Becoming a Learning Organization; Becoming ‘Great’ vs ‘Good’
Becoming a Learning Organization; Becoming ‘Great’ vs ‘Good’
Author Jim Collins has elegantly noted that in business, “Good is the enemy of Great”. In his fascinating study of “Great” companies compared to “Good” companies, those defined as “Good” found it too easy to settle for mediocrity and failed to produce consistent profit. “Great” companies however, stood out from good by virtue of possessing one common trait; discipline. They all built on a culture of disciplined thinking and action that, over time, produced industry-leading results.
Interestingly, nobody pursues mediocrity as a goal. Mediocrity, unchecked, is insidious. It’s hard to see, and way too easy to accept as normal. But it happens to good companies every day; “Good” companies don’t reject the idea of excellence, they just confuse it with hard work. In the end though, it always comes down to leadership – the willingness to see and do things differently.
Being “Good”, as it turns out, has more to do with an inability to “see” who the real competition was. The good organizations were not notably less hard working or less intelligent. But the great companies, by way of disciplined leadership, all possessed something the good companies did not: the willingness to look inside, at themselves, first, and ask hard questions like “What do we really stand for?”, “Why do we do what we do?”, “What do we need to stop doing?” They cultivated a culture of learning, where their first response to the marketplace, once they identified a market need, was to assess their own ability (or inability) to deliver, and then make the changes needed to do it better.
Less successful companies on the other hand, seemed to be stuck making excuses for why they couldn’t ‘beat’ the competition, and why changing the way they were accustomed to doing things was not the real answer. They perceived their challenges as being ‘out there’, as though they were somehow above changing and adapting, in defense of their customary ‘way’ of doing business. That is mediocrity defined.
What about you? What kind of mindset do you and your people possess on a daily basis? Is it one of constantly testing assumptions and testing the status-quo? Is it habitual for you and your staff to ask hard questions with no fear of retribution? If not, it may be time to rethink your business model.
As crazy as the construction business can be, it is often unnecessarily so. From my years in the business and now in my work with builders around the country, I am completely convinced that “Great” is not far out of the grasp of most construction companies. But the one thing stopping us is, well, us – our inability (or unwillingness) to change; not that most can’t change, but that we don’t recognize the urgent need to change. Busyness blinds us from “seeing” the real root issues and prioritizing our activities around them. That’s a huge loss.
Opportunity Disguised as Hard Work
Change is really just opportunity disguised as hard work! To break the cycle, great companies have redefined “change”as aggressively capturing opportunities. They’ve disciplined themselves to always subordinate the urgent to the most important, paying close attention to their decision-making process at the micro level every day. That means disciplined, systemized thinking patterns permeates their organizations and govern the way everyone makes decisions, top to bottom.
Thankfully, every construction company can begin or relaunch their journey to “Great” today. It is a matter of becoming a learning organization by capitalizing on three key disciplines to inspire the process:
Awareness is a skill, not an accident! Training yourself and your staff to stop and process before reacting is not hard, but it takes practice. Most great decisions get made not by being “decisive” as touted in many in the leadership industry, but by being purposeful. Awareness is a disturber and awakener as Robert Greenleaf has noted in The Servant as Leader. Only once we’re aware does ignorance become a blessing vs a curse; it is seeing things whole, the sum of many moving parts vs being victims of others’ low expectations.
Awareness, when skillfully practiced, allows organizations to create their own reality of growth and prosperity – believing there is a solution to every problem and ‘seeing’ a different and better future beyond our current circumstances.
Thinking systematically is just the practice of awareness at an organizational level. Understanding the interconnectedness of all business functions fosters the kind of change that so often feels unattainable. When people see how the decisions they make have far-reaching impact on the entire organization, the likelihood of making better, more productive decisions in the best interest of the organization as a whole (vs self-promoting or expedient decisions), climbs exponentially.
For builders, think of your pre-construction system for example, and the massive impact what you do (or don’t do) in that process predicts, with nearly flawless accuracy, the outcomes you derive on the bottom line.
Commitment to Change
Commitment is not something we are unaccustomed to. But commitment to change is. One of Collin’s “Great” companies, a company that from 1982 – 1997 produced returns that outperformed the market by a remarkable 18.5 times, is no longer in existence today. Circuit City, a proven success story in their market, somehow forgot how important change was along the way. They became complacent.
Commitment to change is the discipline of moving forward, not settling into resignation, better known as skilled incompetence. It’s more than showing up and working hard or being busy. Commitment in this context is the steadfast resolve to pursue change as the path to business breakthrough and sustained success.
In short, we all have learning disabilities. Mediocrity is just acceptance of those disabilities as the ‘norm’. But they are not, or, at least, they do not need to be. The problems and challenges we face in the construction industry are complex but not unique. The good news; there are solutions to every one of them. And with this reading, you’ve taken the first step; you are practicing the discipline of becoming aware!
Yes, it’s often exhausting and frustrating. But successfully leading a construction company through the unending maze of unknowns is what sets “Good” builders on the course to becoming “Great”. There is no substitute for opportunistic change! It has been and will always be the hallmark of great construction companies. Stay the course – be ultra-diligent (aware), think purposefully of your system, and commit to pursuing new opportunities for growth.
If you need help, encouragement or support on your journey, Legacy Business Leaders is here for you. Call anytime at 330.470.1300, or visit us on the web at www.Legacybizleaders.com. We would love to have the opportunity to be a part of your success story!