There are a lot of good companies. Companies that provide good service, a good product, and a good experience. Good… but not great.
I read a book several years ago called “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. This was a great book that talked about the differences between companies that did “ok”, and those that really excelled. The book made a bold statement that has really impacted me over the years – that the biggest hurdle to overcome in becoming a great company, is being a good company. Essentially, once a company becomes “good”, they don’t strive to change things to become great – they settle for just being good.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this idea and contemplating what makes a company great. It’s easy to think that hard work towards your goal is what yields the great results, but, I don’t think this is true. I think hard work will make you good, but, focusing on “working hard” makes you miss the aspects that can make you great.
In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from different types of managers. Some who I consider true leaders whom I respect greatly, and others who are merely managers organizing activities. In order to stay on topic, I’ll save my definition of what makes someone a leader versus a manager until a later post. For the sake of argument I’ll compare two fictitious managers. These aren’t based on actual people I’ve worked with, more just a composite of different management styles and various individuals.
The first manager, who we’ll call Alpha, worked hard every day. He managed his teams of employees by ordering them to work more and more and setting high expectations for the amount of work to be completed. He, and his teams, would work late into the evenings, struggling to ensure all work was completed, all customer concerns were addressed, and nothing was left undone. Alpha knew that, because of his experience and skills that had made him the manager, he could get more work done than anyone else on his team, so, he worked side by side with his team to get the work done. Through hard work, dedication, and commitment to the company, they got the work finished to serve the customers.
The second manager, who we’ll call Beta, also worked hard was completely dedicated to the company and its success. This second manager, however, took a very different approach. While he knew that he could do the work, and do it well, he chose to let his team do all the work instead of working alongside them. Instead, he spent his time analyzing what was being done, why it was being done, and how it could be done better. Additionally, he spent his time thinking about the actual team members – were people doing what they wanted to be doing, did they enjoy their work, were they properly motivated, did they feel appreciated? He was able to identify ways to make things more efficient, better motivate the teams, and provide better service. His teams delivered the results needed to serve the customers as well.
So, who is the better manager? Both are delivering the end result to the customer. The difference - Alpha helped foster a good organization, Beta built a great organization. I think this is a common trap that managers fall into, and I’ll admit that this is a trap I’ve fallen into in the past as well. There is just so much work to be done that the goal is simply to get “done”. When you look at it this way, it becomes clear why an organization would be relegated to being “good” if the managers simply view their goals as getting to “done”. Beta, however, empowered and trusted his staff to get the work finished and made sure his goals were beyond simply finishing the work at hand. Beta looked for ways to continuously improve the organization, better serve the customers, and improve the lives of those who worked for him. By never settling for being “good” – just delivering the expectations – Beta will build a strong, great organization.
In practical application, however, it may not always be possible for a manager to be either like Alpha or Beta, and may need to be a combination. A good manager (and leader) needs to know when it is necessary to get his hands dirty and actually work with his staff to get the work done. This actually is necessary at times just to understand what is actually being done and maintain the perspective of the worker, not to mention great for the morale of the team members. Depending on the size of the organization, it may be necessary for managers to actually produce the work alongside their staff just to ensure everything gets finished. The challenge that every manager must overcome is ensuring that no matter how much effort is required in working alongside the staff, they don’t forget to be continuously strategic in thinking of ways to improve the organization, processes, and better serve both their teams and their customers.