The only thing I knew about “KT,” one of his monikers at Davita (the other being “the mayor”) was that he had an unconventional but extremely successful leadership philosophy. Applying his philosophy at Davita completely turned the company around from the brink of bankruptcy in 1999 to a Fortune 500 company with annual revenues over $6.1 billion, an increase in stock prices over 2600% and an 11% decrease in turnover. He’s been so successful that his results have been the focus of several white papers and the subject of study in many prestigious institutions including Harvard, Stanford, Kellogg and Wharton School of Business as well as publications such as The Wall Street Journal and Modern Healthcare.
The numbers alone are certainly inspiring, but what’s more heartening is KT’s vision of what it means to run a business. From day one in October of 1999, when the company was still called Total Renal Care, despite barely being able to make payroll, he ran the company with the belief that by creating a “values-based workplace,” business results would be the natural outcome.
“We do business but we’re not about business.” – Kent Thiry
This is not to say he wasn’t profit driven. He absolutely was. However, his number one goal was to make a positive impact on the lives of his team and to create a “differentially healthy place to work,” and he believed the end result would be profit. He also believed then–and knows now–that every bit of work that needs to be accomplished or actually gets done must be measured against the company’s values and mission first and foremost.
“We do what we do because it’s how we want to live. Greater productivity and higher retention are bi-products.” – KT
In 1999, his two main goals were also his two toughest questions:
- How do we create a differentially healthy place to work in the real world?
- How do we create a community wherein people are committed to responsibility, stewardship, affiliation and commitment?
Thiry’s solution was to empower his employees with decisions that would engage them in a way that created an unwavering commitment to their community. He asked them to choose the name of the company, the logo, the company’s mission, and core values. This was a 6-month process that included individuals at every level except the C suite. Given that 70% of our waking hours are spent at work, Thiry posed the following challenge to inform their choices:
“Work should be an expression of your values. If your work experience doesn’t align with your values, this is a “Grotesque Concession” in your life. So what values would represent a differentially healthy place to work?”
They came up with 7 that they live and work by everyday:
- Service Excellence
- Continuous Improvement
“Work should be an expression of your values. If your work experience doesn’t align with your values, this is a “Grotesque Concession” in your life. – Kent Thiry
Kent acknowledges that it’s not always easy to practice values, especially when things are difficult. He says, “We are all kindred spirits in the challenges of our daily lives. Respect the challenge of living a balanced life true to values. It’s “hard.”
So I ask you, “Are you, is your company, and are your people living true to your values, or are you making the Grotesque Concession?”