What makes a company great?

What do you have to do, if you have a business, nonprofit, church, or other organization, to take that organization to the next level?  How do you break out of the cycle of being profitable and stable, and actually achieve breakthrough results?

Good to Great, by Jim Collins, seeks to answer these questions and many, many more.  This book has been a staple in the business world for years now, and I just had the chance to read it earlier this year.

Good-to-Great

Collins wrote the book following a five-year research project that studied eleven publicly-traded companies that successfully made the leap from being good companies to becoming great companies.  Many of them you know – Gilette, Kroger, Walgreens – some of them you don’t – Nucor, Abbott Laboratories.

All in all, Collins and his team discovered eleven companies that met the criteria of going from good to great.  Through intensive research, his team discovered seven attributes or ideas that each of them shared, which we can apply in nearly any organizational scenario.

I’ll share two of my favorites here:

First “Who,” then “What” – Collins and his team found that the good-to-great companies didn’t determine what their best route to success was until they had the right people on their team.  It runs against intuition to think that.  But Collins and his team found that successful companies got the right people “on the bus” (and in the right seats) before taking the bus to their destination.

The right people helped determine the best way to get to the destination.  This “First Who” principle underscores the value of people (the right ones for your team), and how essential they are to your organization’s success.

Confront the Brutal Facts – I’m a realist.  We always say at home that Nancy is the idealist (sees things for what they can be) and I’m the realist (sees things how they are).  I also work in an organization that leans idealistic in its views/approach.  So I appreciated this chapter of the book.  In it, Collins describes the findings relating to how the companies dealt with the harsh realities of their situations before making the changes necessary to become a great company.

Each company faced significant, threatening pressures and challenges, but each one was willing to do the hard work of “confronting the brutal facts” of that situation.  That enabled them to understand the situation clearly and move forward with the best strategy.

The “idealistic” side of it was described in what Collins calls the “Stockdale paradox,” a perspective that each of the companies shared.  Each one was willing to confront the brutal facts of their situation, but they never gave up hope that they could overcome the challenges to success laid before them.

If you have any leadership responsibility or aspirations whatsoever, read this book.  It will be well worth your time.

Question: Have you read Good to Great?  What stuck out to you most about it?