Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Good to Great

Opening keynote this morning was by Jim Collins, author of the best selling book Good to Great. It was in a huge auditorium - there's about 8000 delegates here I think - and like all American conferences, started at 8am! Very well attended, and a good start to the conference - he's an excellent speaker.

He talked about what it meant to be great, as opposed to good, and why some enterprises became great whilst others were only good, or fell into decline. Although his research for the Good to Great book was based on businesses, much of what he found and talked about can easily be applied to our sector. His premise is that greatness is not a function of circumstance - it's a function of conscious choice and discipline.

There are apparently 5 stages of decline:

1 Hubris born of success - the arrogance that goes with thinking you're great (and the moment you think you're great, you're not). A good leader has humility, and a good CIO in his opinion could lead the whole institution. The power map in a University is very diffuse - he likened academic staff to a thousand points of no - and so leadership is very different to in an organisation where the power all lies with the CEO. We have to architect the conditions for the right decisions to be taken as if concentrated power existed.

2 The undisciplined pursuit of more - organisations that introduce too much innovation, too much development, too much complexity, will fail. That's where discipline comes in - concentrate on what the core values are.

3 Denial of risk and peril - you have to confront the brutal facts. It's only by confronting them that you will overcome them, and you have to share them with your staff, and be realistic. He illustrated this with the Stockdale Paradox, which you can read about here. Another good soundbite which I will take away is that if you were in a room where everyone was asked to put their troubles on a table in the middle, you'd take yours back.

4 Grasping for salvation - when things are falling down around you, don't come up with another good idea to get us out of this fix. Be disciplined enough to go back to core values. Disciplined people taking disciplined decisions are what's needed. There is no quick fix - most overnight success stories have been many years in the making! Everyone has a to do list - what we should have is a stop doing list.

5 Capitulation to irrelevance or death. Lesson - don't get there!

Lots of good stuff about preserving core values and core purpose, consistency, and discipline. Build pockets of greatness - it doesn't matter whether you're a CEO or the manager of a small team - build a pocket of greatness. Then he gave us 10 things to go away and do, in order to build this pocket:

Carry out a diagnostic of your team to see whether you're good or great- he has a handy tool on his web site for doing this!

Be disciplined about your team - look at getting the right people round you

Build a personal Board of Directors

Get young people in your face - surround yourself with them. They're the ones with the ideas

Build white space into your day for thinking with no gadgets, phones, emails etc

Look at your questions to statements ratio - you need more questions - good leaders know what the right questions to be asking are

Stop doing things

Suspend titles in your team and have everyone articulate their responsibilities

Take away the blow water line risks, ie those that if they happen will sink your business

Set a BHAG!

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