Mackay: Who's important in the organization? Everyone

  • Article by: HARVEY MACKAY
  • November 4, 2012 - 11:00 PM

A sea captain and his chief engineer got into an argument about which one was more important to the ship. Finally, they decided to trade places for a day. After a few hours, the captain suddenly appeared on deck, covered with oil and soot.

"Chief!" he yelled wildly, waving aloft a monkey wrench. "You'll have to come down here! I can't make the ship go!"

"Of course not!" replied the chief engineer. "We're aground!"

This story demonstrates that everyone is important. As I like to say, "The boat won't go if we all don't row." You must be committed to each other.

This concept is not new, but it is more important than ever in these challenging business times. Even as some businesses start to rebound, many of them have come to realize that their departments look radically different than they did before the recession. They understand that workers who have worn several hats have demonstrated better workflow and streamlined operations. As those businesses slowly expand, they see that the old practices and procedures probably needed changing long before.

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, coined the phrase "the boundaryless organization." He believed GE would be much more effective if the cultural, geographical and organizational barriers that separated the employees became more open. He put emphasis on the boundary's ability to enable business to function, rather than to get in its way. In other words, everyone is important and must be included. Once every plant understood this, employees began talking to everyone across the aisle -- shipping to sales, manufacturing to research and development, and so on down the line.

We have employed this thinking at MackayMitchell Envelope Co. since we opened our doors more than 50 years ago. For example, I am often asked how many salespeople we have. My answer is always the same, "500." "Wow!" is the usual response, followed by, "How many employees do you have?" My answer is the same: "500."

You see, we believe everyone is responsible for selling our company, if not a specific product. We are committed to the notion that the sales force may bring in the orders, but the factory must produce the quality product that our sales force promised. Our customer service department needs to be in constant communication with the folks who bring in the business and those who work on the factory floor.

It all sounds so simple, but as a company grows, it takes a commitment at every level of the organization.

Howard Schultz, the entrepreneur who bought the original four-store Starbucks chain and turned it into a company that serves 50 million customers a week, wanted to establish a company where employees were respected.

Starbucks' principles demonstrate exactly how the company views each of its employees:

• Provide a great work environment and treat each other with respect and dignity.

• Embrace diversity as an essential component in the way we do business.

• Apply the highest standards of excellence to the purchasing, roasting and delivery of our coffee.

• Develop enthusiastically satisfied customers all of the time.

• Recognize that profitability is key to future success.

Those principles include and embrace every worker in the company. The employees know from the start what is expected of them and what they can expect from their employer.

You don't have to be a coffee drinker to appreciate that attitude.

Mackay's Moral: No one is as important as all of us.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail

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