Great is Good, But Good Companies Can Be Pretty Great, Too

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Feb 20, 2014

There we were — discussing the factors that make “great” employers so special.

I couldn’t resist asking how organizations on Fortune magazine’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For compare with those featured in Jim Collins‘ best-selling books, Good to Great and Built to Last.

Similarities? Differences?

A compelling business case

That’s a tough question to answer in any given length of time. But China Gorman, CEO of Great Place to Work, answered it in a short span of 30 minutes during a recent #TChat Show. Prior to that her team crunched the numbers that created the 2014 best employers list — plus, her perspective reflects a lifetime of leadership and HR expertise.

She made a compelling business case:

  • The 100 Best consistently perform 2x better financially than the stock market average;
  • The 100 Best experience up to 65 percent less voluntary turnover than competitors;
  • Companies returning to this year’s list saw unprecedented growth in 2013.

But even as China shared these facts, back-to-back tweets appeared in the Twitter stream. The first from #TChat regular, Donna Rogers:

Great point @KevinWGrossman ! I worked for one of the companies in @JimCollins book and they were not great anymore! #TChat

The second came from a fresh voice — another Jim Collins (unrelated to the author):

@DonnaRogersHR @KevinWGrossman It’s @level5leaders please. I’m fine with good. Great is too much work.

Yes, “great” companies CAN stumble

These comments inspired me to dig deeper. In a follow-up book, How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins (the author) revisited 11 of the 60 companies he had previously profiled as winners. These once “great companies” had stumbled for multiple reasons — from hubris, to overreach, to denial.

The sobering conclusion? Unless fallen companies return to the fundamentals that made them great, death is inevitable.

So, here are two things for employers everywhere to remember:

1. Greatness can fade fast

Poor decision-making, heavy-handed micro-management, bad expansion bets, products that fail, fluctuating global economics, government regulation (or lack thereof) — many factors conspire to “kill” even the best companies.

But the quickest road to ruin comes when organizations lose talent to competitors because employees lose “love” for what they do, who they do it with, and why they’re doing it.

2. Perpetual salvation requires rigorous work

The work that makes companies shine — a focused, flexible business model, a compelling value proposition, a workforce that feels fairly recognized and rewarded – is the same work that keeps them moving forward through peaks and valleys.

Business is a non-stop gauntlet of no guarantees — and it never gets any easier.

So, what have we learned?

Great is good, if you can get it. But good can also be great, if that’s where longevity lives.

This was originally published on Kevin Grossman’s Reach West blog.

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