Sunday, April 26, 2015

Jack Welch: "The Muscle of a Big Company and the Soul of a Small Company"

A friend of mine, Patricia Hughes, Manufacturing Analyst/Project Leader at Ulbrich Stainless Steel & Special Metals (North Haven, CT),  forwarded me a LinkedIn interview of Jack Welch, former CEO at GE and professor at MIT. Can't say I concur with everything Mr. Welch believes, like always "cutting your bottom 10%" (I'd fire the people that hired them, lol). However, he always seems to offer ideas that make me think and often scratch my head.

In the interview, Welch mentioned that at GE, he strived to have "the muscle of a big company and the soul of a small company". He also says that "Leadership today is all about two words: It's all about truth and trust. You've got to have their back when they didn't hit it out of the park, you've got to have their back when they hit it out of the park. When they trust you, you'll get truth. And if you get truth, you get speed. If you get speed, you're going to act."

I think most companies (including my own back in the day) get in trouble when they begin to think and act like a "big company".  The decision makers wake up one day and find themselves farther and farther from reality...the truth. Sometimes we find ourselves too busy running the company to focus on our customers.

The "soul" of a small company is the fact that every person who shows up to contribute thinks they own the place. Their focus is simple.....delighting (not satisfying) the customer. Nothing is taken for granted, most importantly their survival as an entity. Every phone call, every order, every complaint matters. Reaction times are fast. People "circle back" to make sure the customer is indeed delighted, because often we just can't afford to lose them.

Too often than not, in a "big" company, people punch the clock, do their job and go home. Customers can wait to be called back, wait on hold, or go into voice mails, and orders can show up late sometimes. The trust Jack refers to is a product of steady, continuous real communication. Unfortunately, in big companies, "communication" often gets distilled down to "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots', Folks learn that keeping their job often means to playing along with whatever the boss the emperor with no clothes. The first thing to go is the truth....because I really can't trust the boss. 

One of the biggest benefits companies realize when they do "lean" using A3 to build a spirit of kaizen is the ability to truly communicate. Self directed temporary work teams  build trust and the realization that you really can't predict where genius will come from this week. An idea or countermeasure that makes your customer giddy is as likely to come from the college intern you just hired as the seasoned engineer who has been with you from the beginning. Just like a start up.

In a small company, it is perfectly OK to blurt out, "hey boss, I really don't see how this is ever going to work". In a "big" company, you could be risking your livelihood! Bye bye truth. Bye bye speed. Hello silos and hello slow.

Trust and truth equals speed, Sounds very LEAN to me. Thank you Pat & thank you Jack!

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