A New Way of Leading

The Prouty Project helps corporations stretch their thinking

A sign hanging on the walls of The Prouty Project’s offices reads, “Focus 1% on vision. Focus 99% on alignment.” For the organization’s chairman and founder Jeff Prouty, the quote serves as a daily reminder of what his team is striving to do: bring company leadership together behind a single vision and strategy.

“The common denominator of the companies we work with is a lack of alignment,” says Prouty, “Getting a client’s board and senior team in sync so that everyone is saying, ‘This is where we’re going, and this how we’re going to get there. In many cases, folks get their arms around the ‘This is where we’re going.’ It’s the ‘This is how we get there,’ that gets challenging and frustrating.”

Headquartered in Eden Prairie, The Prouty Project collaborates with companies on strategic planning and leadership development. They’ve worked with some companies for more than 30 years. “Last year we worked with CEOs who are running companies that range in size from $2 million to $20 billion in revenue,” says Prouty.

The organization’s consulting team boasts a range of expertise in various industries. Prouty, himself, is a former “Coopers & Lybrand guy,” (now PwC after merging with Price Waterhouse in 1998). Other team members come from public relations, advertising, marketing, sales, education and finance backgrounds.

The Process
Prouty says that the initial process — the “first leg of the journey” — takes approximately three to six months. The Prouty Project team begins by asking a lot of questions, such as:

  • “What makes you proud to be associated with XYZ company?”
  • “What excites you most about what the company could be in 20-30 years?”
  • “What are some big bold ideas you’d like to see us consider?”
  • “What are your thoughts on what values are most important to you as we build this company?”

“We’re trying to get companies to think long-term, and to be creative and bold, as well as courageous and visionary in the process,” explains Prouty.

Although some steps are similar, the process is customized to each company’s needs. “We always say let’s start with a clean sheet of paper
and design the process accordingly, but elements of the process would typically include interviews  of the board of directors or key customers and employees, just to get a sense of what’s going on — what’s working, what’s not working. There may be an electronic survey of larger groups of people to get some additional data,” says Prouty.

Market research may be included, and of-site retreats could be organized that include the board and senior team, as well as, what Prouty calls, “cultural sparkplugs,” those individuals in an organization who help initiate ideas and are infuencers and ambassadors. For a new perspective, outside experts may also be incorporated, as well as “field trips,” such as an upcoming group outing to the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting.

“Ultimately we want to get to a one-page game plan. So, in 270 to 300 words, we will line out the vision, mission and values of the company, its three- to five-year goals and 12-15 key strategies on one piece of paper,” says Prouty. The team will then work with the client every 90 days for accountability reviews.

Don’t Forget to Stretch
Another program of The Prouty Project came out of a trip that Prouty took with his wife in the late 1990s.

“I started the business in 1987, and in 1996, my wife and I were in Africa, and I saw Mount Kilimanjaro. Somewhere in the next few years, I said, ‘Youknow we’re trying to stretch clients’ thinking every day.’ When I started the business, I was inspired by a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes that said, ‘A mind stretched by a new experience can never go back to its original dimensions.’ That was the essence of The Prouty Project: Our goal is to stretch people’s thinking.”

So in the late 90s, Prouty organized an annual stretch expedition.  That frst year, the group climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and then visited a school in Tanzania. “We had 13 people signed up. Twelve of us summited Mount Kilimanjaro.” Every year since they’ve planned a trip: On even years, it’s more service oriented. On odd years the expedition is more physical in nature. Each trip is open to the public, and this year, the group traveled to Cambodia to work with street children.

“The expeditions are thought- provoking; they’re stretching; they’re taking us all out of our comfort zones in diferent ways. And they complement what The Prouty Project is trying to do day in and day out: Get people thinking in new ways,” says Prouty.