U.S Cellular’s philosophy for driving business results is simple: Effective leadership drives associate satisfaction, which drives customer satisfaction, which ultimately drives business results. It’s a model U.S. Cellular calls the “Dynamic Organization,” and it all starts with leadership development.
According to Tom Griffin, senior director of leadership and organization development for U.S. Cellular, the company uses a pyramid to illustrate the process.
“If you think about a pyramid being wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, the base of the pyramid is the first part of the business model, and we define that as effective leadership,” Griffin explained. “If you go up the pyramid to the next rung—there are four rungs total—the next rung is associate satisfaction. The third rung up is customer satisfaction. And at the top of pyramid are business results. We like to think of it as a service-profit-chain model where leadership effectiveness drives associate satisfaction, which then drives customer satisfaction. And it is only through driving customer satisfaction can we ultimately be successful in the marketplace. That means at the base of our business model is capable leadership. And without highly capable leaders leading our associates, our leadership model falls apart. And so my job is to make sure that we have effective leaders at all levels of the organization.”
To develop its leaders, U.S. Cellular created the Dynamic Organization program. Griffin said the Dynamic Organization emphasizes values and principles, as well as leadership skills.
“The Dynamic Organization is a set of tried-and-true leadership principles,” he said. “There are seven principles. In combination with those principles is a set of values. We have six values, and then below those values is a set of 10 behaviors. So it’s a collective set of principles, values and behaviors that define what the organization feels like and sounds like and acts like, and leaders need to be role models of that culture.
“It starts with a vision statement that U.S. Cellular will be an organization that understands its visions, goals and standards so well that its values are obvious and its behaviors are automatic,” Griffin explained. “People don’t have to be told what to do on an everyday basis to produce customer satisfaction. Customer focus is just inherently in what we do. Our values and our philosophy and our principles state that a strong sense of customer focus is what drives us.”
At the crux of U.S. Cellular’s leadership development program is a weeklong immersion program. Griffin said every leader within the organization, from the senior vice presidents all the way down to the front-line leaders, go through the immersion program. Griffin said during that week the leaders learn about the leadership philosophy of the Dynamic Organization.
“They understand these principles, and they understand the values and the behaviors and the business model in a way that perhaps they’ve never had the opportunity to do so,” Griffin said. “Those are starting points. So we have the initial immersion experience, and then we have several follow-on programs that revolve around our servant-leader philosophy that really takes understanding leadership in a Dynamic Organization to the next level.”
Leader of the Future
U.S. Cellular’s servant-leader philosophy is built around its five-part “Leader of the Future” model. At the center of the model is what the company calls, “Leader as Self.” “As a leader you’re constantly under construction,” Griffin said. “You have to learn to lead yourself before you can lead others. You have to be clear about who you are and your vision, your mission and your individual values. And you have to look at your personal values in conjunction with the organizational values, and it has to be a good match. You have to be a leader of high integrity. You have to be focused on self development. You have to be extraordinarily ethical. That’s the character piece of leader that is central to any good leadership philosophy. That fits in the center of the model.”
Surrounding the leader-as-self center are four other leadership roles: leader as strategist, leader as driver of results, leader as teacher, and leader as relationship builder. Griffin said eventually U.S. Cellular will take those five “Leader of the Future” roles and integrate them into the weeklong immersion program.
Griffin said the weeklong immersion program, as well as most of the follow-up leadership development programs, are taught through instructor-led classes. He said this differs from other parts of the company, which use a lot of Web-based training. “We maintain the philosophy that it’s hard to learn leadership through a Web-based thing,” he said. “That’s just a bias that we have because we believe in the relational philosophy. To teach people about leadership, you’ve got to create the space for them to have crucial conversations about what it means to me. It’s experiential as well. All of our programs are designed to put them into role-plays and experiential activities.”
Leaving a Legacy
One of those experiential activities asks the leaders to write their own retirement speeches. Griffin said the activity requires these leaders to think about what kind of legacy they want to leave and what type of leaders they want to be. “Remember in the movie ‘About Schmidt,’ it starts off with Jack Nicholson sitting at the desk waiting for the 5 o’clock to tick? Then he goes home after that. That was his legacy. He’s the guy that was watching the clock,” Griffin said.
Griffin said the workshop helps the leaders move beyond the “waiting for the bell” mentality. “We get them to begin thinking about their legacy. You know, when you leave the kind of job that you’re in, what is it that you want people to say about you? What contributions do you want to make? What type of difference do you want to make in the organization and the lives of the people that you’ve touched?” Griffin said. “They work through the five roles and ways that help them to understand that how I put this model into practice. They’ll say, ‘I’m going to leave a legacy of hope,’ ‘I’m going to leave a legacy of appreciation.’ ‘I’m going to leave a legacy of love.’ And so then by writing their own retirement speech about what it is they would want people to say about them, it creates a vision of what the success in the role of leader can be for them.
“I will tell you that most of the people can write a better retirement speech than I could write. Some of these will bring tears to your eyes,” Griffin said. “They talk about all aspects of their lives, and they talk about not only the business aspects but the people and their families and what they’ve learned at U.S. Cellular, and how it’s shaped them to be a better parent, a better spouse, a better friend, a better community member, a better church member. Whatever the case may be, it really helps people understand the role of servant.”
So far, U.S. Cellular’s leadership development program has been successful. According to its annual culture survey, 97 percent of associates said that serving customers is their highest priority, and 90 percent said they find their jobs rewarding. On the customer’s side, customer satisfaction and loyalty rates at U.S. Cellular exceed 98 percent. In addition, at the close of 2004, U.S. Cellular posted a five-year compound annual growth rate of 14 percent in total customers and 12 percent in service revenues.
It’s because of these positive results that Griffin’s department continues to receive executive-level buy-in. According to U.S. Cellular President and Chief Executive Officer Jack Rooney, leadership development directly impacts customer satisfaction.
“One of the driving factors is that the most important people in an organization are the people you choose to talk to the customers,” Rooney stated. “The people on the front line are the most important. It’s very logical when you think about it. If they are not successful, there is no way anybody else in the organization can be successful, and that includes me. Our job as leaders is to focus the resources on their success.”
According to Griffin, having Rooney’s support has helped the Dynamic Organization grow. Rooney has continued to provide the organization with the necessary money and resources, Griffin said.
“It comes down to Jack walking the talk,” he said. “Jack says, ‘I’m going to belly up to the bar and put my money where my mouth is and get the long-term payoff.’ And it’s something that is intuitive to him. It’s not something that I have to do a large cost-benefit analysis to prove it to him or anybody else. Our senior leaders are enlightened leaders. They get it. So they don’t need a lot of convincing. And that’s the beauty in the role that I have. I have a lot of support from the senior leaders. They are the ones that allow us to be successful. They are the role models for the entire organization and the extent to which they set good examples, other people set good examples. So what they expect of others they more than doubly expect of themselves.”
–Sarah Stone, email@example.com