I had the privilege of meeting for an hour with Nancy Ham, CEO of WebPT in their downtown Phoenix headquarters that is under renovation and expansion. WebPT has experienced tremendous growth as they continue to expand to multiple locations while adding more products to their mix in order to drive their mission of “Helping rehab therapists achieve greatness in practice.” Nancy shares her experience and insights on the power of alignment in this interview:
What does alignment mean for you?
Alignment starts with the mission of the company. In our case it is “Helping rehab therapists achieve greatness in practice”. If you are not fired up about the mission of the company, you will never have alignment. That is one of the reasons I am in healthcare. I started in investment banking and the mission there was “making money.” Not that there's anything wrong with that - I did enjoy my time in the field and I learned a lot, but it wasn’t inspirational to me. In healthcare there is always an alignment around a call to service and I love that.
What do you observe when areas in the organization are misaligned and what is the impact?
You start hearing noise, confusion, or frustration when you talk to people. Whenever you hear that, it is almost always misalignment. You hear things like:
”Oh, I didn’t know that's what we were doing”
”I didn’t know what the date was”
”I didn’t know how that related to me”
”Why wasn’t I in that meeting”
”You forgot to include my department”
Misalignment starts to express itself in dysfunction and it starts to abrade trust. People want to trust the direction they are given, and when the direction is incorrect or out of date frustration starts to reduce employee engagement.
What is your definition of leadership and how do you drive and develop it?
First, it starts with a desire to serve, I am a big believer in the servant-leadership model. It is not about power or rising in importance.
My definition is a leader is also someone who says, “I am now capable of taking on bigger problems and solving them, and I hunger to take on problems and opportunities and solve them. Give me more, I can take on more.” Leaders are always pulling.
A leader would say, “I just finished cleaning up that one big stinking problem, what’s my next one?”
A good leader must make sure that radical transparency is happening. If you are doing your job as a leader, every member of your team should know what their job is, why it's important, how it connects to the goals. It’s getting your team fired up to come in every day and crush whatever their work is.
If you could give advice to a reader who is struggling with aligning their organization what would it be?
If you are struggling with alignment, there is almost always a person or persons within the downstream of your organization who are a problem. They are a cultural problem: information hoarding, don't get along, undermining fellow people, or another related problem. You have to root out the problem.
My second piece of advice is to take a look at yourself. A lot of people preach communication and transparency but don’t want to practice it. For example, they may think to themselves, “I don’t want to share financial results because employees don’t have the context or will get worried.”
People are grown-ups and this is their life, their livelihoods, and they are entitled to know the good and bad. So look to yourself and ask if you are really doing everything you can.
One other lesson I learned was expecting that “one-and-done” communication would be effective. Mark Bertolini, the very inspirational CEO of Aetna once told me, “Your job is to say it over and over and over and over and over again.” So don’t get caught in the one-and-done communication style. You are never going to nail communication, ever. You just have to relentlessly try to do it in different ways again and again.
Favorite inspirational quote?
One of my favorite quotes is from Vince Lombardi that reads, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” Leaders drive for excellence. That is the difference between a leader and a manager. A leader comes in every day and asks how can we be better today than we were yesterday.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers about leadership?
Women in leadership is in the news these days. I spend a lot of time talking to women potential leaders about the known disparity of how men and women react to job descriptions. Studies show that men look at an opportunity and think to themselves, “I meet half of the job description and so I am going for it.”
Women would read that same job description and say, “If I am not a perfect 100% match, I am not going to apply.” Women don’t seem to understand that the job descriptions are wish lists and that they need to go on the interview, and get into the conversation and showcase themselves –– who they are and what they can do for the opportunity.
So as a callout to all of your female readers and leaders, “Don’t self-defeat”.
Ask yourself what you are afraid of. Is it that you won’t get the job? OK, so what if you don’t?
Did you learn something from the tryout? Probably.
Can you think about how you can do it better next time or some skills you may need? Absolutely.
Why do you think it is failure? You just tried something that didn’t work out. Any successful person talks about how part of their success is “failure”. Fail fast, fail often, learn from it, work harder, get better.
Favorite advice to Fathers of Daughters?
I really benefited from my father telling me literally every day of my life that I was amazing and that I could do anything I wanted to do and that he had confidence and expectations that I would be excellent. And because my dad told me those things, I absolutely believed it. I got all the way to college before I found out that some people thought girls couldn’t achieve as much as guys. That was such a confusing thought to me.
So for readers who are dads of daughters, just tell them every day “You are amazing, I have incredibly high expectations for you and those expectations are no different than your brothers.”
Ali Parnian is the president of Execute to Win, a business writer and leadership coach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.