Mar 18, 12
Read on March 18, 2012
Finally read Good to Great, by Jim Collins (yes, I know that I'm a bit behind in my reading, but just never seemed to get around to this one). I thought it was good (not great) in that it didn't really tell me anything that wasn't pretty obvious. Furthermore, there is a lot of peril in identifying "great" companies that then go on to stumble (Circuit City, Fannie Mae, Pitney Bowes). I know that Collins would say that these companies stopped following those things that made them great, but that brings up an interesting point in my eyes. Is a company ever truly "great" or is it all relative? Relative to competitive comparisons, relative to timeframe, etc.
Companies can only be measured as great at the moment you are looking at them and that greatness is rarely projectable to the future?
Why? Lets look at some of Collins' key points - those elements that allow a company to go from Good to Great:
Level 5 Leadership - This is a big one. I don't think you can have any of the rest of the items on this list if your leadership can't or won't make it happen.
The "right" employees.
A management team that is comfortable and seeks out the truth
A simple focus - knowing what you are good at - "Hedgehog Concept" - and making sure everyone knows what this concept is.
Discipline to stick to the concept - don't go off buying ancillary businesses.
Uses technology to support the hedgehog concept, don't make technology the hedgehog concept (I guess unless it is your hedgehog concept).
Doesn't expect to break through to success with a magical short-term strategy - believe in continuous improvement.
Greatness isn't projectable because so much of the list above is dependent upon people, and in reality they are dependent on the whims of very few people at the top. Change your CEO from one at Level 5 to one at Level 4 and look out below!
I firmly believe that success starts and ends with leadership - and the best companies I've worked with and for have actually had many of the above factors, because they had great management. Most, if not all, couldn't maintain the greatness and those that did often stumbled for a time and regained it (usually after a management change or after managment got "religion").
Corporations are like people (in fact, isn't that how the tax code sees them?). They have good days and bad days...they get moody sometimes...they go through difficult patches...they sometimes succeed and even surprise...but in the end, they all die. During their lives, they often get caught up in their own personal dramas, which gets them off course.
The value in books like Good to Great, and almost any business book I've read, is to remind companies of what they already know, but forgot. These are the self-help books that we all read when we're in a personal down cycle. They can be inspiring and can get us back on track...but soon enough, we need to read a new one.
For now, I'm inspired to become Great.