Good to Great – Lessons in action: Jim Collins

James Collins, authored the hugely popular ‘Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t’ in the year 2001. I remember reading this sometime in 2006 when we had just started E-Movers. The book had a profound impact on me and I put into practice the principles expounded in the book to some amazing results.

Collins identified and studied the factors and variables that allow a small fraction of companies to make the transition from merely good to truly great. He defined ‘Great,’ according to a number of metrics, including, specifically, financial performance that exceeded the market average by several orders of magnitude over a sustained period of time. Of the 1435 companies that he studied only 11 turned out Great.

Good is the enemy of Great

I loved the first line in the book – Good is the enemy of Great. I use it effectively in my induction program for new managerial talent. I drill into them that Greatness is a journey and not a destination. Continuous improvement is a necessity for survival in our competitive industry where anyone with a truck and helper can get into business. I emphasise that lethargy has no place at E-Movers and if we stay in our comfort zone we will be left behind.

Level 5 Leader

Collins makes important distinctions between different types of leaders that abound in organizations and surmises that in the ‘Great’ companies he found, what he terms as, Level 5 leaders. A Level 5 leader displays

a rare blend of intense determination and profound humility. For these leaders personal ego and individual financial gain are not as important as the long-term benefit of the team and the company.

His finding has inspired me to inculcate these traits in my personality and seek them in our managers. Every time I face a challenge, I try and remember the traits of a level 5 leader before I work on the solutions. This keeps me focussed on the higher goals while keeping aside my personal inclinations.

Best man for Top Opportunity

Collins in his research discovered that CEOs in great companies put their best guy to take on a new opportunity unlike other companies that put their best to solve problems.

I have benefited from this wisdom on many occasions. Tasking our best man on opportunities rather than solving problems has helped us grow exponentially. When we opened our Abu Dhabi office I remembered Collins, and assigned our best man in Operations to head the business even though we had many challenges in Dubai that required his attention. Our problems in Dubai were taken care by others in his team, but our Abu Dhabi office grew at a pace 2X faster than our Dubai office.

Get Off the Bus

James Collins makes an important point on who should be on your bus. He pointedly emphasized that having the right people in the rights seats is important, but equally important is to ensure that the wrong people are not on the bus. He advises that managers must constantly ensure that wrong people are taken off the bus.

I have used this principle consistently not just when we take on new business opportunities, but also when we do our periodic review of our business divisions. It very important for me that I have only the right people in my bus, but also that they are sitting on the right seats.

I hope you read this book if you have not as yet and hope that you benefit from the examples that I have shared here on how to put it in action.