When confronted with a battle, I want people on my side with scars. Scars are a sign they’ve been attacked and survived. I value people with physical, emotional or intellectual scars that have lived through and understand my situation. They speak from experience. A person with scars has confronted personal and professional issues and either won or failed forward.
Masters degrees and professional designations, such as Certified Management Accountant, are outward signs of inward accomplishments. But I think the business world needs more outward signs of outward accomplishments. For example, if I’m a running back, I’m going to run behind the lineman with the most scrapes on his helmet. And when I’m eating at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, I prefer servers with five or more stars of service on their apron. Privates will follow a leader with a chest full of medals. And when flying, I am comforted when I see seasoned pilots with gray hair – or no hair at all – in the cockpit!
A Six Sigma black belt is an outward sign of inward and outward accomplishments. To achieve this designation, men and women must have successfully implemented numerous, high impact, process improvement projects. Business leaders can go to war and win with an army of black belts. But why stop there? Why not create a broader business world merit badge system, similar to scouting, that expands beyond quality and process improvement? Here is a list of proposed business world merit badges:
These are people who have saved a product, site or company. Marlene Smith of Dana told me she was sent to a Plymouth, Minnesota plant to close it. When she met the employees, she instead made her mission to save the plant and its products. Using Activity Based Management and other tools, Marlene and the employees who followed her, turned that facility and it’s products into a profitable business.
These are people who have successfully launched new products, services or systems. It is much easier to cut cost than it is to create revenue. People who made something out of nothing are invaluable to a business. No father can fully understand what it’s like for a mother to give birth to a child. And no man or woman can fully understand what it’s like to give birth to a new product or service than the person who’s done it one or more times. If you need to grow your business, get a rocket.
I admire people who have taken mature, weak organizations and turned them into revitalized, strong teams. Momentum in a mature company, even if it is struggling, is very difficult to surmount. With managers and employees shouting, “That’s not the way we’ve always done it”, turn around specialists must be disciplined, focused leaders. The “cheese has moved”. Mature organizations need one or more people they can trust to make the right-turn to the cheese’s new location.
The television industry has statistically proven that every letter received from a viewer represents 10,000 people who did not take time to write the same opinion. Christine Nola, who has served with me at ICMS for almost ten years, has received numerous unsolicited letters and e-mail over the past ten years from customers. Some thank her for her honesty, others for her help. While Christine does not have letters like MBA or CPA after her name, I am blessed that she has the most important letters following her name… those of delighted ICMS customers. Any one who can put up with me for any period of time… Debbi for over 3 years, Christine for almost 10 years, and most notably my wonderful wife of 33 years… deserves merit!
If you’ve ever had an important computer system crash, you needed someone that could quickly assess the situation, define a corrective course of action and jump in to get it fixed. We need stand-in-the-gap people. These are men and women who are willing to walk in to a void and hold things together. Jim Elliott of Ford Motor Company is a stand-in-the gap merit badge winner, both personally and professionally. He once saved a child who had fallen through the ice. And Jim uses that same merit to “save” business situations for his company.
Voluntary Hospitals of America (VHA) has a color-coded plaque on each employee’s desk alerting visitors to their personality type. You cannot change a person’s personality, but you can understand and adapt to it. The phlegmatic will be calm, quiet and easygoing. The melancholy will be precise, analytical and critical in conversation. A sanguine will always be the most verbal and will often be a “toucher”. The choleric will be straightforward, even abrupt and most likely carrying a to-do list. The desk plaques provide external insight to an internal trait.
Black Belt status is a great start to giving managers external visibility to internal merit. But we need more visible insights to merits of business experience and achievement. The Boy Scouts have fourteen categories of merit badges, twelve of which have to be accomplished to achieve Eagle Scout status. What merit badges would you add to my list? And what would you call the highest level of business merit? Send them to TomPryor@icms.net. I look forward to receiving your response.