228: The Essential Keys to Team Excellence with Gary Morton

By November 10, 2017Podcasts

 

 

Gary Morton reveals the key ingredients to the “secret sauce” allowing teams to be at the top 1% of their fields.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The first steps toward achieving clarity of purpose
  2. How to spark empowered obsession in your team
  3. Guidelines for unleashing your group’s creativity

About Gary

Gary Morton graduated from West Point with honors and had a five-year career as a tank officer, the highlight of which was being part of an extraordinary unit that achieved unprecedented results at the US Army’s grueling National Training Center—the only unit to ever win every simulated battle it fought. Morton completed a master’s degree, also with honors, from the University of Southern California, and transitioned out of the Army to medical-device manufacturer Stryker, where he held positions of increasing responsibility in project management, engineering, R&D, operations, and marketing leadership becoming the youngest VP at the company. This culminated in twelve years as Vice President and General Manager of the EMS equipment business that he cofounded. Today, he is retired from Stryker and lives with his wife in the Midwest, where he writes and invests.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Gary Morton Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Gary, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Gary Morton
Well, thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I really enjoyed digging into your background a little bit, and one thing that seems pretty unique and exceptional for you is – let me make sure I get this claim right, but – you were the only tank unit to win 100% of your simulated battles at the Army National Training Center. Is that correct? And if so, what was the secret?

Gary Morton
Yeah, that is correct. Me, I was a part of the team, that was the only unit to win every battle. And, you know, what was the secret? The book is about that. There’s a lot that went into that success there. But let me give you a little bit of background on the National Training Center. It is arguably the most realistic training experience that’s ever been created in the history of warfare. I mean, it really is a phenomenal thing that we have there at Fort Irwin, actually out her in California.

But it’s also designed to present scenarios to the units there, they’re going through these simulated combats, that are likely and designed to be more challenging than anything you would probably experience in actual combat, so in other words it’s designed for you to lose and you will learn through your defeat. And maybe they’ll ease up on you a little bit and you’ll win one or two battles to have a positive feeling at the end of it but it’s just people don’t win there.

And for a unit to go out there and win every single simulated battle was just a phenomenal experience and just a phenomenal accomplishment as well for that unit. The Army studied it, wanted to understand, “What did they do? How could this be possible?” And there was that secret sauce that that unit have which I talk about in my book Commanding Excellence.

But there was an absolute clarity of purpose, there was an empowered obsession throughout every soldier in that unit to achieve the purpose, and the creativity that was unleashed throughout all levels of that unit was just phenomenal and created some things that are still with Army doctrine today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. So, help me get a little bit of frame of reference then. So, just how many battles are there and what’s a battle sort of look, sound and feel like in practice? I just kind of want to imagine the scene a little bit more clearly.

Gary Morton
Yeah, okay. Yeah, I could describe what I experienced which was during the Cold War. So, you’d go out and you’d fight a simulated Soviet opponent, and they were called the opposing forces. And they were steeped in the Soviet doctrine and whatnot but they also had the advantages that arguably some of the Soviet forces had. They outnumbered you, they were very well-trained, they knew the terrain, they fought on that terrain time and time again, they had handpicked troops, and you would put a system on yourselves and on your vehicles and throughout your unit called the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System, or MILES. And this was the biggest game of laser tag if you can imagine, that you’ve ever seen.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Gary Morton
And most realistic. And even then, computers track every vehicle, a good number of soldiers to figure out, and you could replay the battle on a big screen back at headquarters after it was done. And you usually fight nine battles, sometimes it would be eight, sometimes ten but, generally, you could look at fighting nine battles. And a good unit would win two of the nine and that’d be pretty good accomplishment, and to win nine and 0 was just unbelievable.

Pete Mockaitis
That is wild, yes. And I think if my math is running here, even if your odds were as good as a coin toss that’s like one in 500 something-ish that could happen just by chance. So, it sounds like you’re saying you didn’t get lucky, there was something at work there.

Gary Morton
Absolutely, yeah. Absolutely there was something at work there. It was a very special unit.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well, so, I’m intrigued then, I like how in your book, you lay out a couple different scenarios or context for leadership, and then point to the same three principles getting the job done. So, could you maybe orient us, first of all, what is the book all about and why is it important here, now? I guess what makes it distinctive from any of the numerous leadership books out there?

