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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

Runners and Their Corporate Counterparts

Winners, losers, cheaters, laggards, champions

Published: Monday, October 20, 2008 - 17:00

For the past 35 years or so, I have been a runner. My daily routine consists of a five-mile run followed by a seven-mile bike ride. Over the years, I have competed in numerous 10K (6.2 mile) events, 5Ks (3.1 mile), a marathon (26.2 mile), several half marathons; and for the past 21 years, I have participated in a ten-mile race in Flint, Michigan, universally known as The Crim Festival of Races. I say universally known, because it attracts runners from all over the world (7,000 runners in the most recent race), including a large contingent from Kenya. Being the altruistic member of the running community that I am, I always let the Kenyans beat me just to illustrate my hospitality. Beat me? Heck, they run each mile in just over four minutes to my 9-½ minute miles. It’s like saying, “We’ll race you, Bill, and give you a five-mile head start and still beat you.”

Several years ago, I started competing in duathlons—a two-mile run followed by 18 miles on my bike and then a five-mile run to complete the event. Evidently there aren’t too many senior citizens who can run and bike, thus I have been fortunate to win my age group on a regular basis. On the other hand, I’m one of the few senior citizens who lacks a swimming prowess so that prevents me from competing in triathlons, which is where most of the seniors compete.

Runners are a breed all their own. We all have a favorite pair of shoes, a T-shirt from a race we are particularly proud of, and a pair of running shorts that usually are lighter than a handkerchief (we have to make sure we are aerodynamic).

As I have pounded the pavement over these many years, I have noticed a close similarity between runners and the people who I have met in the corporate world. Certainly there are fitness geeks in both worlds and people who are candidates for Weight Watchers, but I’m referring more to the attitudinal comparisons. Having given you my running pedigree, let me illustrate a parallel between runners and the corporate world. Following is what I have observed over the years:

Fitness Fred
Most runners undergo a grueling training program before any race. It consists of running five to eight miles a day. For a marathon, one throws in a couple of 20-mile runs prior to the big event. Fitness Fred always keeps accurate records of his daily exercise and follows a strict diet. It wouldn’t be unusual for him to offer advice to other runners on his training regimen and tips for competing in races. Fred keeps a record of all his training runs and likewise races he has competed in. In this fashion, he’s able to look for ways to improve.

Fred’s corporate counterpart always arrives on time for work and is prepared for the grueling day’s activities. He never saunters around the office, but has enough stamina to complete his work and then assist others with their responsibilities. He could be a member of senior management, but more than likely is in middle management. Assignments and schedules are meticulously planned and there’s a solid record of the completed work.

Cheater Charlie
In any race that I have competed in, there are always a number of runners who cheat, that is to say, when the route goes around a corner, instead of remaining on the street or trail, these low-lifes jump onto the sidewalk and pass others who remain on the correct route. Interestingly enough, most of the cheaters are men. Female runners seem to have more integrity, as it’s rare to see a woman cut a corner.

I mentioned earlier that I compete in duathlons. One of the features of this event is that the participants have their bib number, their age, and the event that they are involved in inscribed on the back of their legs. For example, when I see someone in front of me with a “D” on his leg along with an age of 66, I know that we are in the same event (duathlon) but in a different age grouping—I am 65.

In one particular race there was a fellow in front of me with that exact marking on his legs so there was no need for me to compete against him. Typically, the first three runners in each age group are eligible for a prize. I allowed this runner to finish in front of me for that reason. You can imagine my surprise when I learned that he was in fact 65 years old and in my age group. He came in third depriving me of a trophy. When I confronted this obvious cheater, he indicated that the race coordinator when inscribing his leg must have misunderstood his age. Yeah, right!

In the corporate world Charlie is probably the one who has fudged his resume to gain a position over another candidate (See CareerBuilder survey below). He no doubt is related to Rosie Ruiz, the woman who cheated in the 1980 Boston Marathon by taking a subway for part of the race. Typically, he is not a team player but prefers to operate solo and then take credit for others’ work. Charlie abhors any form of collegiality.

