Years ago I worked as a contractor at a large bank. I’d hear people say,
• “We got to the get the right people on the bus.”
• “That guy’s sitting in the wrong seat on the bus.”
• “Can we kick that guy off the bus?”
• “Let’s get this bus going in the right direction.”
“What on earth were they talking about?” I thought. I finally asked and someone pointed me at Jim Collin’s ” Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t” book. Collin’s delivers on something I haven’t seen before. He and his team researched over a thousand companies to see what makes some stand out and, more importantly, do so consistently over time. The team dissected the winners to see if they could find the “secret sauce” that enabled those companies to outperform the others and make it on their “Good to Great” list.
So what’s all this talk about the bus? “Good to Great” companies were unique in that not one of them had a single, visionary leader like Jack Welsh, Larry Ellis, or Steve Jobs at the helm. They instead had strong teams made up of people who fit well in the company. Those teams set the vision and those teams executed with passion on that vision. The company mentality was to get the right team members assembled or “on the bus.” It then worked at getting people into the roles where they performed best. That’s what they call getting people “in the right seats.” Then the teams executed with precision to “steer the bus” towards greatness.
Getting the best people they could was a consistent theme across these companies. Just as important was eliminating people who were not good fits. These companies strived to get the solid, all-around types and not just experts in one field. With the right teams in place, they tasked themselves with getting the company aimed at the right goals or as they like to call it “getting the bus going in the right direction.” The goal might be selecting a better way to deliver a company’s products and services, but it might be changing the company’s direction completely and committing itself to a market it doesn’t currently serve.
The book gives the example of Kimberly-Clarke. It had a 100 years history in the paper mill business. However, it had seen huge successes with its consumer business. Ever heard of a product called Kleenex? In what some called “the gutsiest decision I’ve ever seen a CEO make” they sold off the mills and went head to head with Procter & Gamble and Scott Paper. The move worked and their strong execution led to their greatness.
Again, not a single one of the “Good to Great” companies relied on a single, powerful leader. These companies didn’t start by setting a vision then convincing their their team to go for it. They assembled the right team first then worked with that team to set the visions and execution plans. Because it was a team vision, the team was committed to the plan and they didn’t fall apart when that one key leader left. Without exception, the things that made the company great became imbedded into its culture and passed along from leader to leader.
The book points out other characteristics these companies exemplified and the skills and temperaments of their leaders. The leaders tended to be “quiet” leaders who gave their teams credit when they succeeded and took personal responsibility for their failures. It seemed to me like a very plain and simple management philosophy. If you ask me, it should be one many of today’s companies should consider.
Read “Good to Great” to illuminate yourself on what really makes a company great. A review of the mentality and culture that skyrocketed these companies can give you insight into what can drive you to personal greatness and that same greatness to the organizations where you work.
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