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Good To Great

February 24, 2014

Good to GreatJim Collins

I’ve worked at more than a few startups, some successful and some not, and over the years I started to see patterns in the people, culture, and technology that kept repeating in successful and unsuccessful companies. This book helped me put a vocabulary to these patterns, and supplemented my ability to explain and describe these patterns to others based on my personal work experience. Jim Collins studied some fairly “old” companies – none were software technology or SaaS companies – but his findings definitely translate, as he predicted, right into these new types of companies.

First, exemplary leaders are usually “Level 5” which means they are a mix of humility and professional will. They also usually are promoted from within rather than being brought in from the outside as some kind of rockstar. Their primary goal is to build the right team by hiring and retaining the right people and removing the wrong people. The idea being to build a great team before defining exactly what the team will try to accomplish. This follows the startup adage often repeated as “hire slow, but fire fast” to maintain a top notch team. The “Level 5” leader should also build a culture that encourages brutal truthful communication by leading with questions, engaging in dialogue, and performing root cause analysis to learn rather than place blame.

The “hedgehog concept” describes what a company can be the best at, is passionate about, and can be the company’s economic engine. The hedgehog concept is an understanding of the company’s greatest chance of success. This understanding when collectively shared by all members of an organization produces a culture of discipline by providing self-disciplined people with a common vision with the flexibility on how to reach that goal. Flexibility and common vision enable creativity and a sense of ownership that increases the odds of success. I believe of all the factors discussed in this book that the hedgehog concept and the culture of discipline are the most valuable.

The organization described in Good to Great is exactly why I gravitate towards the startup culture environments rather than large corporate bureaucracies. I’ve worked in both types of environments and I absolutely thrive in places with traits Jim Collins describes. Now that I better understand these traits, I’ll be more aware of them in my workplace and can better help fill in the gaps by raising others’ awareness.

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