Fair­banks Morse En­gine knows bot­tom line re­lies on peo­ple and prof­its.

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - Ed Hess is a busi­ness pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia Darden School of Busi­ness. — Ed Hess

The big idea: Mean­ing­ful work with mean­ing­ful work re­la­tion­ships and mak­ing prof­its are not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive.

The sce­nario: Fair banks Morse En­gine, a sub­sidiary of En Pro In­dus­tries, is a 130-year-old en­gi­neer­ing com­pany and a premier man­u­fac­turer of in­no­va­tive diesel and dual-fuel en­gines for marine and sta­tion­ary power ap­pli­ca­tions serv­ing the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, as well as many power com­pa­nies. It is a dual bot­tom-line com­pany in that it be­lieves that hu­man de­vel­op­ment is as im­por­tant as prof­its.

In fall 2014, Pres­i­dent Marvin Ri­ley con­cluded that Fair­banks was not scal­ing such de­vel­op­ment fast enough with the com­pany’s 500 em­ploy­ees. The com­pany also faced strate­gic changes in its mar­ket­place, and it needed to ac­cel­er­ate its pace of in­no­va­tion and move­ment into the com­mer­cial mar­ket­place glob­ally. Ri­ley’s in­tu­ition was that his two chal­lenges were in­ter­re­lated.

The res­o­lu­tion: Ri­ley knew his com­pany had the right val­ues, a pur­pose­ful cul­ture and good peo­ple. He was miss­ing a scal­able sys­tem — a sim­ple way to op­er­a­tional­ize those val­ues through be­hav­iors, pro­cesses and mea­sure­ments that were easy to im­ple­ment, model, teach and scale. He be­lieved that learn­ing was foun­da­tional to op­er­a­tional ex­cel­lence, in­no­va­tion and hu­man de­vel­op­ment. Why not build a learn­ing sys­tem that sup­ported all three?

He in­vited his 13 se­nior lead­ers to spend a week to­gether to de­sign a learn­ing sys­tem. It was an in­tense week of ask­ing “what if” and “why” with lots of hard work, look­ing in the mir­ror, some laugh­ter, some dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions and re­flec­tion, with lots of lis­ten­ing to each other in an open-minded, non-de­fen­sive man­ner.

The team cre­ated the “FME Learn­ing Sys­tem” — a new be­hav­ioral ap­proach to achiev­ing its dual bot­tom-line mis­sion. It de­fined the be­liefs and be­hav­iors that would drive per­sonal and or­ga­ni­za­tional growth, and adopted key pro­cesses to use daily through­out the com­pany that would en­able and pro­mote those be­hav­iors. The team ar­rived at a set of “Be­liefs,” a de­fined “Cul­ture of Ex­cel­lence,” the de­sired at­tributes of a “High-Per­for­mance Learn­ing Or­ga­ni­za­tion,” a list of as­pi­ra­tional em­ployee “Be­hav­iors,” key learn­ing pro­cesses in­clud­ing “Crit­i­cal Think­ing Ques­tions,” an “Ac­tive Lis­ten­ing Check­list,” “Meet­ing Hy­giene,” “Rapid Ex­per­i­men­ta­tion,” “Pre Mortem” and “Post-Ac­tion Re­view,” along with score cards and a game plan for com­pany roll­out. Ri­ley said, “I be­lieve that we have found abet­ter way to work that is truly spe­cial.”

The les­son: Good in­ten­tions and as­pi­ra­tional cul­tures are nec­es­sary but not suf­fi­cient to make work mean­ing­ful and achieve the high­est per­for­mance of peo­ple and the busi­ness. That re­quires con­tin­u­ous learn­ing and the right work en­vi­ron­ment.

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