My intent going into this blog post was to talk about where I started at Altec, how Altec helped me grow as a person, and what I think an “outsider” should know about Altec. As the thoughts flowed from brain to keyboard, it took on a slightly different direction, but I think I fulfilled the purpose. Putting this on paper has caused me to once again realize how special of an organization Altec continues to be. So, grab yourself a drink and find a comfy chair.
When I first came to Altec almost 15 years ago I was just getting started in my career. I was your stereotypical antisocial B-average mechanical engineer fresh out of college. Through high school and college, I had worked jobs in landscaping, dishwashing, inbound and outbound phone sales, auto parts sales, professional auto repair, and an internship in quality engineering. I thought I had the world figured out. But the environment at Altec was something I had never seen or experienced before. I felt like I was missing something. I wasn’t sure what “it” was but was sure I did not have “it.”
In my first week at Altec I was presented with an Altec Values Card; the same Core Values available on our website today: www.altecair.com/about-altecair/our-values.html. I must be completely honest, as a 23-year-old who spent his formative years working in the trenches for small businesses, my first thought was that this was a gimmick. I didn’t fully understand the meaning and thought there was no way a company would do what it takes to fulfill the promise on that card.
Fast forward almost 15 years and my perspective has sure changed, thanks to the opportunities and challenges I have worked through with Altec. The Values listed on that card played a significant part in making me the person I am today. I do not think many people can say that about their employer, though I wish everyone could. I find myself constantly referring to those Values for guidance, as I am now tasked with leading a team through their own development; a team consisting of individuals who may be in a similar position as I was years ago.
What I came to realize was that the thing I was missing was not something that can be read in a book or learned in a classroom. That something was the realization that the belief that "People Are Our Greatest Strength" is the underpinning of all successful endeavors. For every one of us to be successful as individuals, we must be focused on succeeding as a team, and you cannot succeed as a team unless the People are empowered to be successful individuals. The individual and the team are independent yet equally important and, in a successful team, inseparable from each other.
An example of this was a time in my life, between 5 and 7 years into my career, where I slipped into a rut of negativity and pessimism. It may have been related to some very personal things I was going through, but also things that were not going to plan in my work. I don’t remember exactly how long it went on, but I know it had ups and downs. Over the course of those years I had two different supervisors ask in private if everything was okay. I was taken by surprise each time the question was asked, because I really did not think anything was wrong. After all, publicly challenging others and second guessing their decisions is the hallmark of a freethinker. If somebody asks a “dumb” question, then you have a duty to set them straight. There is no room for feelings when we have such important work to do. Or so I thought.
Ultimately, it was my colleagues and my supervisors who reached down and pulled me out of this rut. But it didn’t happen overnight. In early 2011, Altec sponsored me to take the Dale Carnegie Human Relations class, as they have done for many others. I resisted at first, but after a few weeks noticed the impact that the principles were having on my relationships with people. It honestly altered my life for the better. I became a volunteer assistant and ended up going through the course four times over the next two years. I started enjoying my work again and felt that my relationships with colleagues had improved, though I still had moments where I had to stop myself from falling into old habits.
Around that time, following a project presentation and Q&A session that our team gave to a large group, our Director approached me as the audience left the room. He praised my improvement in a specific and meaningful area. One that I had secretly made a focus for improvement in my recent development efforts. I believe he used the word “masterful” to describe how I handled a situation during the Q&A, one that I previously would have handled poorly (and which he, himself, may have been a victim to in the past). In that moment I realized I had successfully broken down a barrier. It took years but was made possible only by Altec’s commitment to its People, and by the commitment of its People to each other. Without that commitment, by that time in my career I may have been giving a different presentation to a different group of engineers while working for a different company. And I am so very thankful that is not the case.
Upon reflecting on these things, I had what Dale Carnegie graduates call an “aha moment.” You see, the Values are presented in alphabetical order. No one Value is more important than the other. But I see now that People Are Our Greatest Strength forms the foundation upon which all others are made possible. Customer First, Enjoyment of Work, Financial Stability, etc., can never be obtained if you do not start by investing in and empowering the people with whom you entrust these Values.
I then thought about the nature of this Value and from where it derives its meaning. For starters, these are not “The Company’s Values.” A company cannot own them; they are universal and available for all to use. They cannot be bought, traded, or bartered for. And they are only what we, the People, make them. When the People realize that our ability to work as a team, and truly care for each other, is one of our greatest competitive advantages, then by necessity we will become a better team.
I have always heard our executive leadership put it best: The competition can copy our designs. They can copy our manufacturing processes. They can even copy or undercut our prices. The one thing they cannot copy is our People.
We ARE the People. We ARE our own Greatest Strength. We are Altec AIR.