Why it's no longer enough for a business to be 'great'

In 2001, 'Good to Great' became the mantra of business success. Now, one business author says it's no longer enough for a company to merely be 'great' if its products do not do 'good.'
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

A few years back, management guru Jim Collins published Good to Great, the business mantra of the early 2000s which challenged the way managers and executives view value creation. In that work, Collins revealed a study of more than 1,400 companies that found that "greatness" -- the capability to achieve stunning results -- is thoroughly baked into corporate culture and "pockets" of greatness among employees, and not the result of often-misguided corporate uber-programs.

Now, Umair Haque thinks we need to change this ambition a bit, saying that companies should strive to go from "Great to Good" instead.

What is he talking about? It isn't enough, Haque says, for companies to be "great" at what they do -- because they may still be doing the wrong thing -- such as making products that are harmful, or do little to contribute, to health or the environment. It isn't enough to do a great job producing and selling such products; companies need to advance products and approaches that bring "durable, tangible benefits to people, communities, and society."

Haque outlines five ways to make the move from "great" to "good:"

  • First how, then who. Good-to-Great companies seek out and nurture the best talent to get the job done, but Great-to-Good companies first lay the groundwork on what they intend to contribute to society. "Being good at something demands not just raw analytical talent, but the capacity for ethical reasoning," Haque says.
  • The Yoda Concept. While Collins in Good to Great emphasized companies and employees pursue what they're best at, Haque says that focus should be on "what's good for society, what benefits all stakeholders, and what rivals are failing to do." Following the creed of Yoda, wise elder of the Jedi Masters from Star Wars, it's not enough to "do no evil," going from great to good "happens when a company goes on the offensive against rivals who are merely great and who are failing to do good."
  • Ethical accelerators. While Good-to-Great businesses apply technology accelerators for "a bigger data mine or a super-annoying voice-driven customer service setup," but Great-to-Good companies apply "ethical accelerators" that move ahead with transparency, openness, rules, and accountability.
  • A culture of meaning. While Good-to-Great companies emphasize discipline, hardwired into culture, Great-to-Good companies emphasize "a culture of meaning," in which production and consumption actually "yield durable, tangible benefits to people, communities, and society.... When meaningful work — not just meaningless (yet disciplined) drudgery — is hardwired into a company's culture, it becomes nearly unstoppable."
  • Confront reality. Good-to-Great companies confront facts about revenues, growth, and profits. Great-to-Good companies confront the impact of their products and services on their communities and society.

A decade ago, Jim Collins opened a lot of eyes to understand why many organizations were mired in mediocrity, with large swaths of employees fed up and ready to jump at the first opportunity -- while others excelled and were fantastic places to work. Could Haque's points about doing "good" be a corollary to Collins' work and further enhance the "greatness" of already great companies?  Or has this kind of work already been embedded in the corporate cultures of great companies all along?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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