go, the leadership invited everyone to lead, and to work together to figure out how to right the ship. They call it the DaVita Village, and people aren’t employees, they are teammates or citizens. Sounds really squishy, but the results are dramatic.

Much of what they do flies in the face of classic MBA teaching, including how they changed their name. In 2000, thousands of teammates worked on it together and decided in a vote to become DaVita, which means “he/she gives life”. It is one of a fast-growing number of companies discarding over 100 years of management theory to try something new—asking everyone to participate together in building a great company, not for the CEO, but with him, as co-leaders, not followers.

And it’s working. DaVita’s revenue has exploded from $1.5 billion in 2001 to $12.5 billion last year. By every other measure DaVita is the kind of huge success that proponents of old-fashioned management claim can’t happen without strong, top-down command and control. Thiry and his team have rejected the classic approach, and instead created a wildly successful company by believing that the principle of shared decision-making involving everyone, will be better for the company, the customers and those who work there.

A radical new direction requires changes in core beliefs. David Hoerman, the chief wisdom officer at DaVita, says, “Our beliefs drive our behaviors, which drive our results. When we all share the same beliefs, the right behaviors follow that benefit our patients, our business and beyond. We call each other on our behaviors that don’t align with those beliefs.”

That is a key statement. DaVita has seven simple core values: Service Excellence, Integrity, Team, Continuous Improvement, Accountability, Fulfillment, and Fun. These values aren’t uncommon. Management teams regularly develop such a list, but that is exactly why they don’t have any impact, because management developed them. At DaVita, these seven values were developed by and voted into existence by the teammates. This is a simple, but dramatic departure from the norm, and explains why these values are held so deeply at every level. The simple principle DaVita employs is that those who are most affected by a decision should have a say in that decision. And when they do, they will own the outcome. In this case, everyone owns DaVita’s values because they were voted on by the people.

To encourage ongoing participation and decision-making, DaVita has a Voice of the Village call for the whole company every six to eight weeks, to listen, get ideas and feedback, and give advice on things that affect everyone. They also have online vehicles for the same purpose.

Hoerman says leaders at DaVita focus on serving others and supporting their teammates in developing their own ability to make decisions. Again, leaders say this all the time, but it’s usually lip service. Not at DaVita. “My job as a leader here is to create an environment where our teammates can step up as leaders and make good decisions.” The art of leadership is to know how few decisions the leader needs to make.

Why is all this involvement of the people who work at DaVita so important? Because the simplest way to get everyone engaged is to promote ownership, and decision-making is the principal way a company can motivate people to own their work. Vince Hancock, another leader at DaVita summed it up well, “Ownership is really important here—nobody washes a rental car.” As a result, Hancock calls DaVita “a shockingly egalitarian place.”

Hoerman says leaders at DaVita focus on serving others and supporting their teammates in developing their own ability to make decisions. Again, leaders say this all the time, but it’s usually lip service. Not at DaVita. “My job as a leader here is to create an environment where our teammates can step up as leaders and make good decisions.” The art of leadership is to know how few decisions the leader needs to make.

Why is all this involvement of the people who work at DaVita so important? Because the simplest way to get everyone engaged is to promote ownership, and decision-making is the principal way a company can motivate people to own their work. Vince Hancock, another leader at DaVita summed it up well, “Ownership is really important here—nobody washes a rental car.” As a result, Hancock calls DaVita “a shockingly egalitarian place.”

DaVita’s lesson is simple, but not easy. They call their culture The DaVita Way—and together, they’re dedicated to building a healthy village and caring intensely about each other, their patients and their communities. At the core of this intense caring is encouraging everyone to bring the whole, messy creative person to work, own their decisions, and participate in building a great community. To make that happen, DaVita leadership allows and requires decisions to be made where they are carried out, and then they get out of the way.

While others are still relying on a few heroic activists to tell everyone else what to do, DaVita is inviting everyone to participate. Giving people their brains back is working for DaVita, and is a way of leading all companies could learn from.


Article as seen on Inc.com

How To Get Off The Treadmill and Never Have a Bucket List

There is a good explanation for why we get stuck trying to simply make money and rarely get around to building a life that matters. We are constantly fighting to balance two opposing daily realities: The Tyranny of the Urgent vs. The Priority of the Important.

Two Opposing Realities
Almost universally we let the Tyranny of the Urgent keep us from paying attention to the Priority of the Important, and as a result, we will never get off the treadmill.

The Tyranny of the Urgent
The Urgent things fly at us all day, everyday, causing us to live reactively and defensively as we hold life together as best we can. The Urgent things are tyrannical—they try to rule over us. Like small unruly kids, they scream and yell, poke and prod, and are relentlessly in front of us.
We don’t have to go find the Urgent things—they find us and rule over us. Overtime we resign ourselves to the notion that this is normal because everyone else around us seems to be doing the same thing. Welcome to the Treadmill.

The Treadmill of Making Money
One of the most Urgent daily tyrants is the need to make money to cover today’s bills. Think about it. That great-looking house, those shiny objects, and that expensive hobby quickly turned into a relentless liability to your cash flow.