Peacock Paul
Paul and his flock of birds are skilled runners who, after finishing the event, start trekking back through those still competing. It’s as if to say, “Look at me. I’m done. I’ve beat you.”

Back at the office these show-offs possess a high skill level but sharing those skills and talents with others is anathema to them. How they survive in a scaled-down work environment is a mystery to me.

Fortunately, these bad seeds in running, with their counterparts in the office, are few and far between. In my running world and my corporate world I have had the advantage of competing with and working with some class people. I think that’s true for most of our readers. Most successful office environments are staffed with winners and champions. The laggards and cheaters hopefully are quickly disposed of. I like to think that it’s a pincher or workbench vice effect. Senior management at the top and those at the other end of the spectrum apply continuous pressure on these malcontents and eventually the work environment becomes so stressful that they leave on their own accord. Why continue to function in an office where everyone is positive and upbeat when you would rather just sit around, complain all day, and not provide any positive input? These people move on and transport their bad attitude and poor work ethic to some other company, because no one has the courage or fortitude to accurately document their work history on the exit interview form. And yes, I realize that there are certain legal and ethical reasons for not doing so, but that’s a column for another month.

Well, now I feel better having gotten all that off my chest.

Now as is my custom while I lollygag in my hammock, permit me to opine on a couple of other items.

The Baldrige Award Program recently announced that the panel of judges selected a total of 13 applicants to receive site visits. The group is composed of one manufacturing, two small business, two education, six health care, and two nonprofit organizations. Site visits are already underway and will conclude on October 25. Judges will meet the week of November 17 and the winners should be announced shortly thereafter.

Some interesting information from CareerBuilder. Evidently 8 percent of employees have admitted to stretching (let’s call it lying about) the information on their resume, but hiring managers state that is more close to 50 percent.

According to CareerBuilder some of the most common “stretches” include:

  • Embellished responsibilities—38 percent
  • Skill set—18 percent
  • Dates of employment—12 percent
  • Academic degree—10 percent
  • Companies worked for—7 percent
  • Job title—15 percent

And not to be outdone, here are some of the most flagrant claims made by applicants:

  • Claimed to be a member of the Kennedy family
  • Invented a school that didn’t exist
  • Submitted a resume with someone else’s photo
  • Claimed to be a member of Mensa
  • Claimed to be a CEO of a company but was actually an hourly employee
  • Claimed to be Hispanic when candidate was Caucasian

Congratulations to my good friend Horst Schulze, who in January 2009 will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit. Schulze is the former president and COO of the Ritz-Carlton. He is currently president and CEO of West Paces Hotel Group. He received this prestigious award in recognition of his spectacular accomplishments in the founding and growth of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, his outstanding business sense, and acute attention to exceeding guest expectations. Under his leadership the Ritz-Carlton won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award twice. On a personal note, he’s a delightful and personable leader, one that I have had the privilege of working with for a number of years. Sometime in 2009 I will be dedicating a column to Schulze and his new hotel venture.

Those of us in the quality field are always looking for world-class examples and we frequently speak about how to improve on that quality. I saw something the other day that really caught my attention. It was a picture of a Rolls-Royce Grill. The caption read, “This radiator grill has stood as a symbol of excellence ever since it was first designed by Henry Royce in 1904. Its gleaming message is very simple: this will never be improved upon, and that is that.” I guess if we were working at Rolls-Royce we wouldn’t have to strategize a quality improvement plan for the grill.

Permit me to conclude this month’s column with a quote that I think says it all. It is from Jon Luther, Chairman and CEO of Dunkin’ Brands Inc., who says, “If you don’t get people to follow you, you’re just a guy out for a walk.” Having seen that quote, I think I’ll go out for a run.


About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semiretired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.