I love autobiographies. Many have changed my life and I have learned great lessons through other’s written words. A classic business favourite of mine is ”Winning” by Jack Welch. There are several reasons why this book is so great.
Firstly, it’s based on stuff that’s been applied in the trenches. Welch worked for GE for forty years, climbing his way through the ranks until he led as chairman and CEO. Under his leadership, the corporate giant surged forward in both profits and global dominance. Secondly, it’s written clearly and simply. It’s actually an easy read. Third, it’s really exciting. This guy loves to win and shows the rest of us how he and a multitude of others have won.
Here are some of my takeaways:
1. Competition is fun! Enjoy it! As Clem Sunter says, business is a game and when dealing with competition have a lot of fun getting ahead at that game.
2. Mission and Values. How do you plan on winning in your business? Answer that question, and you have your mission. Values are the behaviors you plan to exhibit in achieving your mission. In order to make your mission and values actually impact your organization, you’ve got to reward those who practice them and punish those who don’t. Welch fired many people if they didn’t fit with GE’s mission and values. Welch wasn’t scared to fire the wrong people. One of my favourite Quotes: “Integrity is just a ticket to the game. If you don’t have it in your bones, you shouldn’t be allowed on the field.”
3. Candour. In order to get ahead, you have to be real. Robin Sharma calls it “confronting the brutal facts.” Welch refers to candour where people aren’t afraid to speak their minds. Reward all your people for their candour, even if it makes them and others – including you – look bad.
4. Differentiation. In professional sports, athletes who perform best are rewarded lavishly. Those who don’t play well are paid the minimum salary and eventually fired. Businesses should operate the same way. It may seem cruel and Darwinian, but in the long run, people are happier doing what they’re good at. If they’re not excelling, you’re ultimately doing them a favour by moving them out of an environment where they know they’re a drag on the organization. They’d be happier somewhere else. In South Africa, with our labour laws, this is not easy, but it is critical in business to get the wrong people off the bus and out the company.
5. Leadership. Welch lays out eight rules of leadership:
Rule #1 – Relentlessly upgrade your team. In every encounter with them, “evaluate, coach, and build self-confidence.”
Rule #2 – Instill the company’s vision.
Rule #3 – Spread energy and optimism.
Rule #4 – Establish trust by being candid, transparent and giving credit where it’s due.
Rule #5 – Make the unpopular decisions.
Rule #6 – Probe and push. Make sure your “questions are answered with action.”
Rule #7 – Inspire risk-taking and learning by doing both yourself.
Rule #8 – Celebrate!
6. Hiring new people. First, candidates should pass three screens: Do they have integrity – telling the truth and keeping their word? Are they intelligent – having enough curiosity and “breadth of knowledge”? Are they mature – able to handle stress and setbacks, respect other’s emotions, be confident without being arrogant and have a sense of humour? Welch talks about the four E’s and a P’s:
Positive Energy – thriving on action, relishing change, making friends easily, loving work, play and life.
Can Energize Others – “It takes a deep knowledge of your business and strong persuasion skills….”
Has Edge – the ability to make tough decisions, even when all the information isn’t in.
Can Execute – to take the decision and make it happen, overcoming all obstacles to complete the task.
Passion – They’re excited about their work, learning and growing, and helping those around them win.
7. On firing and retrenching people: Welch says you should abide by two principles: Firstly, nobody should be surprised when they are let go. Employees should be informed enough about the nature of their business that they understand who might be laid off in an economic downturn or change in the industry. If they aren’t performing well, they should be well aware of this through regular formal and informal reviews. If they can’t improve, they should know they will have to move on. Secondly, minimize the humiliation. Encourage them that there’s a better job out there, better matched to their temperament and skills. Help them move toward that next job.
8. Dealing with change; these days you change or die. Here’s how to make change more palatable:
– Make sure everyone in your company knows why you’re changing.
– Employ and promote only those who deal well with change. Many will call themselves “change agents,” but you know the real deal when you discover someone who reacts fearlessly in the face of the unknown.
– Get rid of those who resist change.
9. Seize opportunities, even if they’re brought about by someone’s misfortune. Buy real estate when prices plummet. Be there when a company fails, to see if pieces can be bought up at a bargain price. Purchase undervalued companies in a country that’s going through a recession. It takes a strong stomach to ignore the naysayers; but it can lead to great profits.
10. Crisis Management. At some point we will all have to deal with a crisis. Welch says to handle a crisis, make the following assumptions:
• It’s worse than you first imagined.
• Everyone will eventually find out everything.
• As a result, processes and people must change. Blood will be on the floor.
• You will survive, smarter and stronger.
There are many other lessons in the book, and I urge any person in business or management to read it.