“The purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline…”
– Jim Collins

Discipline is the common denominator that runs through all three stages of making the leap from Good to Great. Stage One is Disciplined People, Stage Two is Disciplined Thought, and finally, stage three is Disciplined Action. Don’t confuse the word discipline with a tyrannical figure who rules by disciplining those beneath him – no, this is more about operating in such a way that fosters a culture of discipline.

What does this culture of discipline look like? It begins with a Level 5 Leader who makes sure that the right people are on the bus. The right people are self-motivated, and don’t need to be micro-managed. They are disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought, which is as discussed earlier – facing the brutal facts, and having the discipline to stick to things until they develop a hedgehog concept – then adhering to it with a religious consistency.

Having a culture of disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought is crystalized when they take disciplined action. A culture of discipline can only thrive in an environment that nurtures the entrepreneurial spirit. Entrepreneurial success is fueled by creativity and imagination, and is not stifled by bureaucracy – red tape, rules, and fear of disciplinary action – this is always the beginning of the cancer of mediocrity.

An environment where employees have the freedom (and responsibility) to work with a certain framework will always move the needle toward greatness. This is one of the reasons Nordstrom is so famous for their customer service – their employees are given only one rule – “use your best judgement.” Having such a simple framework to work within empowers employees to use incredible creativity and imagination in taking care of the customer. Of course this works because they are disciplined about making sure they hire the right people.

Another marker of companies that have a culture of discipline is that they are disciplined about “doing” the right things (those things which align with what they’ve identified as their hedgehog concept), and even more disciplined about “not doing” the wrong things (the things that fall outside of their cleary defined hedgehog concept).

Jim Collins says the good-to-great companies appear boring and pedestrian looking in from the outside, but upon closer inspection, they’re full of people who display extreme diligence and a stunning intensity, and have a culture of leadership that sticks within the three circles of the hedgehog concept (passion, economic denominator, and becoming the best in the world in their industry).

Has the cancerous creep of bureaucracy taken a foothold in your company? Have you started the process of making sure you have the right people to counteract this entrepreneurial death spiral? Have you identified your hedgehog concept yet? In addition to your “to do” list, what needs to go on your “stop doing” list?

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
– Hebrews 12:11 (ESV)