“Don’t find fault, find a remedy.”
– Henry Ford

So many companies find themselves themselves plodding along simply defining success as “not going out of business.” It doesn’t have to be this way, but since so many direct competitors find themselves in the same position, no one ever questions anything.

However, when one of these companies randomly leaps ahead of the pack, nobody knows what to attribute it to. Best selling author Jim Collins knew that this kind of a leap wasn’t just dumb luck, so he decided to get to the bottom of it. He conducted a five year in-depth study of companies who made the leap from good results to great results.

The companies he identified not only made the leap, but sustained their results for at least fifteen years. He compared them against carefully selected comparison companies that failed to make the leap. Collins published his findings in the book Good to Great, and over the next couple of posts, we’ll examine his findings and how our own companies can make the transition from good to great.

Collins breaks this transition down into three stages. Stage One is Disciplined People. This begins with what he calls “Level 5 Leadership.” Surprisingly, Level 5 Leaders are not the high-profile big personalities that one might expected. Instead, he says they embody a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are more like a Lincoln or Socrates than they are a Patton or Caesar.

The next part of Disciplined People is what he calls “First Who… Then What.” He has us imagine our business as a bus. Collins says that we need to make sure we have the right people on the bus, and that they’re in the right seats, and that the bus is headed in the right direction. This also means getting the wrong people off of the bus.

Stage Two is Disciplined Thought. This starts with Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith). This is a paradoxical blend of discipline to face brutal facts, and the faith that you will still succeed in the face of those facts. Second is The Hedgehog Concept, which addresses the concept “if you can not be the best in the world at your core business, then your core business absolutely cannot form the basis of a great company.”

Stage Three is Disciplined Action. This begins with A Culture of Discipline. Collins says when you combine a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship, you get the magical alchemy of great performance. Next is Technology Accelerators. He says that “great” companies never think of technology as the primary means of igniting a transformation, but strategically use technology as a catalyst to propel change forward as it’s happening.

Collins claims there is no short cut in this process, no easy out – in fact, all of the companies that tried dramatic changes, and wrenching restructurings failed to make the leap. Instead, he says the transition is more of a process of buildup followed by breakthrough. He likens it to pushing a giant heavy flywheel. As the flywheel starts turning, it’s slow and laborious – but over time it begins to pick up momentum and eventually breaks through to greatness.

Has your company fallen prey to looking for a quick fix or an easy out? How are you performing in comparison to your own direct competitors? At first glance, which do you think will be the most difficult part of this transition for your company – disciplined people, disciplined thought, or disciplined action?

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.”
– Proverbs 12:1 (ESV)