Early on this taught you that the “clear and present danger” in life is not having enough money. So from the start you went in search of making money, with the idea that “later” your focus could shift to Making Meaning. But overtime you’ve gotten used to this pressure and have forgotten the excitement of pursuing a life of significance. You might now actually think the goal is itself just to make money.

See how the Treadmill has trained you?And because everyone else is doing it, it seems normal and natural—just the way it works.

But, it’s a dead end.

The Priority of the Important
In stark contrast to the Tyranny of the Urgent is the Priority of the Important. The Important things sit quietly and patiently in the corner and whisper,“I’m really Important. I can help you Make Meaning, not just money. Let me know when you have some time.”

The Important things require us to be proactive because they almost never seem urgent—things like thinking about what next year should look like, and what I really want out of my work and my life. We don’t make money today doing those kinds of things, so they don’t seem Important, and they’re definitely not as urgent as paying the bills.

Which do you want? Riches you don’t have time to use, or Wealth that allows you to live the life you really want? If you focus on the Tyranny of the Urgent and save the Important things for”later,”your best hope is that you will make money, and never as much as you could or should. But if you focus on the Priority of the Important now, you’ll be on the road to real Wealth:freedom. And freedom is the best evidence I can come up with that you are off the treadmill.

The Treadmill vs. A Life of Making Meaning
The Tyranny of the Urgent keeps us focused on making money—the classic treadmill. The Priority of the Important helps us focus on Making Meaning.

Don’t get me wrong. You have to make money. The problem is that we lose focus on why we want to make it. People who focus on making money rarely make a lot of it. People who focus on something bigger than making money, who see money as simply a resource, are much more likely to make a lot of it.

We all know this and are nodding yes. But right now we don’t have time to start proactively designing our future. We have urgent, pressing needs that must be taken care of first. Once we have those covered, we promise ourselves we’ll dive into building a life of significance. Except later never comes. The saddest statement in life is “I wish I had…”, but the second saddest is, “Someday I’m going to…”

Free Beer Tomorrow
The sign in the bar gets us to come back a couple days in a row before we realize tomorrow never comes. When I was in my twenties, a wise old sage said to me, “Chuck, life has a built-in problem. There are three resources, time, money, and energy, and unless we make it happen, we will never get all three at once. When I was your young age, I had all the time and energy, and no money to do anything about it. When I was in my forties, I had all the energy and all the money, and no time to do anything about it. And now in my later years I have all the time and all the money, and no energy to do anything about it.”

No Bucket Lists!
Later never comes. Go get time and money while you have the energy to build a great life. A bucket list is a dumb idea. We have to proactively figure out the very few Important things and people that matter, and prioritize them to the top of our to do list. Once you do, you will find that they take care of a lot of the Urgent things holding you hostage.

What are you doing this all for? Figure that out, then actually live life for that.

Carpe freaking diem already.


Article as seen on Inc.com

Successful People Are Peacemakers, Not Peacekeepers

If it weren’t for people, my business would be perfect. Business is sometimes simple; dealing with people is hard. Peacemaking fixes that. Peacekeeping makes it worse.

At any given time, one-third of us are bugged about something someone is doing at work, and Accenture says a stunning 35% of people who quit do so to avoid confronting an interpersonal issue.

There are two ways to deal with an issue: now or later (“never” falls under later). Successful people do not live passively, just hoping stuff will work out. They understand the golden rule of relationships—peacemaking beats peacekeeping every time.

Peacekeepers don’t want to make waves, rock the boat, or risk tension in a relationship. So instead they let a lot of small issues just pile up until there is no choice but to dump the truck. Instead of dealing with each “border skirmish” as it comes up, they ignore them until they find themselves in World War III. Peacekeepers are more concerned about present peace than long-term relationships.

Peacemakers understand that dealing with issues as they arise keeps them small, keeps the slate clean, and builds an environment of trust where no one is waiting to be blind-sided by someone blowing up at them. Peacemakers always have the other person’s best interests at heart, and are willing to confront small tensions in order to ensure no big ones can fester and explode.

Here’s a short list of common things we tend to ignore in order to keep the short-term peace. See if you find one you’re ignoring right now:

You’re micro-managing me.

You lack initiative (or productivity).

I’ve screwed up (being vulnerable).

Nobody respects you, they just fear you.

You’re too much of a victim at work.

You’re very productive, but a lone ranger.

You’re more interested in beating the other guy than producing.

Here is why I chose Tom for that project and not you.

You’re gossiping, please stop.

We have to let you go; here’s why.

Peacekeepers find someone else (usually a manager) to deal with their problems. In our company, no one is allowed to talk to anyone else about interpersonal issues they are having with someone. If you have an issue with someone, you need to deal with it, not pawn it off on someone else, which we view as gossip. The rule: If you are not part of the problem or part of the solution, it’s gossip. Be an adult and talk to them yourself.

