I am re-reading “Built To Last” the 2002 book with the subtitle of “Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras. In Chapter 9, entitled Good Enough Never Is (I borrowed it as the title of this blog), the authors make the following key points:
- The critical question asked within many of the visionary companies cited in the book is “How can we do better tomorrow than we did today?”
- The companies in the book institutionalized the asking of that critical question as a way of life.
- The visionary companies attained their extraordinary position because they were very demanding of themselves, never content to cease building and improving.
- The author’s research clearly supports a strong correlation between the success of the visionary companies and the concept of “continuous improvement (CI)”, in some cases going back more than 100 years (way before CI became a management catchphrase in the 1980s).
- Visionary companies put mechanisms of discomfort in place as a defense against complacency.
- While taking the long-term view, the visionary companies did not back away from pushing for current growth at the same time they pushed for growth in the future. In other words, they didn’t plan for lower sales this year to fund higher sales next year.
- The visionary companies consistently invested for the future.
These key points and several others were nailed down in the book with specific examples from the author’s research of both the visionary companies and the lower performing “comparison companies.” For instance, in the case of Marriott (the visionary company) and Howard Johnson (the comparison company) they point out that in 1960 Howard Johnson was one of the best-known American companies. J. W. Marriott, Jr. said at the time that he hoped that the company he had inherited from his father could one day be as successful as Howard Johnson. By 1985, Marriott was seven times the size of Howard Johnson. The book credits this to “Marriott’s relentless self-discipline as a continuous improvement machine versus Howard Johnson’s complacency.” Marriott instituted mechanisms to stimulate improvement, including:
- “Guest Service Index” reports – a major KPI based upon customer comment cards and surveys.
- Annual performance reviews for every employee – EVERY EMPLOYEE.
- Incentive bonuses.
- Investment in extensive interviewing and screening of potential new hires.
- Management and employee development programs.
- Investment in a corporate “Learning Center.”
- Employing “Phantom Shoppers.”
In comparing Motorola with Zenith, the author’s point out that Zenith squandered its reputation for quality by becoming complacent. Zenith was the last company in their industry to invest in solid-state electronics, printed circuit boards and was late to get into color TV. As an aside, I was in Chicago last month and noticed that the former Zenith headquarters building was being demolished.
So, considering this, the questions I want you to ask yourself are:
- What “mechanisms of discomfort” can you create to defeat complacency in your company?
- What are you doing to invest in the future of your company? Leadership development? R&D? Enhanced recruiting & training? Technology? Before your competitors do.
- When business takes a dip, does your company continue to invest for the future?
- Does your company’s culture not accept “comfort”, or do you constantly work to do better tomorrow?
You may be thinking that your company is not nearly as big as Marriott or Motorola (now part of Zebra Technologies). They all started as small companies but adopted these concepts very early in their history. You can too.
Both the good news and the bad news from the author’s is
“Good old-fashioned hard work, dedication to improvement, and continually building for the future will take you a long way.” There are not shortcuts, magic potions or work-arounds.
“Success is never final.”
My colleagues and I at ActionCOACH are ready to assist you to build your company to last.