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A Simultaneous Look at Individual Health and Corporate Health

Jan. 27, 2009

The Cooper Aerobics Center has been home for Baylor's Executive MBA program since its inception in Dallas in 1993. Recently, Dr. Gary Carini, Professor and Associate Dean for Graduate Business Programs, talked with Dr. Tyler Cooper, M.D., M.P.H., and CEO of Cooper Aerobics Enterprises, Inc. about the connection between the health and wellness of an individual and how it parallels that of a company.

Tyler CooperIn addition to his role as CEO, Dr. Cooper also serves as a preventive medicine physician at Cooper Clinic, is president of CooperLife™--a health and wellness residential community planned for Craig Ranch in McKinney, and sits on the Cooper Complete nutritional supplements board of directors. He earned his medical degree from The University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio, a master of public health degree from Harvard School of Public Health, and a bachelor of business administration degree from Baylor.

Below is a dialog between Dr. Cooper and Associate Dean Carini about the simultaneous look at individual health and corporate health.

On Being Healthy

Cooper: Being aware of your individual health is key. Self assessment is critical. You need to know where your health stands by knowing your family history and your numbers. What is your blood pressure, cholesterol profile, body fat, and the like? Once you know where you are starting you can work proactively rather than simply reacting and giving attention to your health only when you feel poorly.

Carini: Right away there are parallels to the business. If a company is pursuing a strategy, but implication, it's proactive. If the company reacts to the whims of competitors, especially in our difficult economic climate, it will ruled by its competitors, never forging new ground. In the field of strategy, we often talk about the notion of "anticipation." We anticipate what customers might want in the future, we anticipate the actions and even the reactions of competitors, and, most of all, we anticipate the mood of our employees. Proacting and anticipating are key.

On Goals and Objectives

Cooper: Health goals are key. Operating without goals is likely to lead to poor personal health. Appropriate goals should drive your daily health decisions. Actions that we can take daily that are driven by health goals are an appropriate exercise routine and diet. Goals might then translate to objectives and corresponding tactics. For example, we might have a goal to feel better. The objective could then be to eat a balanced diet and take vitamins. The tactic, then, might be that you tell yourself that today you will eat 3 balanced meals and exercise for 30 minutes. Your actions correspond with both objectives and goals. Overall, though, you are in pursuit of great health.

Carini: Goals and objectives are often stated by companies, but, after they are articulated through an excruciatingly painful process, they sit on shelves. For a brief period of time, companies endorse the need for a plan, but far more often and all too quickly, they set it aside. Great companies have huge stretch goals. These are companies that outperform more lackadaisical, passive companies. Firms driven toward excellence usually do well, as they develop a collective mindset toward high performance. The balance sheet and income statement both show it. Thus, while logical and compelling, most companies resort to unclear or unspecified goals and objectives. It's important to exercise the business and to have goals and objectives that drive the nature of the exercise.

On Intervention

Cooper: So, you go to the doctor who tells you that your bad cholesterol has increased at a rate that matches your rising blood pressure. Anxiety sets in and the notion that you've lost control of your health. This response is reactionary and unhelpful. However, it can be useful if it motivates you to take control. Determine your game plan to improve your healthy habits, seek medical advice from your doctor, and take medications if advised. But take ownership of what you can change... your diet, exercise, weight and attitude. Remember your health is your responsibility. Your doctor is your guide.

Carini: A sluggish company with declining performance needs intervention. Thinking about what has created the sluggishness and what to do to move forward is imperative. If no changes occur, I believe the company will fail. Companies don't improve just by hoping alone. Thus, action is needed to change the course. Also, simply fixing what the perceived problems are won't drive the company toward high performance. Sure, fixing is necessary, but not sufficient. Developing actions that differ from previous ones that stretch the company increase the likelihood of success. Thus, taking the risk to take new actions is critical.

On Pursuing a Healthier Life Style

Cooper: If a person were to make a decision to pursue health, one of the first things we recommend at the Cooper Clinic is to track daily progress. Imagine a chart where you record, for example, the amount of time you exercise each day, what you eat, and how much you sleep. This is a visible, tangible way to see where you are with your health and monitor the positive changes. Psychologically, it's encouraging to track progress and show to ourselves our short term "wins."

Carini: According to the Society for Human Resources Management, a majority of the workforce describes themselves as disengaged. Most dread Mondays and can't wait for Fridays. Discouraged, disgruntled, distraught are common descriptors for many of us. What pulls us out of this is the identification of "short term wins." What can you do today to begin to shift your perspective toward hope? In companies, the use of metrics to track performance is essential. Far too often, though, metrics are used to emphasize the gap and discourage people, rather than encourage and show progress. Sure, we don't pursue company goals perfectly and there will be occasions when we need to acknowledge that we're going in the wrong direction. However, tracking metrics that your work group agrees are, in fact, key performance measures would be extremely encouraging and would change a culture of discouragement.

On Crash Diets

Cooper: If your goal is to pursue health, attention to the means or process to achieving the goal is critical. Let's say, one of your goals is to lose weight. You can begin to eat a balanced and controlled diet and the weight will drop gradually. On the other hand, you could eat celery and drink water. You would lose weight, but your health would suffer significantly, and you could not maintain it. Thus, while it's important to have a goal, it's equally as important to commit to a healthy process (means) to achieving your goal. Crash diets simply do not work. Moderation is the key to success.

Carini: The "just do it" mentality in companies is pervasive. That is, a manager might say "just get those costs down by 30% by the end of the quarter." In fact, we might be hearing this theme even more now. What could a company do to achieve this? They could cut advertising, research & development, and salaries. While certainly these actions would decrease costs somewhat, they are not linked to the vision of the company. Decoupling actions from the vision will be destructive. The company equivalent of the crash diet will not work and should not occur.

On Why This Is Even Important

Cooper: No one of us knows how many days we have here on earth. No action we could take could knowingly increase our days by a certain number. What we are certain of is that we do have the ability to do the most we can to increase the quality of our lives. The pursuit of health surely increases quality. With quality, we are equipped to make significant impacts on the individuals with whom we come in contact, and feel better about ourselves.

Carini: You spend a lot of time working throughout your life. At the same time, there's a silent epidemic called employee disengagement and discouragement. This doesn't need to happen and we no longer need to be the victims. As you go into work, think differently. Think of the company vision and goals and how you play or can play an important part in their pursuit. This brings meaning to what you spend so many hours doing. Meaningful work, in whatever we do vocationally, increases engagement and satisfaction. In turn, it will have a positive impact on your personal health.

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