Gary Morton
Yeah, you know, the book is written by a practitioner, somebody that was a part of doing and part of two extraordinary organizations, and it really is a collection of stories. And through the stories, it’s intended to teach some ideas and reveal the secret sauce that allowed these two organizations to be and achieve things in the top 1% of the top 1% of the top 1% of their fields.

One of those things which we talked about just a second ago was, both of these organizations, the second organization being Stryker, a medical device company, and what was unique and phenomenal about Stryker is for 28 years, under their CEO, until he retired, this company grew its earnings 20% every year and every quarter of every year for all 28 years.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Gary Morton
And it was a company highlighted by Jim Collins in his book Great by Choice as a 10X company for one of those decades, but it was really a 10X company for every decade, that this gentleman led the company. And the feeling that I had and insider’s insight in either of these two organizations, and obviously two very different organizations, one oriented at war and killing, the other oriented at medical devices and saving, but the feeling inside was the same, this sense of inevitable excellence. The book is sharing what it felt like to be inside that in a fashion that will hopefully allow other leaders and other people to create organizations with that type of excellent results.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’m good and intrigued, so let’s jump right in. So, let’s talk about these principles that create the secret sauce. So, can you give us the overview picture here?

Gary Morton
Yeah, the overview picture, and these are about these organizations achieve things that were considered impossible, so these principles are about the extremes, you know, absolute clarity of purpose, it is an extreme. It’s not a mission statement. It is something that pervades everything in anything happening within that organization, and it’s crystal clear at all levels. Absolute clarity.

It defines what’s important, what’s not important that we’re not going to do. You know, Steve Jobs, and Tim Cook after him, have always said, “In Apple we’re great at figuring out what we’re not going to do. We turned down a whole bunch of ideas.” And having this clarity of purpose made it crystal clear. It also was clear what we’re going to be great at.

And at the Armory unit it was, “We’re going to nine and 0 at the National Training Center,” and there’s a lot of commanders that said, “We’re going to try to win it at NTC. We’re going to do all this.” The difference was Tebela who was the battalion commander. He aligned everything in that organization to achieve it, just like Stryker aligned everything in its organization to achieve 20% earnings growth. And that’s an extreme.

Second, both these leaders had a personal and monomaniacal obsession to achieve that purpose, and they both were able to inspire and empower that same obsession throughout the organization. And that is, again, it was extreme. These were not normal teams. They were obsessed people, and that is how they achieved what they achieved.

And then, lastly, to collect, you had this clear purpose, people obsessed with achieving it and then an environment and an atmosphere that allowed and facilitated the unleashing of creativity at every single level and in every single activity. And all of that, collected together, generated these truly exceptional results.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s cool. That’s exciting. And so, I want some more of that. It sounds good. So, could you help us get a little bit clearer on the clarity of purpose? First of all, I want to step into each of these three in terms of, okay, you said the absolute clarity of purpose, it’s not a mission statement. It is more clear. It shares what’s important and not important. Could you give us some examples of where we see that happening versus not happening?

Gary Morton
Yeah, I’ll give you an example that a lot of people would know. You know what, Tim Cook, who’s the CEO at Apple, I think has done probably the best job following a legend than anyone in history has ever done and he’s come out with a whole bunch of different statements about what Apple does, “We create these great products. We change the world.”

He has five or six different statements that he repeats a lot, and they’re fabulous and they really help define what’s going on in the organization. But the absolute clarity of purpose was something that Steve Jobs did such an incredible job of explaining, “Insanely great products.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Gary Morton
And everything else flowed from that. All the things that Tim talks about in his definition of the mission, it all flows from insanely great products. And it’s something simple. People, they can get their mind around it, and they can get their hands around, they could say it in two or three words to folks that they know. That is that clarity of purpose.

Under Jack Welch at GE, “Number one or number two in every business.” And that defined it, “We’re going to be number one or number two, or we don’t do it.” And everything in that organization aligned around making that happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s good. Now, can you give us some examples of maybe where people think they have clarity of purpose but it’s actually falling short?

