At 210 pages, "Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap and Others Don't" reads very quickly (The last section of "Good To Great" consists of many notes and appendices). The core of the book emphasizes what Collins refers to as a 'hedgehog' strategy that is necessary to achieve greatness. I'm not sure why a 'hedgehog' is necessary to explain such a simple strategy. But, I guess we can live with the rodent analogy.
Collins says great companies are like hedgehogs in that they stick to what they know and can do well. Collins says when a fox attacks a hedgehog the hedgehog curls into a prickly ball and the attacking fox must leave it alone. Then, the fox runs around and tries another point of attack and never learns. The hedgehogs only needs to do one thing that works well and consistently.
In short, after much research and writing, Collins finds the key to business success is functioning within the intersection of three circles.
The first circle represents an endeavor at which your company has the potential to be the best in the world. The second circle represents what your company can feel passionate about. The third circle represents a measure of profitability that can drive your economic success. You must choose to do something that's profitable and know how to focus upon that profitability.
To find the circles, Collins makes the excellent point that you must begin with the right people. Collins emphasizes that the people must come before you decide exactly how your company will achieve success.
We learn that in great companies there is often heated debate about what's best for the company. The culture of great companies is open in the sense that the truth will be heard. That's very different from debating for the sake of protecting private turf and self-aggrandizement.
Collins' research says the CEO's at the time companies become great aren't egotistical business leaders. Rather, they tend to be reserved people who channel their ego into building their companies. Collins is a little vague on exactly how you get other employees and key players to channel their egos into building the company. The hope is that, if you select the right people, they'll do what's best for the company rather than for themselves. I'm not so sure that's always true.
Finding something you can be passionate about is the other key. And, all employees must be passionate about the endeavor. Because most employees won't get jazzed about making the CEO and shareholders wealthy, a company should have a purpose beyond just making money. Collins says a company should have 'core values.'
Collins says it doesn't matter what these 'core values' are, just that they exist. He says Philip Morris is happy to provide the strongest brand recognition of 'sinful' products. Maybe, they're rebelling against political correctness, or health, or whatever. If it works for them, it's cool. Fannie Mae, on the other hand, prides itself on providing mortgages to new, less-affluent homeowners and helping people buy homes. That sounds good, and is probably true, but it reads a little bit like a publicity statement.
Incidentally, the Great companies chosen were: Abbot Labs, Circuit City, Fannie Mae, Gillette, Kimberly-Clark, Kroger, Nucor, Philip Morris, Pitney Bowes, Walgreens, and Wells Fargo.
While many of Collins' observations have insight and are well worth reading, I can't help but feel that certain points are forced to conform to Collins' ideas. For example, Nucor realized it could be the world's best steel manufacturer. Why? Had Nucor failed, I could imagine reading that Nucor tried to run around like a fox. Possibly, this is only the result of needing to fit all Collins' research into a short book, and Nucor had a truly viable reason to believe it could be the world's best steel maker.
As another example, Collins tells us Walgreens spent $100 million to create its own satellite system in an attempt to enhance profit per customer visit. Collins admires this because they used technology to stay focused upon their key ratio of profitability. Of course, the Internet came along and offered easier communication between the stores, so that you can pick up your prescription at any store, even when away on vacation. But, should a drugstore rodent really be messing with satellites? Is that within his inner rodent?
My feeling is that if this had all bombed and Walgreens had not been bailed out by the Internet, Collins would be using Walgreens as a good example of going too far outside what your company can be the best at! I see a hedgehog on the information freeway following the shinny bright lines.
--Get the right people on the bus. Get the wrong people off the bus. Be sure everyone is in a seat that suits them. Collins says that the right people are your best asset. Let them choose their own song. 99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall, or whatever...
--Let the right people discover something your company can be great at. (This won't always work for ultra-small companies-- by the time you have the right people and are paying them, you'll be out of money before anyone figures out what you should be doing!)
--Choose something that the company can be passionate about. Passion isn't dictated, it's discovered.
--Find your best single measure of profitability. Collins asks: If you could maximize profitability per x, what x would have the biggest long-term impact on your company's success? Then, stay focused on improving that one key ratio.
--Stop making 'to do' lists. Start making "stop doing" lists. Stop doing anything that doesn't fit within your inner rodent.
--Know that you will succeed in the end. Have faith in your company's destiny. But, realize it might take many years that really suck to get there. Collins says you must confront the brutal facts of your company's reality.
Peter Hupalo, Author of "Thinking Like An Entrepreneur"