This is a transcript of a conversation between Jonathan Graham and Scott McKnight on Jan 24th, 2021, which has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
J: Scott, I’d like to explore the values that drive you in your business. Can I ask you a few questions to help us dig into them?
J: Okay, first I’d like you to consider a meaningful moment—a peak experience—that stands out. What was happening to you? What was going on? What values were you and the company honoring at that time?
S: Early in my career I was consulting for a large home goods chain. They had a Special-Order department, which was only a small part of their business, but still pretty huge. Everything was done at the store level, so the data was a mess. Each store was different and the level of accuracy in the codes used was not great. Iterating over the data by reconciling with product lists and cross-referencing all the records I was gradually able to clean it all up. In the end I was able to save them $25M over a 6-month timeframe.
J: That’s great! So, what were the values that were important to getting you there? Accuracy seems like a big thing.
S: Accuracy is important, but it’s really a by-product. Providing value is what drives me, especially finding hidden value; getting something that no-one else sees. So, if extremely high accuracy is important in a situation to deliver value, then we will get that. If it’s not, then spending the extra time and effort to get the highest level of accuracy is not actually providing the highest level of value. It’s all about understanding what the customer really needs and getting the very best value for them.
J: Okay, great. So you’re very much driven by providing value, and really by being creative in how you do that. Being able to find ways to achieve things that no one else is seeing.
S: I don’t think of it as creative, but yeah, finding solutions to problems that other people have not is a great feeling.
J: Tell me about another peak experience that stands out.
S: Really every new account. Figuring out how an industry works by diagnosing the data.
J: So, what are the driving values there?
S: Finding that hidden value again. Finding win-win situations that make everyone feel great. That’s important to me. And continuous improvement. Both helping the client to improve their systems and processes so that they can be more self-sufficient going forward, and also my own continuous improvement. I need to be doing new things and always learning.
J: Continuous learning; continuous improvement. And we’ve got finding win-win situations. So, creating situations where everyone is feeling good is more important to you than any individual personal gain for yourself?
S: Right. It needs to be a collaboration.
J: Any specific moments that both felt great for you and that exemplify the power of collaboration?
S: These last few years have been great for me, and also hard to adjust to. For much of my career it was just me. I was in control of it all. Finding the win-win situations was about how I worked with the client, making sure that we had a collaborative relationship so that everything went smoothly. Moving to develop software solutions that really provide incredible value has shown me the true power of teamwork and seeing the value that everyone can give.
J: We have that value again.
S: Yep, that really goes through everything. The first RFP we did for a buying group is another great example. It wasn’t even in our contract with them, but we saw the potential value for them. They hadn’t run one for years, and they knew that they needed to. They just didn’t have the capacity using the tools that they had access to. In that first RFP we saved them $100M, and what we built means that they now run multiple RFP’s a year, rather than one every blue moon. This wasn’t something that I could ever have done on my own. It was real teamwork. Seeing the value that everyone can bring and pulling it all together. Collaboration, having the right team, is so important.
J: Finding hidden value for your clients and accomplishing things that other people have not managed to by being creative, collaborative, seeing the value that people can bring, and continuous learning and improvement. There’s some great stuff there.
I’d like to switch it around a bit with the next question, where we will move from looking at peak experiences to suppressed values. Can you tell me about a time when you got angry, frustrated, or upset. What was going on? What were you feeling? What values were being suppressed?
S: I had a contract with a lot of Government departments. I found so much in savings for them, which should have felt great. I would have got paid well for it, more importantly the Government, the tax payers, would have saved a huge amount. But the bureaucracy, the lack of ethics, the protection of individual “empires”; it all meant that the money that should have been claimed was ignored. I felt taken advantage of, and could not stand working in that environment. Integrity is important. Making sure the situation is good for everyone is so much more important than any personal gain.
J: Yes, it is incredible that that could happen. That money would not be collected so as to save face or make life easier for some individuals.
S: Right. Another example was when I was doing a contract for a family-owned company. Again, it was on contingency and I am found them a lot of money they had missed. They refused to pay me for it, claiming that they already knew about it. All my time for nothing, again because of a lack of ethics.
J: You value working with integrity; making sure that you don’t cause people any harm; being fair to everyone. That’s great.
S: Community building is important to me. Establishing and nurturing relationships so as to find win-win opportunities.
J: Let’s look at values in one more way. What’s the most important thing for you to achieve in your life. Beyond any success in business. What must you have to experience fulfillment?
S: Supporting a bigger cause. I’ve recently recommitted to Junior Achievement. I really want to help young people to grow and to go out there and enjoy life and to add real value to the world.
J: Let’s add supporting a bigger cause, making a lasting contribution to the world, to the list of values that drive you.
Here’s a summary of what I’ve taken from this. You’re driven by delivering value, especially in creative ways that uncover value that others cannot find. You believe in creating win-win situations through collaboration, teamwork, and working with integrity. Continuous learning and improvement is vital to you, as is recognizing the value that each person brings, and building meaningful relationships. Fairness and support of others is more important to you than pure financial success. You need to be supporting a larger cause and making a lasting contribution to the world.