Businesses face more challenges today but can overcome them by reacting smartly while sticking to their core values, management guru Jim Collins told American Gem Society attendees in the keynote address for the group’s recent conclave in Denver.
The session was sponsored by Jewelers’ Mutual Insurance, Neenah, Wis. Jewelers’ Mutual president Darrin Kath introduced Collins to the audience, adding that his books were a personal inspiration in his own career.
Collins, author of the book Good to Great, told the audience that companies in the same set of circumstances often get different results. “We live in an increasingly turbulent and disruptive world,” he said. “Our environment is much less forgiving. Your outcome has to do with how you manage yourself, not with what the world does to you.
“Disruptions and storms and outside events mean nothing in terms of who becomes great or not,” he continued. “What disruptions do is expose and amplify underlying strengths and weaknesses. Disruptions favor the strong, hurt the weak, but they don’t cause either.”
He said the best leaders are not necessarily “towering personalities,” but leaders with humility. “And yet it is humility of a very special type,” he said. “It is a humility that causes them to fight for the company, for the mission, for the cause—not just themselves.”
He said everyone in business has to ask himself or herself, “If your business went away, would you leave an unfillable hole in your community?” They also should ask these three questions: “What are we truly passionate about?” “What can we be best in the world at?” and “What drives our economic engine?”
He noted that he has studied the fall of many once-great companies and found that the failures weren’t necessarily the result of complacency or arrogance. “The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change, but chronic inconsistency,” he said.
Among his other points:
The best businesses, even when they change, stick to their core values. “If you lose your soul, you lose it all,” he said. He also noted that businesses have to distinguish between “values” and “practices.” While practices can change, values should not.
Businesses should first experiment with change, and then when something works, stick to it.
Have a “personal board of directors” that will give you honest feedback. “If all you do is come up with answers, you will not find the right answers,” he said. “No matter how successful and established you become, you have to look for what you can do better and better.”
Hiring the right people is especially important for small businesses. “You have to be more disciplined and rigorous in your people decisions than Johnson & Johnson and Merck and General Motors,” he said. “Do you have 100 per-cent of your key seats filled with the right people?”