Here’s seven steps to Peacemaking:

1) Where? For a difficult conversation, pick a neutral location, not your office. And don’t discuss hard things over food. Work through some possible anxious moments without other distractions.

2) Motive? Do you want them to respond and change, or do you want to squash them? If you get excited about how this conversation could help that person grow, you will approach it differently. And you won’t go in angry “for the kill”, but empathetic “for the change”.

3) Clarity? Be clear about the issue, and stay focused on it. Choose one thing and don’t be pulled off of it by the conversation. Successful people confront one thing at a time—pick your battles.

4) Listening? Don’t assume. Ask questions and be prepared that they will have a completely different view of the situation than you. You might change your whole “spiel” once you listen.

5) Your Responsibility? Did you play a part in causing the issue? Or is your responsibility simply to be Outside Eyes and give them a different perspective than their own? Own up to your own stuff.

6) Fear? Peacekeepers fear not being liked. Peacemakers focus on how the other person might benefit from the discussion, and also understand that putting it off to be liked now is probably going to make it a bigger deal later.

7) Continue? Maintain the relationship—sometimes you can’t, but do your best to share the issue in a way that allows you both to leave the conversation with dignity and continue talking later. Nobody is supposed to win or lose, we’re supposed to grow.

Successful people are Peacemakers, not Peacekeepers. It may be harder in the short run, but it’s always easier and more beneficial in the long run.

Article as seen on Inc.com

The Degeneration of the Handshake, and Why It Matters to You

Is the handshake devolving? Is there a business opportunity here for those paying attention? Just maybe — on both accounts.

The handshake originated as a sign of mistrust. The modern handshake is said to be traceable to medieval knights who physically shook the hand up and down to shake loose any weapons. But in the centuries that followed it turned into a sign of trust and friendship, and was also regularly used as congratulations for promotions, weddings, or winning something. But is all that changing?

The rise of the impersonal greeting.
Since the 1960s I’ve watched an evolution, or maybe devolution of the handshake — not sure. Each new “style” seems less and less personal. In the 60s I saw clever new ways to touch hands and fingers before or after the handshake. Then it became a quick hand slap with no clasping, and sometimes some clever finger snapping while not touching. Then came the elbow shake — no hands involved. It didn’t last long. Then the high-five took over and has evolved into a victory slap of some sort. (There was a low-five for a while, but it took too much energy.)

More recently athletes developed the chest bump, which requires no involvement from the hands or even the arms. Those of us walking around on the streets couldn’t get the timing right, so we resorted to the fist bump, which even the president uses a lot. Now greetings have become so impersonal that you see athletes jumping to touch back-to-back — you don’t even have to look at each other. (Do not try this on the subway with a stranger — again, timing is very important.)

Does it mean anything or say anything about where we are as a culture? Maybe; maybe not. Could be that it’s just a way to relieve boredom with the way things have always been done. But there might be a warning in it for us businesspeople. I’m not sure where it will go from here, maybe to a version of greeting that requires no touching at all. Oh, wait a minute, I think we call that “the internet.”

The most impersonal handshake — digital.
I run across people all the time on the internet who are convinced they don’t have to be human first; that if they make a data contact, that’s enough.

I connect with almost every real human who asks to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Maybe I shouldn’t, but it seems friendly, and we might actually get to know each other. I’ve got great relationships on a number of continents from becoming interested in what others do on the Web.

Friendly person — not.
But almost every day now I get “Sales Guy” trying to contact me (not connect — that would be too personal), by disguising himself as “Friendly Person.” Today I accepted an invite on LinkedIn, and within a few minutes I got this message, which is similar to ones I get every day:

“Thank you for connecting with me on LinkedIn. When would be a good time to hop on the phone and discuss the potential business opportunities between our two companies?”

To which I replied:

“After we build a relationship, which doesn’t seem likely.”

What makes people think they can say hello and then start selling me something? If you meet a person in a bar and ask them to marry you right there, what are the odds they’ll accept? (If they do, you deserve each other.) Relationships take time to develop. The more impersonal your connection with me, the less likely I am to buy anything.

Hugging, not bugging.
Which brings me to the point of this rant. As an entrepreneur who’s started and built ten businesses, I’ve found the following axiom works really well to build your business:

The closer you get to a hug, the more likely you are to sell something.

Please don’t digitally shake hands with me from 1,000 miles away and expect to sell something because you’ve found a door to my computer. Which brings me to the second axiom that seems to work in the emerging world of the Participation Age:

Serve, don’t sell.

Meet me where I am, not where you are.
If you manage to find a door to my computer, your first interaction should be to figure out how you can be interested in me and what I’m doing, and how you can serve me. Hint: It almost always has nothing to do with your stupid product.

Simple rules: Don’t contact people, connect with them. Don’t sell them, serve them. Build a relationship by meeting them where they are at, not where you want them to be. Someday, if you do, they might actually need one of your widgets and come running to you to buy it, because you are their friend.

Take the long, patient road to my wallet that goes through my heart. We’ll all be happier.

(Feel free to refer people to this article who don’t get it — glad to explain it to them.)

Article as seen on Inc.com