Gary Morton
You know, those examples are all over the place. The church I go to, they talk about their mission in the beginning of every service and, you know, it’s blah, blah, blah. It’s apple pie and baseball and all these things that every other organization wants to do. The clarity of purpose sets you apart. It’s simple. It’s only a few words. It defines what makes you different. Most organizational mission statements, I don’t mean to demean the mission statements, but if you want super extraordinary performance, have that simple definition of what your purpose is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, well, let’s get some more because I think that there’s a distinction where I think people maybe are let off the hook too easily, in the sense that, “Oh, yeah, yeah, we know our purpose. Yeah, we’re to create shareholder value by innovating dah, dah, dah,” you know, whatever. Or it’s like folks they have a sense of the purpose or the mission or the vision but it’s not really, you know, it’s not the stuff that you’re talking about. So, I’d love it if you could just elaborate a little bit more in terms of how do you know when you’ve got it or you don’t?

Gary Morton
You know you’ve got it when every candidate that comes in to interview, every vendor or supplier that spends five minutes in your building know that that purpose is why your organization exists. And you couldn’t spend five minutes inside of Stryker under John Brown and not know that this organization was about 20% growth.

You heard it from the receptionist. You heard it in every interview if you were a candidate. You heard it in every interview that you went to. If you’re a supplier, you hear it from every buyer that you’re working with because it’s so pervasive. That’s why it’s so powerful. It’s so pervasive everybody knows it. It defines who they are. There’s a sense of pride around it. There’s a sense of, “You build it.”

At Stryker, it had a chance to be built over years and years and years of accomplishment, and it would cause people to do extraordinary things if ever it came up that maybe we might not make it this quarter or we might not make it this year, and the whole organization would rally around it. So, if you’re inside an organization that has it, you feel it, you know it, it’s discussed by everyone, and it’s crystal clear, it’s 20% growth.

You know, GE has just had their conference call and their earnings released, and they’ve got a new CEO and he seems like a very competent guy and he’s a good leader and whatnot. He’s describing what they’re going to do, and it’s exactly what you were saying, Pete. It’s what everyone else says. It’s not clear. It’s not defining for the organization, “What are we going to do?”

When Steve Jobs went back to Apple, “Insanely great products, that’s what we do.” Elon Musk, when he talks about SpaceX, well, what are they going to do? They’re going to put people on Mars. And everybody in that organization knows it. That’s why they exist.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Okay. I dig it. I dig it. So, you feel it and it’s clear. And I’m intrigued here, when you talk about insanely great products, it’s interesting. So, if I look at those two clarity of purpose statements or vision side by side, I hear insanely great products, I’m thinking, “Oh, yeah, that’s awesome. Let’s go make some of those. That excites me.”

Whereas when I hear 20% growth year after year, from my perspective, I mean, hey, high growth is cool and more fun than low growth for sure but it doesn’t kind of grab me on the outside. But you are making it sound like it sure stirred the people inside Stryker.

Gary Morton
Yeah, and that’s something that both of the objectives of these organizations, you know, the nine and 0, win every battle, well, if you’re a soldier you can really tie into that. 20% growth, you know, I agree, it’s not particularly inspirational. It doesn’t kind of gain some strength by this altruistic sense of what we’re trying to do. I mean, 20% growth, what is that?

But what happened over time is as it became one year, two years, three years, and the systems and processes and incentives and everything within the organization were put in place to do it, it facilitated all of those more noble things to happen. Now, I started the business there that changed the world for our customers.

There are paramedics and EMTs around the world that are working today as a result of the products that we developed for them that allowed their lives to be a whole lot easier. And that was the most fulfilling part of my role, I guess, in leading that business. I mean, we changed the world. We allowed people to keep working that would’ve had no chance of working had we not been in the market.

So, I look upon that as maybe our teams’ greatest accomplishment. Yet at the same time it was all in this environment and this backdrop of 20% earnings growth. And the 20% allowed people like me and people like my compatriots to fellow division leaders to go after those more noble goals because it defined you had so much autonomy to achieve what you wanted to achieve.

So, for John Brown the 20% defined who he was and what he was trying to accomplish, but he allowed everyone else to accomplish what they wanted to do as long as you do 20% as well. And we did many, you know, Stryker’s products and the things that we invented over those years really have profoundly affected patients and doctors and healthcare all around the world.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, understood. Clarity of purpose. So, I’m wondering, if you don’t have clarity, how do you get there?

