On Work, Part II

We were surprised…The Good-to-Great leaders seemed to have…a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will…more like Lincoln or Socrates than Patton or Ceasar
—Jim Collins, Good to Great

NFL players are passionate about the game, but ask any retired football player what he misses most about his playing days and he’ll tell you he misses the locker room. Not the room itself, or the wet towels, the dirty uniforms or the jacuzzis or the massage tables. He misses the unity and  camaraderie of a group of talented people with a shared purpose and a selfless commitment to something bigger than themselves.

People like to work together. It is a most human trait. Everyone must meet their own material needs through some kind of work, and I would argue it is most satisfying to do so by being a contributor for a common goal. That’s why I disagree with the notion that the corporation is dead.

Much of the current thinking on the matter posits that, in the future, it’s every man for himself. Go to Amazon and type in “Free Agent Nation, the Future of Working for Yourself” and you get Dan Pink’s book by that name and a raft of similar works: Escape from Corporate America: A Practical Guide for Creating the Career of Your Dreams, Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives, etc., etc., etc..

Well, OK, but you know what? Most of this is a reaction to how dystopian the system has gotten. It sucks, but abandoning the system that  produced the highest standard of living for the greatest percentage of the population in any country in history is a lame idea. Americans don’t like America just now, either, but that’s no reason to move to Tobago.

Great rises in social mood, rises of the type America has experienced for the past eighty years (1932-2012) produce great bull markets, an excess of risk taking, and a power vacuum that comes from complacently permitting the leadership of the country and its institutions to run things for their own selfish gain. Inevitably, the sociopaths take over, which is where we are today. The answer is to fix things. The constituents–citizen voters and stockholders–must demand change, run the thieves out of office, and we start all over again with new leadership, just like we’ve done in the past.

Entrepreneurship is not necessarily a panacea. It has it’s own hazards. About 145,000 businesses start up each year and about 137,000 businesses declare bankruptcy each year (www.moyak.com/papers/small-business-statistics.html). But we do have several successful entrepreneurs in my family. They had a passion for what they proposed to do. They thought about it long and hard before setting out. They were mentored in the early stages, and they had an indomitable will to succeed. They had the eye of the tiger. They would not be denied.

Not surprisingly, these were the very characteristics shared by the CEOs of the extraordinarily successful companies Jim Collins and his team identified in Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap, and Others Don’t, a study of eleven companies that made a successful transition from mediocrity to sustained greatness.

The companies Collins picked began their transition from a weak, almost ruined position. They made a management change, mostly promoting the new CEO from within. The most significant fact about the new leader was his passion for the success of the company–a passion that way superceded his personal goals. In fact, none of the Good to Great CEOs had stock options.

The very first thing each of these new leaders did was to put the company through a process Collins’ called, “getting the wrong people off the bus, and getting the right people on the bus.” The result was to change the culture from whatever it might have been–sociopaths, clueless and loser types, into the paradigm of a great locker room like that of the New York Giants, with a passionate coach and a team of fully committed players intent on turning the company into the best of its kind.

Observations

The remainder of the bear market in this country will serve to put many poorly run companies out of business and force many viable ones into a radical culture change, making them excellent places to work and excellent companies to invest in.

The reality is that there are always great companies to work for. If I were starting out, or starting over today, absent a burning desire to do something on my own, I’d study Fortune Magazine’s 100 best companies to work for ( http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/bestcompanies/2011/full_list/) and find one that I really wanted to join. I’d get to know them and I’d get them to know me well enough to want me to come to work for them, because, as my pal Dave says, great companies are always looking for good people.

Cheers,

Rod

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