Huntsman Alumni Magazine

Fall 2009

Dr. Stephen R. Covey says many companies need to build new cultures if they are to succeed

Best-selling author Stephen Covey told an audience gathered at a Shingo Prize Conference in May 2009 that it’s time for a paradigm shift that will better tap employee talents and make companies more effective.

Covey was a keynote speaker at the 21st Shingo Prize Conference held in Nashville, Tenn., that drew nearly 500 people and spanned four days. Covey is the author of several books that collectively have sold more than 20 million copies, including The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, First Things First, Principle-Centered Leadership and The 8th Habit. Time Magazine once recognized Covey, the co-founder of FranklinCovey, as one of the nation’s 25 most influential people.

Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey (Photo by Steve Eaton)

He said the world is shifting from the industrial age to the “knowledge-worker age” and he predicts the new paradigm will eventually out produce the industrial age by more than 50 times.

“The overall philosophy of the industrial age is control,” he said. “If you are a benevolent autocrat, we’ll call it kind control. The purpose of the knowledge-worker age is to unleash talent.”

The Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence is part of the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University, and Covey is a member of The Shingo Prize Academy. The organization promotes a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of showing respect for employees, while becoming efficient, saving money, increasing productivity and improving quality. Many of the concepts emphasized by the Shingo Prize are also central principles taught in Covey’s books.

Covey said making the shift to a new culture that better taps employee talents has been difficult for some companies. He said people get their security from the top-down structures and systems of the industrial-age model. He talked of developing a committed, empowered culture, where everyone is accountable to everyone, that can focus on operational efficiency.

The Shingo Prize recognizes and educates companies on how to streamline their processes and become more efficient while building a principle-based culture to drive positive change through continuous improvement.

Covey said he once visited a Toyota plant in Japan where a leader offered him some insight into the challenges American car dealers are facing.

“Detroit just doesn’t get it,” the executive said. “They think the answer lies in marketing and promotion and in technology.”

Covey said he asked him, “Where do you think the answer lies?”

“Culture,” he said. “Anyone in this room can close the line down, yet it improves quality and lowers cost.”
Covey said that true leadership is not something that automatically happens once a person is given a title.

“Leadership is a choice, not a position,” he said. “Leadership is based on moral authority, not formal authority.”

Leaders who have to borrow their authority from their title will not be as effective.

“People with formal authority, without moral authority, will create a discordant culture,” he said. “They will continue to use the industrial-age model of top down, command and control, and the entire culture will be resisting.”

Covey said he appreciated the opportunity to speak to the group that he said is focused on developing cultures that create organizational efficiency and excellence.

Click here for more pictures of Stephen Covey speaking at the Shingo conference.