Gary Morton
Well, you start by defining it. I mean, it’s simple. And the thing about what both these organizations did as well is it really was pretty simple. Okay, if we don’t have clarity you’ve got to recognize it. Just like the 12-step process, I’m a whatever.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m an unclear mission haver.

Gary Morton
I’m an unclear mission person and that’s who I am right now and I’m going to change. And you have to identify that. Be brutally honest about it and then define for your organization if you’re in the leadership position. If you’re not in the leadership position and you’d like to have that clarity of purpose, define it for yourself. Define it, “Okay, I’m a part of this, the tool and die-maker, but what I’m going to do is I’m going to make the absolute, the best, the most productive tool I can in every situation that I get into. I’m going to improve the quality of the tool for my customer every chance I get.” Define your own purpose.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Gary Morton
But if that company, if you’re in that leadership position and you have the chance to define that purpose for them, come up with something that inspires you because that leader has to be obsessed with achieving it. He has to be obsessed with it. Because, to me, what these two guys did, what seems like anybody else is going to try to spread that obsession throughout an organization, boy, they got to have it obsessed.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And this reminds me, even like my first job, I worked at Kmart, they called me Pantry Pete because I setup the food matters. And so I remember I was an unusual teenager in a number of respects, but I remember in a training video is they talk about how we had the power to please as a Kmart employee. I thought, “Oh, that’s really cool.” Whether you could run a substitute for two 12 packs of soda/pop for the 24-pack sale price, I thought that was kind of cool that I had that autonomy.

And so, I actually wrote down in my calendar when it was time to work, not just work, or Kmart, but I actually wrote “exercise power to please.” And, for me, I really did. I got into like the opportunity to just delight the bejeezus out of a customer and just sort of like walk them directly to where the things were. And, I guess, it was just sort of like my game and, well, it was more fun, I guess, than rearranging the candy aisle to make it look tidier, it was the people element. But I did. I sort of defined my own purpose and so it worked for me in terms of making work just feel more fun and interesting and rewarding.

Gary Morton
Oh, yeah, that’s an excellent example. It reminds of a story from I went to a leadership course one time in Nebraska of all places but there were some folks from Disney there. And there was a guy that ran downtown Disney, and he described how they tried to get people that were initially coming into the Disney organization to be a part of, they didn’t call them employees, they called them cast members.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Gary Morton
And Disney does such an excellent job with that. Whether if you’re the housekeeper making rooms up, you were part of the cast, and they would describe how that you can make the difference for that little child that’s visiting Disney World for the first time. They see you in the hallway and they say, “Hi,” and you could just say, “Hi,” or you could say, “Hey, what are you going to see today?” “Oh, we’re going to the Magic Kingdom.”

“Oh, the Magic Kingdom. You’re going to see the Princesses. Oh, yeah, [you tell Belle that I told her that you should get this or something.” And they make it part of the event for them. And, yeah, that’s taking Disney’s purpose, at Walt Disney World at least at that point, and empowering that to all different levels of the organization.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s about that second principle then, empowered obsession. I mean, how does that take root and other folks get in on that obsession?

Gary Morton
Yeah, I think there are a number of ways that that can happen. For both these organizations it spawned from the top leader who was absolutely obsessed with achieving that purpose. And then they built a following around them through different aspects of their personnel. You see these were two very different leaders.

One, he built the following around him because he was the military guy was an outstanding combat leader, and he read military history. One of the things that he did was he was convinced, “If I demonstrate courage, and show people that I care about the soldiers above all else then they’ll follow me.” And he took advantage from day one, this first day in command, to demonstrate that personal courage.

At the time, every tank commander and a battalion commander, so this lieutenant colonel that would come in, would be assigned a tank, but most tank commanders would use their tank and they were just assigned one most would fight in because it was very difficult to control in operation if you’re trying to fight a tank at the same time.

But you would supposedly need to go through gunnery exercise, and the previous battalion commander had never gone through this exercise but it just happen to be that this guy was, you know, the thread was coming into command the day of the manual gunnery exercise. So, he decided, instead of bowing out of it, he knew one of the company commanders, “Put a crew together for me and I’m going to go down the gunnery range because that’ll show people that I’m different than the other guy, that I am here, I’ve got the courage to go through the same things that you’re going through, and I’ll do it from day one.”

