Read and Learn: Good to Great

I’m having a hard time narrowing down my thoughts on Good to Great by Jim Collins. To be honest, each of the six sections of the book could comprise its own post. In this book, Collins, who also wrote Built to Last, sets out to study how companies could achieve enduring greatness. In the process, his research team uncovers 11 companies that made the jump from good (or even mediocre or bad) to great. They then interview executives from these 11 companies to try to tease out similarities that contributed to their greatness. The six concepts fall into three categories: disciplined people, disciplined thought and disciplines action. I’ll limit myself to comments on two of these concepts.

First who … then what
The good to great companies “first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it.” Moreover, Collins observes that “the right people don’t need to be tightly managed or fired up; they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great.” When you think about it, this approach makes a lot of sense. If you have the right team of adaptable individuals working together, then you have a lot of freedom to remain nimble and change direction as needed.

The Hedgehog Concept
This piece is all about determining a core idea that unites your team’s passion, your team’s unique expertise and determining your company’s ultimate economic denominator. It’s the core idea that drives the business. It can be extremely simple. Collins notes that determining the Hedgehog Concept can be an iterative process that takes time. On average, he says, the 11 good to great companies took four years to find theirs. Finally, once you uncover your Hedgehog Concept, you reach the hardest part — sticking to it, even when flashier ideas pass by.

Does either of these concepts ring true to you? How have you seen them play out?

Read and Learn: Silos, Politics and Turf Wars

Even though I heard Patrick Lencioni speak at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit last fall and was very impressed by him, I didn’t put two and two together when I first started reading his newest book, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars, for a campus book discussion. It wasn’t until I opened up the back cover that I thought Hey, I recognize this guy. At that point, I knew it was going to be a worthwhile read.

In Silos, Politics and Turf Wars, Lencioni spends 170 pages building a narrative that draws the reader in and frames his argument. Fictional character Jude leaves his job at a large corporation and sets out to make it as a consultant. His first handful of clients is a diverse bunch, and it’s crucial that he quickly figure out what it is that he can contribute to their unique business environments. You’ll have to read the book to find out the rest of the narrative!

The last 40 pages of the book transition to a more familiar business book structure. Lencioni posits that conquering organizational silos is the best way he can help to develop healthy leadership teams and, therefore, healthy businesses

His model for addressing silos is to rally the leadership team around a thematic goal and several sub-objectives over a fairly short period of time – anywhere from a month for a startup company to a year in an academic environment. Although one person on the leadership team may be more familiar with a particular sub-objective, it’s the entire leadership team’s responsibility to accomplish the thematic goal. Each leadership team member must carry the thematic goal battle cry back to his or her unit so that the entire organization moves toward the shared goal together.

“The thematic goal is not a number, and it is not even specifically measurable. It is a general statement of a desired accomplishment. It requires a verb, because it rallies people to do something. Improve, reduce, increase, grow, change, establish, eliminate, accelerate,” he writes.

This book is a must-read for anyone in a leadership position. Even if your work environment isn’t a Microsoft or a Google, most medium and large organizations – and even some small ones – contain silos and would be wise to test and adopt Lencioni’s approach.

Read and Learn: The Cluetrain Manifesto

The Cluetrain Manifesto, by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger, is rather popular with the higher education web community, and has been for a long time. The book has been heralding the “end of business as usual” for more than 10 years now. When I saw that a tenth anniversary edition had been published in 2011, I knew it was time to dive in.

The book begins with the 95 Theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto. These range from “markets are conversations” to “companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously” to “to speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.” Even though these theses are more than 10 years old, they still ring true today. This book is all about how the Internet – and the connections it enables – has changed business.

I was challenged by many of the authors’ exhortations, such as:

– Speak in a human voice.
– Get it out there first, don’t wait until it’s perfect.
– Tell the truth.
– Build communities.
– Open up and let people see what’s really going on.

If you’ve read Seth Godin, Eric Karjulato or any number of other writers, you’ll notice similar threads as you read this book. As soon as the Internet was born, real conversations opened up online. Instead of reading official publications and corporate manuals, people began sharing experiences and opinions rather freely. The authors call for companies and the people who run the companies to stop hiding behind sanitized press releases and shiny brochures. They want the real people inside, whether executives or worker bees, to come out and play. Now get out there!