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Winning by Jack Welch is a must read for anyone who wants to succeed in business. The book is informative and readable, and offers specific actions I can take to win in the marketplace.
The parts of the book which I found interesting were creating a company's mission statement, documenting its values and coming up with a strategy. I also found Jack Welch's explanation of the value of candor convincing, and his discussion of work-life balance provocative.
His comments on differentiation (using Six Sigma to rank employees), and on the value of the business press were instructive.
In Winning, Jack Welch writes that a mission statement must answer the question, "How do we intend to win in this business?" Otherwise, he suggests that a mission statement can turn into "a set of generic platitudes that do nothing but leave employees directionless or cynical," such as "XYZ Company values quality and service" or "Such-and-Such Company is customer driven."
Using GE as an example, Jack describes an effective mission statement: "To be the most competitive enterprise in the world by being No. 1 or No. 2 in every market - fixing, selling, or closing every underperforming business that couldn't get there."
To me, this mission statement and the way he describes creating it makes sense.
Related to the mission statement are values, specific and concrete behaviors which give employees a roadmap to follow to achieve the mission statement.
Using Bank One as an example, Jack Welch describes values that are explained well.
"Never let profit center conflicts get in the way of doing what is right for the customer."
"Always look for ways to make it easier to do business with us."
"Give customers a good, fair deal. Great customer relationships take time. Do not try to maximize short-term profits at the expense of building those enduring relationships."
In my opinion, Jack Welch does a good job describing how a company should create and document its values.
Moving on to strategy, I also felt Jack described an effective way to develop a company's strategy. He describes 5 areas in which to focus when developing a strategy (in his book, he drills down into detail under each focus area):
What the Playing Field Looks Like Now
What the Competition Has Been Up To
What We've Been Up To
What's Around the Corner
What's Our Winning Move
The way he describes creating a strategy makes sense to me.
Jack also makes a compelling case on the value of candor - frank, open and direct talk - in business. In his experience, candor generates more ideas, speeds decision making and cuts costs.
In my opinion, what Jack Welch fails to address is the difference between candor and being a non-team player. If I disagree with my boss, am I being candid or a non-team player?
Relatedly, Jack also fails to address how to be candid. If I criticize my boss, perhaps I am being candid but I may make her defensive, causing her to feel she has to be candid and criticize me back. This can quickly turn into a slugfest with no winners.
These issues aside, I was helped and reminded of the importance of candor by Jack Welch's discussion of this topic.
Jack Welch spends chapter writing about work-life balance, perhaps trying to show that he has a soft side.
However, he makes so many harsh statements on this topic that I find it hard to believe that he values work-life balance. For instance, he writes, "Your boss's top priority is competitiveness. Of course, he wants you to be happy, but only inasmuch as it helps the company win."
He also writes that "the Korean grocer who just opened his shop in New York doesn't worry about whether he has time to get to the gym" and "99 per cent of the entrepreneurs in China's huge emerging competitive workforce don't wring their hands about working late at night."
He also showcases a woman named Susan whom he quotes as saying, "When I went to Japan and China, my daughter was about seven - old enough to lay a real guilt trip on me. I cried my eyes out all the way over. But I had made a conscious decision about work-life balance, and part of that decision was to travel for my career."
Susan goes on to say, "I knew I'd always have flexibility in my job when I needed it. I had earned it with commitment and performance over the years."
What I concluded from reading this chapter on work-life balance is that Jack Welch believes in work-life balance provided I have earned the right to work-life balance by superlative performance beforehand which came from working late, traveling on demand, and so on.
Thus, work-life balance is something I can earn after working for a number of years with no work-life balance.
Differentiation and Introversion
Differentiation is the topic which Jack Welch is perhaps best known for, dividing employees into the top 20% performers, middle 70%, and bottom 10%, who are let go.
What I found interesting was his almost tangential comment in discussing this topic that "the world generally favors people who are energetic and extroverted.... in business, energetic and extroverted people generally do better."
Having been in business for many years, it is obvious to me that introverts do worse in business. But this observation flies in the face of the interpretation of the Myers-Briggs test, where introverts are told that they are no worse off, "just different." In business, introverts are a lot worse off, and I am glad that Jack Welch followed his own advice on candor and stated the obvious.
Mentors and the Business Media
Jack lists many mentors in his career, from "the executive education teacher" who helped him learn to speak publicly when he was 26, to the PR woman who taught him the Internet at age 60.
A mentor which surprisingly he puts on par with the others is the business media. According to Jack, he "learned mountains about business just by reading every financial newspaper and magazine" he could get his hands on.
He goes on to say that he believes that "the business media is such a good teacher..." and that he is amazed when he meets "a young person who doesn't just consume it. Don't let that happen, this mentor is right there for the taking."
I am glad I read Winning by Jack Welch. I got useful information out of it on how to succeed or win in business. I value Jack Welch's insights about mission, values and strategy. His comments about candor are a good reminder of the importance of frankness in business. He writes that work-life balance is available but only if I earn it through good performance.
He believes that extroverts are more successful in business and he places the value he gets out of business media on par with his other mentors.