Do You Need a Checkup?
I had been feeling a little odd; a number of minor physical discomforts were leading me to feel anxious about my health in general. And that anxiety was subtly getting in the way of my performance. I was a little less focused. A little more scattered.
So when Michael Newcombe, the new general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village in LA, invited me to get an executive physical at the adjoining California Health & Longevity Institute (CHLI), one of the top ten executive health programs in the United States, I jumped at the chance.
I’ve written about Michael and the Four Seasons twice: The Real Secret of Thoroughly Excellent Companies and If You Want to Be Original, Start from a Different Box. I have tremendous respect for Michael as a leader and for the Four Seasons as a brand.
And Michael made me a pitch that I already believe in: Get yourself checked out because if you feel better, you’ll work better, and your performance will improve.
I extended an upcoming trip to Los Angeles by a few days and started filling out paperwork: consent forms, an extremely detailed health history, and a food log.
Once I arrived they took 16 vials of blood, had me breathe into a machine for 20 minutes, and otherwise poked, prodded, and explored me. I met with nurse who evaluated me, a doctor who spent over an hour extracting my medical history, a trainer who reviewed my workout, a nutritionist who consulted with me, and a chef who taught me how to cook.
It was a great experience and reinforced for me a basic belief I have about what makes a business successful.
The facilities were terrific. The equipment was cool. But that wasn’t it.
Their process of assessing me from so many different angles to get a full picture of my health was flawless. And they did a great job of making it a one-stop shop and walking me through each step. But that wasn’t it.
They collected reams of great data about me that went into a comprehensive report about my health, risk factors, and a summary of recommendations. It was accurate and useful and more than I had ever received before, but that wasn’t it either.
All of that contributed to the experience, but none of it made it. So what did make it?
It wasn’t just that they were nice, helpful, empathic, and professional. It’s that they were experts. And not simply experts in their areas of knowledge, but experts in applying their knowledge to me. That made all the difference.
Every company touts their people as their greatest asset but very few actually believe it. Or act like it. Most spend the majority of their effort designing processes, tools, and methodology they hope are foolproof and then scale their operations by hiring poorly trained people to follow their flawless system.
That creates mediocre results at best.
Several years ago I went to a fancy ski boot company that touted a process for the perfect fit. The person fitting me knew very little about boots and almost nothing about feet. He didn’t need to; it was about the process. Not only did I end up in the wrong boots, but they were painful for years.
This year I went a different route. I went to my local ski shop at Windham Mountain where they hired a master boot fitter, Marc Stewart. Marc looked at my feet for a long while, holding them in his hands, feeling their structure, and listened to me describe how I skied. Then he picked out a pair of boots and, over a few days of skiing, made some alterations. I’ve never been more comfortable in a pair of ski boots and it transformed my skiing.
I experienced the same thing with my own company. Many years ago when my goal was to grow Bregman Partners into a big company I hired close to a hundred consultants. In order to ensure consistency, I trained them all in the same methodology and created a process for them to follow. Any client who hired a Bregman Partners consultant would have a predictable outcome.
Only it didn’t work that way. Each business’s problems were different and a single process couldn’t reliably solve all of them. Our quality declined. Maybe our process wasn’t strong enough?
No, the problem was the opposite: our process was too strong. Because processes don’t create powerful solutions: people do. Experts. Thoughtful masters of a craft. Just the kind of people who will be frustrated by a foolproof process. Now we barely have a process at all. Every intervention is unique. And our outcomes are far stronger.
That was what made my experience at CHLI so remarkable. The big fat compendium of reports I received is still sitting on my desk. That didn’t change me.
But the little pieces of advice I received from each expert — the pieces of advice that aren’t worth sharing here because they apply specifically to me — those pieces of advice changed me.
It’s been a month since I returned from LA, and my diet has subtly changed. Nothing huge, but enough to lose a few pounds and feel healthier. More importantly, all the tests I took have reduced my anxiety about my health. And my performance at work — my focus, my energy, my discipline — has noticeably improved.
If a thorough checkup can improve one person’s performance, and if you believe that people are a business’s most important asset, imagine what it can do for an entire organization.
Peter Bregman is CEO of Bregman Partners, a company that strengthens leadership in people and in organizations through programs (including the Bregman Leadership Intensive), coaching, and as a consultant to CEOs and their leadership teams. Best-selling author of 18 Minutes, his most recent book is Four Seconds. To receive an email when he posts, click here.