Well, you know what, this guy was extremely talented and it turns out that he qualified the highest in the battalion with a very good group. But he started to demonstrate from day one that, “Hey, this guy has got courage.” And then he demonstrated it through exercise after exercise, and instance after instance how you could trust him. And through that courage and trust, he built this ability to empower people because you knew he had your back.

If you had a crazy idea and you went out and tried it and it didn’t work, you weren’t going to get killed, you weren’t going to get flayed in your review. You had a crazy idea and you went out and tried it. You know what, it didn’t work so try another one. That kind of environment that was built within Stryker, there were so many. Within a business organization, you have so many ways to empower an allegiance to the purpose whether it’s the incentive program, whether it’s the annual cadence.

Everything at Stryker was racked and stacked and it was out there. It was brutally honest. And it wasn’t an organization for people that didn’t want to be a part of it, that didn’t want to be a part of the everyday activities. You couldn’t hide anywhere at Stryker. You know, I used to tell people that we’re interviewing is, “If you want to join a large, a really large organization that has a lot of great engineers…” I’m mostly interviewing engineers in my early career, “… then you can join one of the big three auto companies. And they’re great and you’ll have a great career there and have a good time.”

“And then the first day on the job they’ll give you a tool. It’ll be a jeweler’s screwdriver and you can tweak the steering column here, or change the brake pads over there. And a couple of years from now you’ll see the results of your work in a car, and you’ll feel good about that. Well, at Stryker it’s different. Because at Stryker, the first day in your job we’re going to give you a tool and it’s a sledgehammer. And you’re part of a small independent team that has broad responsibilities for the complete design of a new product, and you’ll be stretched in ways you never dreamed possible.”

And that empowered folks in ways that I can’t describe. It empowered folks because they knew they were going to have the autonomy, they knew they were going to have the independence. The incentive systems were all oriented around, “You deliver the growth and we leave you alone, and you go do what needs to be done.” Now, everything in both organizations were highly ethical but at the same time they were highly-empowered and let people go and make things happen. And that created magic.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. You made me really think that phrase itself “empowered obsession.” It’s like folks are empowered to the extent to which they deliver on the obsession and then it’s like, “Well, hey, anything and everything else within an ethical boundary is fair game. So, go ahead, do it. We’ll be out of your way. Enjoy it. Try it out. See how that goes.”

Gary Morton
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good.

Gary Morton
And that high autonomy, high accountability, high responsibility environment that was just proliferated throughout both organizations.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I’m curious, if someone is listening and they are either just newly placed in a supervisory or management role, and they want to deliberate some extra empowered obsession, what should be some of the first steps?

Gary Morton
Well, demonstrate to your team that you’re committed, demonstrate to your team that you’ll support them, find ways to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your people, and get people doing what they do best every day.

Pete Mockaitis
And can you give us an example of just something that makes it really come alive, like, “Oh, I can really see, manager, that you are committed to me. I can really see that you support me”?

Gary Morton
Here’s a good example. I won’t use any names here, but, so we have a team of folks that are developing EMS products, and hired a new guy that came into the team. It’s a very design-focused organization. And the designers, because we made products that would change our customers’ lives, the designers are highly applauded on that team.

So, we bring in a new guy and he’s not really a design guy but we like him and thought that he could do some interesting things for us, and then he struggles in the design piece. The key with him was to realize, you know, he’s not a design guy. But the design guys don’t want to do a lot of these things that this person is great at.

You know what, he can make sure that we’re following all the procedures and requirements that the FDA requires of us through the course of a project. He can make sure that we’re following a methodical process to ensure that all of our tests and validation and verification for this product is sound, and it’s going to deliver something that’s of ultra-high quality from day one. And he can help us ensure that we do all that.

So, you put him into a position where he can soar with his individual strengths, where he can be who he is best at being as a part of the overall organization. So, I think if you are the new employee, find and understand what you do best and figure out how you can work yourself into a position where you’ll get a chance to do that every day. It is a force multiplier. And if you’re a supervisor, figure out the strengths and weaknesses of your people, and put them into the places where they’re good at. They’re going to soar.

