I am reminded from time to time that things are different. We don’t do things like we used to. We expect different things than we used to. This worked just fine before so why is it failing now…
I think the answer is yes. We are different. As we grow, we evolve, and expectations change, they are both raised and different than they used to be.
I think there are 3 major phases that a company can move through to become a “great” company.
The first is what I would call okay. It’s okay to be where you are at because you survived. Most don’t.. You dance well, grab opportunities, fight fires and have a great culture of everyone jumping in to pick up the pieces when they have too. And you might on rare occasions be making a little bit of money from time to time.
The second and third phases are where I blatantly borrow my labels from Jim Collins and his classic book Good to Great. They don’t necessarily line up with his definitions but they get my point across. I think an Okay company if it is smart will realize that some opportunities are better than others. They will start to double down on them, put processes in place and try to get better. They are a Good company. But, they still have their fingers in way too many things, and are not terribly good at any of them, and as such they often take three steps forward and two steps back. They oscillate between great profits and terrible losses. Their culture of everyone chipping in keeps them running but it can be exhausting and they tend not to pre-meditate disaster or take the time to post mortem to learn from their mistakes. Retrospection is not a word they use often.
The third phase - Great - applies to those companies that have a strategy that is being systematically executed. Everything that needs to be done is accounted for and those who are responsible are held to account. These companies constantly innovate and improve. They see problems hidden around corners and they eliminate them before they are problems. They are predictable. And they say no more often than yes. They are constantly triaging and focussing only on what truly matters and they ruthlessly eliminate everything else. And going back to Collins, they are on a 20 mile march every day - they put one foot after the other to continuously make progress. No oscillation. Consistent profit growth.
Are the skills the same from an Okay company through Great company? No.
Okay companies need people who react well, are generalists, and great team players. They will help with whatever comes their way and they say yes to everything.
Great companies need planners, proactive people who have deep critical thinking skills. They are continuously validating, learning and improving. They know where they want to be in three years, one year, this quarter and next week and they predictably deliver on that vision. They are specialists. They will make the tough call and say no to what can’t be done or what isn’t worth doing.
Good companies have a mix.
And… people do evolve. They can learn and grow on the same learning journey that the company is on. They too can move from Okay to Great. But to do this they have to realize things are not the same, they are different, and what worked before likely won’t work now. If that difference is understood and embraced the first step on that journey has already been made.