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Slowing Down to Speed Up - I'm Glad I Missed that Flight

By Michael Kelly

CEO, FINEOS

In October 2011, when the world was still very much reeling from the effects of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), I had the good fortune to miss a morning flight from Boston to San Francisco. I had read the flight time on my iPhone wrong and had misinterpreted my landing time for my take-off time, so I strolled up to the check-in desk thinking I was over two hours early when my flight had actually left! Good fortune you ask, well yes, and I’ll explain why.

It was a Saturday morning and I was traveling to the FINEOS Claims Global Summit, which was commencing the following Monday at the Ritz Carlton hotel in San Francisco. Having rescheduled my flight with the pleasant attendant at the check-in desk (well pleasant once I gave her my credit card) I now had plenty of time on my hands. The next flight to San Francisco wasn’t leaving for another 4.5 hours and I was quite lucky to get booked onto it as it was almost full.

I cleared security at Logan and wandered around the departures lounge for a little while until I made my way into a bookshop where I came across a book entitled ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ by Patrick Lencioni. Having browsed through the back cover and then a through a few pages of the first chapter I decided to buy it as my little bit of light reading for the afternoon flight across to San Francisco. It was going to be over 10 hours to landing in San Francisco so I needed some extra help to pass the hours.

Many of Lencioni’s books are business fables, so as I read through this book while crossing the United States, I began thinking there was something in this for every CEO and leadership team. Basically the book tells a nice story about a lady who joins an established software company as their new CEO and it explains her experience of getting to know and work with this company’s executive management team. The story is used to portray the 5 Dysfunctions within the this leadership team and step by step the CEO works her way through the process of making this dysfunctional management team into a focused and very effective leadership team.

If you haven’t read the book I won’t spoil it for you but the 5 Dysfunctions, as scripted by Mr Lencioni, are all based on the basic foundational dysfunction of a ‘lack of trust’ within a team. If a team suffers from a lack of trust and lack of respect for one another then the likelihood is this will lead to the team suffering from the other 4 dysfunctions, which are a lack of ‘positive challenge’ in the team, leading to a ‘lack of commitment’ and in turn leading to a ‘lack of results’ and a ‘lack of accountability’ within the team.

If a company is managed by a dysfunctional leadership team then it will lead to a sad state of affairs for the company, as this team will lead poor employee engagement, poor organisational health and a less than satisfactory overall company performance. Trust is the foundation of every strong relationship – be it personal or professional – so there is nothing really earthshattering here but the effects of low trust levels in any team is devastating for the team’s performance. A ‘me first’ person or a person who continues to behave badly or politically in any team environment can be very detrimental to the whole team performance, as trust levels in these situations plummet and the group performance is negatively affected.

While Lencioni’s book was a refreshing, simple and logical read, it certainly got me thinking about our own team in FINEOS and how we could build more trust, more clarity and more alignment into our organization. While I hadn’t thought we were in any great difficulty as a business, I did feel we too had been somewhat dented and shaken by the experience of being through the GFC. Many of our customers had also been negatively impacted – some of them had to take US Government TARP money and had to make serious sacrifices within their teams to survive. There was no doubt in my mind at the time that nearly all people in business had been shocked and had suffered heightened stress and anxiety levels as a result of the negative effects and experience of living through the GFC. In fact, all of our generation had been let down by the people in power – the people we trusted and relied upon to look after our economies and our wellbeing – politicians, bankers, regulators, the legal and professional fraternity, etc. Not surprisingly, trust levels in general had degenerated and most people had become tired and sceptical about the fabric and framework of our society.

There was an air of recovery in the US economy around the time of our Global Summit in San Francisco but also a feeling shared by many that there was a ‘new normal’ emerging in the business environment which would bring companies back to getting the basics right so their people could be part of a trustworthy and healthy business. It was becoming evident that business models would change and this would lead to huge demand and opportunity for innovation, creativity, agility and efficiency in order to sustain competitive advantage and adapt to customer and market demands quickly. Our customers were already telling us they needed to become more agile, as well as more efficient and cost effective. They wanted us to listen closely to them, understand their needs and help them along on their journey.

That afternoon flight really got me thinking about the opportunity and indeed the threat of this ‘new normal’ and it brought me back to questioning the very basics of our own business and what was really important to us for future growth. I questioned what it was that made me want to establish FINEOS and what had changed since we began our company journey. Why was I still so committed to FINEOS and indeed why have so many great people joined our team and remained so passionate and loyal to our cause? What is really important for our customers and how can we best help them to become more successful. I wasn’t thinking about the outside world, I was just thinking about the very basics of our business and I guess I was anxious and keen to understand how we should move forward in the most positive and effective way.

That flight from east to west coast felt like a very short journey by the time we were landing (not quite as short as east to west coast of my home country, Ireland, which is about 30 minutes in a Boeing 737!) but the flight time passed away very quickly. I decided to order a copy of the book for all of our executive team and I recall at the time of our landing I was positively energised and pleased to be stepping off the plane to spend a week with our customers and our leadership team who had all travelled in from all four corners of the world for our annual event. I was looking forward to listening to their views and understanding their ideas on how we could step up as a team and as a business. The week did not disappoint and in fact it was stimulating and very enjoyable to be with a group of people who had great insight and ideas about the way forward but who also knew how to relax, socialise and enjoy themselves.

The 5 Dysfunctions book was the trigger which led us into a period of reflection at FINEOS, when we decided to slow down in order to speed up again. When we regrouped as an executive leadership team shortly after our Global Summit event we embarked on a journey of discovery back to our very core fundamentals as a leadership team – including our values and our core purpose as a business. Through investigations, collaborative workshops and through a period of lots of challenge and long debates we mapped out our future growth strategy in simple and easy to understand terms. All of this was in order to gain stronger levels of trust, clarity and alignment within our team and ultimately across our whole company so we would be better equipped for the journey to success in the ‘new normal’ or should we now be calling it the ‘real normal’ business environment.

Not surprisingly our people got behind our ‘call to action’ on strengthening our organizational health and have been positively engaged and tremendously supportive of our journey. Through our collective efforts we have established a stronger FINEOS culture where we understand the importance and power of trust, positive challenge, commitment and what it takes to achieve great results. We know how important our behaviour is in terms of contributing positively and we continually focus on gaining more clarity and alignment across our whole business. Together as a company, in a relatively short space of time, we have pushed the needle significantly forward on all of our company key performance indicators in a strong very positive way. Most importantly of all it feels like we are energised and really enjoying ourselves!

We have achieved real positive momentum today and we want to keep this momentum going so we achieve even more together… and that’s what I meant at the beginning of the story when I referred to my ‘good fortune’ to have misread those flight details on my iPhone to miss the morning flight from Logan to San Francisco!