And we did the same thing in the tank battalion. The tank battalion commander didn’t have the chance nor the time to change out a whole bunch of leadership and supervisors as an organization. He had to play with the cards that he was dealt. So, what he did was figure out, “What are my strengths and weaknesses, and these different commanders, and these different non-commissioned officers? And how can we develop our battle plans around them, and around those strengths and weaknesses?” And the results were, again, magical.

Pete Mockaitis
Do tell about the magical results.

Gary Morton
So, for example, we came up with a concept called a playbook for this tank unit. And the Playbook was a methodology to simplify the process of getting orders from higher headquarters and translating that into a concept of the operations for the next days’ engagement. And we worked this and drilled this. It was a concept that the commander had brought in from a football experience.

Basically, if you know football very well, but one of the simple ways to run an offensive football is called the Wishbone. Some college teams will do this because it’s simple, it’s all about executing, an excellence in executing six simple plays.

Well, so we came up with a playbook concept for our maneuver operations, and then we designed the role for each company of the four maneuver companies in that unit around the strengths of its leader and non-commissioned officers and then all the way down into its squads and tank crews.

For example, I was in Alpha company, and what we were great at was long-range tank gunnery. If something moved in front of our guns we could hit it. So, we designed the plays of the task force to get Alpha in a position to shoot the enemy, and everything revolved around that.

And we had another company that was extremely strong at land navigation. They were dicey. They could figure out small undulations in the terrain and maneuver into an objective, so they became the lead unit, and they would lead the taskforce out of every assembly area and into the attack. And those kinds of things are, again, created that magical result of nine wins at the National Training Center.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And now, the third principle here, unleashing creativity. How does one go about doing that?

Gary Morton
Well, yeah, I think there are a number of ways. What these two organizations were exceptional at, and what made it so extreme inside them was people were empowered and there was an open and honest environment of communication in both organizations. And it was brutally honest. And by brutally honest, a lot of times when people go and they try to brainstorm today, there’s an important balance that needs to happen between allowing the free flow of ideas, which you want to have, and then at some point in the brainstorming operation, or the brainstorming scenario, you’ve got to cull through the ideas and decide, “Okay, what are we going to go after? What are we not going to go after?”

[00:33:20]

But what is most effective there in that situation is the best idea wins so it’s not politically-based, it’s not who had the idea. Did the commander have it or the sergeant have it, or did the soldier in the mess hall have it? It doesn’t matter. What matters is how powerful is the idea, and the best idea wins. Now that’s one key part of the environment.

Second is you’re constantly and forever learning, and you’re learning from other people’s experience, at Stryker you’re learning from your competitors’ experience, from your other divisions’ experience, from each other’s experience, from your own team’s experience, and you’re constantly figuring out. Again, the learning is directed because it’s all, well, what worked and generated earnings growth, what worked and made this unit, or this division, more able to deliver its numbers.

And you look at those evaluation criteria, and it’s constant. It allows you to learn around because the innovation both these organizations was very purposeful. Then there was this environment of constant and continuous improvement. And if you get a little bit better at things every day, then you can look back two years, you know, six months, a year, two years, five years later and that thing that you got a little bit better at every day has been transformed into a powerful part of your organization, and powerful part of your organization’s approach to whatever it might be doing.

And all of that happens because it’s an empowered environment, people are free to speak their mind, they’re backed up by the leaders throughout the organization, you get the time to experiment. Now it’s not that you’re just given things, because a lot of studies would show that these, for example, if you’re going to do an offsite team to go develop something, a new product or a new business approach, whatever, if you give them every resource in the world, they usually fail. You got to get that entrepreneurial spirit going. So, you give them limited resources and then they figure out how to use the limited resources they have to do amazing things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so now, I’m thinking about sort of the opposite of this. I’m imagining organizations that don’t have that creativity unleashed, there’s some leashing factors. What do you see are some of those top factors and how can we unleash them?

Gary Morton
Yeah, there’s always the “not in here” syndrome, there is the “we can’t do it that way” syndrome, or “they’ll never let me” syndrome, and they exists in every organization to some level. I think one of the keys to unwinding those philosophies is the first two elements of the secret sauce, is you have that absolute clarity of purpose and the empowered obsession to achieve it.

I remember when I walk into the manufacturing plant. I mean, here I am, I leave the Army, I go into a manufacturing organization and I end up as a project manager. I also have some responsibility for manufacturing engineering. And this plant is, I just can’t believe it. I mean, it’s like World War II and it’s 1989. They just didn’t keep up with the technology that was available.

