Culture Is Contagious
I recently returned from facilitating my second annual Leadership Boot Camp at Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation (CFSC) in Nashville, Tennessee. CFSC is the financial arm of Caterpillar Inc., a Fortune 50 company, a technology leader and the world’s largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, natural gas and diesel engines, and industrial gas turbines.
Living in Michigan, it’s always nice to be able to head south to a warmer, snow-less climate during the icy month of February … except this year. I arrived on the same day the Music City received their first snowfall of the year — all day long! At least it made me feel at home as I always do when I share time with the good folks at Caterpillar Financial.
During my four-day stay, I was again constantly reminded how pleasurable and also unique it is to be able to work in a very positive environment … generated, of course, by a rich, enduring culture. I must assume that the majority of those who work there might take this privilege for granted. I say that only because everyone in the building acts as though this unconventional environment is a natural thing experienced by all organizations everywhere. Little do they know.
On the surface, this business doesn’t look any different than any other. They boast an exquisite 11-story, 312,000-square foot building as the world headquarters for Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation. This eye-catching structure is situated across the street from Vanderbilt University and just a few blocks away from Nashville’s treasured Music Row.
At the entrance, a paved-stone circle drive surrounds a red granite-clad fountain pool containing a fountain sculpted by a California artist. The backdrop for this fountain is the revolving building entrance door with a canopy in the shape of a bulldozer scoop, which recalls Caterpillar’s origins as a heavy equipment manufacturer.
Entering the decorative two-story granite-clad lobby, you find a fully restored 1930 Caterpillar tractor prominently displayed in a place of honor. Stand under a state-of-the-art technically transparent umbrella apparatus, and you can hear the history of the tractor as well as the organization.
The building includes an on-site, fully staffed, state-of-the-art fitness center with locker rooms and an aerobics room. The 7-story concrete-frame underground parking garage can accommodate 1,200 cars. The fantastic all-purpose dining room offers employees just about anything they might want for breakfast and lunch daily, and a gift shop offers a nice variety of Caterpillar souvenirs and trade-marked merchandise.
Their training facility offers an environment for just about any type of training you might envision, and I’m almost certain their experienced technical support staff hides outside every room entrance waiting to address your every need. However, two years running I’ve had no need to call on them for assistance. Regardless, they check in regularly to see if all is well.
By the way, at a time when most organizations feel totally justified in reducing their training schedules for a myriad of reasons … every classroom, large and small, was filled with attendees from all over the world. My program was graced with employees from Australia, Japan, Germany, the U.K., China and, of course, many states within the U.S. The opportunity to network was easily as valuable as any program content. Those classrooms were filled with enthusiastic, focused employees because CFSC views employee development not as a cost but as a critical investment. Evidence of that view can be found in their ROL (Return on Learning) practices. Again, evidence of a unique culture.
It was quite obvious to me, whether they noticed it or not, that everyone enjoyed being there. Everyone wore a smile as they greeted each other in the cafeteria, in elevators, every level of the parking garage, in hallways and classrooms — everywhere. During my recent stay, I had 14 people from last year’s program stop by my training room to say “hi” and wish me well.
From what I’ve been told, what I’ve witnessed and what I’ve researched about CFSC, it’s quite obvious that they have a sincere and dedicated focus on “excellence.” They speak often of their “never-ending journey to excellence.” It was decided early on that excellence was going to define company culture and be its guiding principle.
Their business model integrates excellence into its vision, mission, critical success factors, and Values in Action. That’s as it should be — but seldom is in so many organizations.
Caterpillar Financial maintains a constant focus on process improvement. Tools such as 6 Sigma, a highly disciplined, data-based methodology, helps them prioritize and manage projects, design products, and improve processes. Ninety-seven percent of employees are trained in 6 Sigma procedures for designing new processes!
Specially trained employees called Black Belts, experts in the 6 Sigma process and team facilitation; Green Belts, subject matter experts; and Yellow Belts, trained in basics of 6 Sigma, comprise teams of employees that implement these procedures.
Since 1993, CFSC also has been using the Baldrige performance excellence criteria as the overall framework to assess the organization and guide improvement efforts.
Investment in employee recognition programs, such as Eye-on-Quality Awards and CAT Bucks — which allow employees to instantly recognize other employees — increases annually.
They also recognize employees with incentive pay, which is paid quarterly and directly aligned with company goals. This, of course, certainly goes a long way in helping them meet their strategic goal of attracting and retaining skilled employees.
The overall Employee Satisfaction Index has risen consistently and employee retention is following that trend as well. Ninety three percent of employees participate in the Caterpillar Healthy Balance program, which earned a national C. Everett Koop Award for Wellness Promotion and the Wellness Councils of America “Well-Workplace Award.”
The majority of what I’ve shared above is known and spoken in most of today’s competitive organizations across industries. There’s little or nothing new here. The difference I discovered, appreciated and greatly respected is that it’s not only spoken at Caterpillar Financial … it’s supported, practiced, and continually growing in this unique culture!
It’s a rare pleasure and privilege to witness this vibrant culture placing smiles on the faces of so many employees. However, don’t let me mislead you. They have their problems and challenges as so many other organizations do. We discussed several of them during our Leadership Boot Camp program. The difference I found lies in the fact that they view these speed bumps and barriers as opportunities and treat them as such. That makes the difference.
The crowning touch to my most recent visit was a very pleasant surprise indeed. At the close of the program, I was approached by a Black Belt participant who presented me with a “CAT Buck” for what he explained was his appreciation of my performance during the Leadership Boot Camp. I’m proud to say that I have since laminated and framed that special token, and it is currently hanging in a very honored spot on the wall of my office!
I’m scheduled to return to Nashville in August of this year for another Leadership Boot Camp, and I’m certainly looking forward to sharing that environment, working within that powerful culture and especially seeing those enthusiastic smiles!