Good To Great, Not Just For Big Business

I have had several business books sitting on my shelf waiting for me to read. These were books that I meant to read ages ago, but never got around to. One of those books was Good to Great by Jim Collins. I typically do not recommend that people buy specific books on this blog because many of the books I talk about are very specific to a niche, and only apply if you work in that niche. However, Good to Great is a book that everyone can learn from. Personally, I was surprised by this when I read it, but the general ideas are good for anyone running a business or even just trying to get better at what they do.

So, in keeping with the theme, I am including various snippets or nuggets from the book that I believe can help with startups or your own personal career. I am sure that Jim Collins and his research team had no idea that their book would be promoted as a self-help book. 🙂

Good-to-great companies did not focus principally on what to do to become great; they focused equally on what not to do and what to stop doing.

For startups: Startups have a tendency to try and grow quickly. Sometimes that is in the form of gaining as many users as possible, and other times it is in product expansion. Obviously, if you are not good at something, rip it out of the product. As a startup, you really need to focus on those things that you are doing well. Anything else is just wasting time.

For individuals: Obviously, you do not want to do things you suck at. Sometimes we may have to, and that is a good learning experience. However, if you really want to grow within your company, try to focus on those things you excel at and get help on the other things.

Good-to-great companies paid scant attention to managing change, motivating people or creating alignment. Under the right conditions, the problems of commitment, alignment, motivation and change largely melt away.

For startups:Motivating people should not be on your list of things to do. If people are not motivated within the startup, they are obviously the wrong people to include.

For individuals:If you need significant motivation to do your job, you are likely in need of your own change. I am a firm believer that you need to love your work in order to truly excel, otherwise your work becomes “just a job” and it can suck the life out of you.

Those who build great companies understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any great company is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products. It is one thing above all others: the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.

For startups:Good people are critical to a startup. If you have a good idea, but the people do not fit what you are trying to do, then you will probably fail. The odds are against you already, so why not fail with the best team you can get, and have a chance to succeed.

For individuals:If you are a hiring manager, you are only as good as your team. So you need to hire the right people. If you are not responsible for hiring, the become one of those employees that people will fight over. Success breeds reputation, reputation creates demand, and demand gives you opportunities.

The good-to-great companies showed the following bipolar pattern at the top management level: People either stayed on the bus for a long time or got off the bus in a hurry. In other words, the good-to-great companies did not churn more, they churned better.

For startups:The basic idea here is to fail fast. If someone does not seem like a good fit for their position, try to find a better spot for them or if nothing is available just let them go. A bad fit will eat a lot of cash, and the employee that does not fit will not be very productive. This sounds harsh, but a startup is not the place to go if you want all the touchy-feely, fluffy bunny, happy family stuff.

For individuals:If you are a bad fit for your position, tell your boss. They will probably respect you more for it (unless you lied to get there). By being honest, the company will probably try to work with you and find a better spot. If you are a bad fit for the company, RUN. Do not waste time trying to make it work, because it probably won’t.

There’s a huge difference between the opportunity to “have your say” and the opportunity to be heard. The good-to-great leaders understood this distinction, creating a culture wherein people had a tremendous opportunity to be heard and, ultimately, for the truth to be heard.

For startups:If the culture of a startup is not promoting that people can have ideas or opinions, that startup will probably fail or have limited growth potential. Many startups change their core focus at some point, and that next great idea could come from within the organization.

For individuals:I have shared this quote Martin Fowler before and it applies here as well, “if you can’t change your organization, change your organization”. If there are problems in your company, but nobody is listening, that is a sign that it is time to leave. Very few companies become successful by keeping their head in the sand.

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be”, Admiral Jim Stockdale

For startups:If it is obvious that the startup is going to fail, there is no need to continue down that path. As a startup, you probably have the ability to change your focus and still succeed. The company can still have faith that “it will prevail”, but it just might be in a different way than originally expected.

For individuals:This quote is regarding Stockdale’s time as a prisoner of war. This does not mean that you should not be an optimist if you already are. Optimism is good, but “blind” optimism can cloud your judgment.

Three circles, “What you can be the best in the world at”, “What you are deeply passionate about” and “What drives your economic engine”. The intersection of the three circles is your hedgehog concept.

For startups:I dislike the hedgehog analogy, but the concept is a great idea, especially for a startup. Focus on what you are good at, what you love and what can make money. That sounds like a perfect formula for any business.

For individuals:As an employee, making money is part of your employment, so it is not nearly as critical to focus on. Again, if you do what you are good at, and it is what you love to do, there is a good chance you will be successful. One thing to remember regarding money is, ensure you do not attach yourself to a dying company or industry. In those cases, the money is drying up, so even being an employee may not matter for too long.

Lead with questions, not answers.

For startups:A startup is a new business that is trying to solve a problem. Can your startup answer questions like “What problem are we trying to solve?”, “Who are our users?”, or “How do we make money?” If you startup cannot answer those questions, then ask the questions to the industry. The answers you receive could be surprising.

For individuals:You will never know all of the answers, and by the time you discover them all, you will have forgotten some. Always ask questions. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Lastly, unless you created the technology or theory, someone probably knows more than you, and they could be sitting next to you.

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