“Good to Great” — in the Corporate World, but Not Only

The book Good to Great lists six concepts that have led companies to surpass their competitors and excel; can individuals benefit from the same ideas too?

The book Good to Great (by Jim Collins), was hiding at my library for almost a decade. Back then, Elbit Systems, the company I’m working at in the last decade, has handed out this book to all graduates of a Team Leads course. It was forgotten and blended with my other must-read books, while I was focusing on my career and my family. Recently, I encountered this book when I was refreshing my library; this time, the book hooked me.

The book unfolds a comprehensive analysis why some companies have done the transition from being a good company to a great one while presenting an extensive comparison to reference companies that had the potential to perform the same change but eventually didn’t.

So, what are the foundations that enable the leap from good to great?

The Concepts

The author and his team describe six essential ingredients to become a good-to-great company. Lacking one or more principle will not yield the desired transition; the organisations that implemented all of these concepts systematically have thrived.

Although the book was published at the beginning of the century, its content is still relevant; implementing and consistently adhering the concepts is the secret sauce.

  1. Level-5 leadership — a level-5 leader, a term that was coined by the author, is a person with a unique combination of humility, courage, motivation, and strong ambitions. The company and its goals are the utmost importance; in the eyes of the leader, he is only the facilitator that makes things happen, as opposed to a rock-star manager that focuses on his success and reputation.
  2. First who, then what — recruiting talented staff and man the right people for the job. Not only you should place the right people on the bus, but they should sit on adequate seats for their skills and aspirations. After that, the company can decide where to steer the ship to by utilising the potential of its talented leadership; the where comes after the who.
  3. Confront the brutal facts — maintaining a consistent and steady belief that the company will prevail in any obstacle, no matter what difficulties or hindrances it will face. Nevertheless, keep on looking at the reality as it is, without trying to twist or cover facts.
  4. Hedgehog concept — identifying the organisation’s strengths and passions, which enable becoming the best in the world, along with finding ways to generate revenues. After crystallising these pillars, rigorously focus on them. Just like a hedgehog, the leadership should unceasingly protect these core values and repel initiatives that do not perfectly match these criteria.
  5. Culture of discipline — persevere the goals and the agenda that have been set; do not sway or start random initiatives that do not align with the company’s targets. This discipline allowed companies to stay on the right course, although their directorate has changed. Companies that had deviated from this principle have found themselves struggling to soar.
  6. Technology accelerators — technology is essential to propel the business, but it should be used wisely while serving the goals. Companies that opt to integrate solutions based on fashion or external pressure to be trendy might fail; the company’s targets and the technology features should be congruent. Furthermore, choosing technology solutions should emerge from the business needs; the technology shouldn’t dictate or divert the company’s strategy.

The Flywheel Effect — no Aha Moment

The main narrative of these principles is discipline and consistency. The interviews with some leaders of good-to-great companies have revealed an interesting fact; they do not recall an aha moment, mega-event, or sharp curve that symbolised the turnover process. On the contrary, after identifying the desired course, they kept on implementing the principles above religiously without changing their direction. While being aware of the brutal facts, they kept on rowing together as a unified, cohesive group towards the target.

Similarly to flywheel rotations, there is no single push that produced its maximum speed; every thrust was significant. The momentum is achieved from many pushes along the way.

The Insights — Reflections in Practice

In hindsight, I’m glad I read this book almost a decade after receiving it. Absorbing information should find you at the appropriate time in order to produce the max; that’s what happened to me with this book. After managing teams and projects for some time, the book’s content is imbibed better.

The book resonates with the processes I’ve observed at the business unit I’m at. This unit has undergone several changes and re-organisations throughout the last decade. Reviewing these processes through the lenses of the book raises some thoughts; some changes thrived the business, whereas others could have been better and caused stagnation.

As for the latter, it seems the main reasons were the lack of focus and inconsistent strategy, or in other words, the Hedgehog concept wasn’t kept adequately.

On the flip side, the technology we have chosen served well our customers’ needs and the business goals. Some of the projects I was involved in soared and continue to be beneficial years after delivery.

Think out about transitions at your place, too; it can be an interesting analysis.

Projecting to the Personal World

The notions the book presents can be applied in other domains, such as the personal or professional arenas, and not only the corporate world.

The contemporary discourse resembles one’s career to company business, and thus the same principles can be implemented in our professional journey too; you can transform a good career into a great one if you adhere to some of the practices.

In a world of so many options, you should find your compass and gain confidence that you are on the right track. Similarly to the concept of Confront the brutal facts;keep on looking at the reality and grasping the fact, but believing in your way is essential to overcome obstacles.

Take for example the terms perseverance and grit, which are widely spread and admired; the Hedgehog and the Culture of discipline concepts have a lot in common with these traits. Distil something you have the passion to, a thing that you can do the best, and then strive to excel while rejecting all other activities that hinder your achievement.

Another example is the Technology accelerator concept that can be embodied in the goals setting idea; first, identify and refine your goals, and then choose the accelerators that will bring you there.

“We must discipline ourselves to convert dreams into plans, and plans into goals, and goals into those small daily activities that will lead us, one sure step at a time, toward a better future.”
by Jim Rohn

I leave you with these last thoughts; hope they will spur you to ponder and plan the upcoming year.

Thanks for reading.

– Lior

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