In rereading Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, it's surprising how many great lessons the book has for CEOs of growing companies.
One of our partners, Greg Stoklosa, asked us to reread the classic business book, Built to Last, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, in preparation for our recent leadership meeting. Collins, of course, is the author of Good to Great and a number of other business classics, and we were inspired by his recent interview in Inc.
We had both read Built to Last when it was first published in the 1990s, and we remembered it as having some great lessons for leaders of established companies who wanted to build lasting organizations. So we were surprised when Greg asked us to read this in preparation for a discussion about values, goals, and strategy for Avondale. We're a small company with 26 employees, not like the large companies such as Ford, HP, Merck, and Disney that were profiled in the book.
But now that we've spent the last eight years building Avondale, we were surprised at how many great insights this book has for growing companies like ours. In fact, it seems to be more useful for organizations that want to set a BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) and align on core values. Growing companies have the opportunity to aim big and build a lasting organization--the book's core theme. There are also some great lessons for what growing companies like ours can do in the short term to maintain rapid, profitable growth.
Buried deep in Chapter 10, we found the key lessons for growing companies:
1. Paint the Whole Picture
Don't rely on any one thing to preserve the core and stimulate progress. As Collins says, "It's the whole ball of wax that counts."
2. Sweat the Small Stuff
Make sure your values and culture show up in the details such as meeting protocol, customer communications, and even business cards.
3. Cluster, Don't Shotgun
Put in multiple mechanisms and procedures that reinforce each other and support overall organizational goals.
4. Swim in Your Own Current, Even if You Swim Against the Tide
It's okay to have your own view of success and how you are going to get there, but make sure everything you do is aligned with the core values that you hold as an organization. These are things that "make perfect sense for your company," but may not be common elsewhere.
5. Obliterate Misalignments
Be methodical and ruthless about going through your organization and ending any practice, procedure, or habit that doesn't fit with your core ideology and impedes progress.
6. Keep the Universal Requirements While Inventing New Methods
Change is encouraged and required for companies to last, but the core ideology never changes. Figure out the ideals that will not change in 100 years, then aggressively look to reinvent everything else to reach your goals.
Rereading Built to Last gave us a whole new perspective on building a company to sustain long-term growth. In the coming weeks, we'll be sharing our experience of aligning our team around core values and a BHAG. We would also love to hear from many of you who have implemented Collins' approaches at your companies.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree. @karlstark