And I talked to the folks in the plant, and this is Stryker, it’s the organization that’s been growing 20% for about 12 years. Well, manufacturing hadn’t quite got the message yet. And so, they believed that, “Oh, we can’t get a new lathe. We tried to get one last year and we couldn’t get it past, and corporate said no.” I said, “Well, let’s go see what you do.”

And the request for the lathe was all about how it’ll make this part better, or that part better and whatnot. I mean, it’s 20% earnings growth. It’s clear. So, show how the lathe is going to get us 20% more earnings. That’s all we have to do. And, lo and behold, over the next three years we totally transformed the inside of that manufacturing plant by just getting approval on all kinds of new machinery and processes and whatnot because we’d done a research and understood how it was going to deliver cost reductions and quality improvements that would lead to earnings growth.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, thank you, Gary. Tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Gary Morton
You know, it’s been a great conversation, Pete. I could talk for days but I think we’ve covered a lot, and there’s a lot more in the book, and I appreciate the questions you’ve given me.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, then, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Gary Morton
I’ll go with a military example. There was a quote from George Patton, and that was one of the books I read when I was a kid, and I thought, “Oh, this guy seems to be an effective leader so there’s some things to learn from him.” Well, one of those was, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what you want and let them surprise you with their ingenuity.” And that really was, that philosophy that was pervasive throughout those two organizations.

Another one from Patton was, “A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution 10 minutes later.” And that was really the genesis of the playbook that we used to 468. It was a good solution for fighting the battles and it was quickly disseminated to all the units that were going to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Gary Morton
Lots of favorite books. Again, I go back to my early days, you know, that War As I Knew It from George Patton was one that I often remembered as I went through my military and business career.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And now could you share with us a favorite tool?

Gary Morton
You know, I was one of the first people in the country to buy an iPhone. And, for me, it was just transformational. I still remember the experience of the Second Generation, so the 3G, when it came out and the App Store opened. And I got on the App Store and I downloaded some. I just, “Oh, my God, they figured this whole thing out. This will absolutely change the world.” It was just a phenomenal experience. At the very early days, these guys really got this thing right.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Gary Morton
One of my habits is to keep myself physically and mentally fit so I work out pretty much every day except for one day a week, and it really has been, in the toughest times at Stryker and the toughest times of my life, it really has helped a lot to have the energy and the determination to get through things.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget that you share or you’ve written that seems to really connect and resonate, whether it’s folks retweeting, or taking notes, or Kindle book highlighting a lot?

Gary Morton
So, in both organizations and then the things that I’ve written, there is this understanding that people gain that I can state in a short phrase. Because, really, what I’m describing and what created excellence here were simple things, and a lot of organizations don’t do those simple things. They make it too complex from the beginning.

But some organizations they do. They start off with the right things in place, and then they get bigger, or they grow and it becomes different because it is simple but it’s not simple to keep it so simple. I mean, you really have to be careful not to create a whole lot of bureaucracies, because bureaucracies aren’t created by bad people. They’re created by good people who just went through a crisis and they don’t want that crisis to come again so they put controls and checks and balances and those types of things in place.

And it all makes sense when you’re in the crisis and when you’re just coming out of it. But 15 years later and you look back on it, you see, “My gosh, we’ve got such a morass of controls and oversight and whatnot that we can’t get anything done.” And you just have to constantly cull through that and make sure that you’re keeping things simple.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And, Gary, if folks want to get in touch or learn more, where would you point them?

Gary Morton
Well, the book is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon and other online and stores around the country, and in the English-speaking world. There’s a website I have called iGaryMorton, like iPad, like iGaryMorton.com, and there’s information there, and I’m on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Gary Morton
Understand and be honest with yourself about what you do best at your work, and find ways to do more of that each and every day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Gary, thank you so much for working us through these three principles. Super helpful. I wish you lots of luck with your book and your next leadership adventures.

Gary Morton
Thank you, Pete. It’s been great.

Leave a Reply

The Gold Nugget

The Gold Nugget

After each episode I send out the #1 performance-boosting takeaway I glean from each podcast guest. Register now! it's totally FREE. And short. And fun.

You have Successfully Subscribed!