When Jim Collins wrote ‘Good to Great’ about how companies transition from being ordinary businesses to great ones, he had no idea that it would become one of the great classics of the genre. It has sold over four million copies to date.
In the book he defined great companies as those with financial performance several times better than the market average over a sustained period. Much of the book’s appeal was the thoroughness of its research and its insightful and somewhat against-the-grain conclusions.
We summarise its 320 pages in just 9 brief points here:
Many high-profile company activities have little or no effect on success, including high CEO compensation, high-profile ‘celebrity company turnaround’ CEOs, and mergers & acquisitions.
Business leaders who were particularly successful are not the mouthy high-ego types. Instead, they displayed an unusual mix of intense determination and humility. They often have a long-term personal sense of investment in the company, often through a climb up the company’s ranks.
It identified the importance of building a leadership team of high-quality individuals before developing the business strategy.
It saw that it is better to delay hiring until absolutely suitable candidates are identified. The delay pays in the long run.
It stressed that successful companies confront brutal facts as they surface. Brutal facts are always around, because customers are always changing. It outlines a four-step process to uncover problems: 1) Lead with questions, not answers; 2) Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion; 3) Conduct autopsies without blame; and 4) Build red flag mechanisms that turn information into information that cannot be ignored.
It emphasises the importance of narrowly focusing company resources on its field of competence, rather than trying to do many things well. Focus on doing one thing better than anyone else in the world. It may take time to identify that one thing. In order to help this process 1) Determine what you can be best in the world at and what you cannot be best in the world at; 2) Determine what drives your economic engine; and 3) Determine what you are deeply passionate about.
Successful companies tend to apply technology, specifically focusing on those few technologies that support their key strengths and objectives.
Another defining characteristic was an overarching organizational culture of discipline. Note, not an authoritarian environment. Instead, it refers to managers and staff driven by an unrelenting inner sense of determination. Each individual functions as an entrepreneur, with personal empowerment and a deeply rooted personal investment in their own work and the company’s success.
Ambition. Companies need to exist for a higher purpose than mere profit generation in order to transcend. This purpose does not have to be specific – it may be as open-ended as being the best at what they do and achieving excellence consistently, as long as the team members are equally dedicated to the same values.
Why do we summarise this book here? Because it tallies with a lot of what successful UK agency leaders have been telling us. Synergist users also tell us that Synergist helps agencies succeed in at least four of the above ways:
It helps them focus (item 7). Areas that need attention stand out in alerts and reports.
It helps them discover what their areas of strength are (item 6). See what Kent Valentine of Draw says about Synergist helping to uncover information patterns: https://www.synergist.co.uk/user-stories/draw-digital-agency
It shows them the sometimes uncomfortable real-life facts as they emerge (item 5). See what Simon Butler of Purestone said about information being crucial but not always enjoyable: https://www.synergist.co.uk/user-stories/purestone-digital-marketing-agency
It helps to develop a culture of empowered entrepreneurship in the team (item 8).