From Good To...Let's Just Say Better


Transform your company in four simple steps


On the beach, on every plane and even on the subway, seems everyone is reading Jim Collins' Good to Great.

And why not? We are a nation of people who think tomorrow can be better. We are, after all, the land of Oprah and Home Depot.

Collins' book is a wonderful tome that helps business managers and executives identify the qualities, capabilities and characteristics of great companies. It preaches the virtues of constant refinement, detailed planning and exquisite execution. And it's not just highfalutin blather. Collins provides examples, insights and anecdotes. One of the characteristics of a great company, he says, is a powerful, capable leader. Someone like you? Maybe. (If you have a massive ego and operate like, say, former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca, be careful; you're no Abe Lincoln in Collins' eyes.)

Labor Day has come and gone. Summer is but a memory, and if you didn't find a hammock or Adirondack chair and read Collins--or any other must-read business author on your summer list--then ask yourself: What am I doing to improve my company? "No time," you say? Well, then, consider this condensed version of how to transform your company. It might not exactly get you to great, but surely can take you to better.

• Step One: Answer the phone. Loosely translated, that means be more responsive. Sure, it starts with answering the phone, but then goes beyond that. It means being able to respond to what customers, suppliers and partners want and need from you. Prosaic advice? Perhaps. But chances are you're not fully aware of how your company responds to various requests. Test yourself: Pick up the phone and dial your main number. Ask for tech support. Do you get a body? A redirect to the Web? If you were paying for you, would you be satisfied? Then try buying something from your company. That can be even worse. Companies spend so much money on new customer acquisitions, yet often waste it because they have no method for collecting business that falls into their laps.

One last tip on this topic: If you have a personal assistant taking fewer calls than your tech-support center, start making your own plane reservations and reading your own e-mail. Chances are your admin is needed elsewhere.

• Step Two: Liberate your staff from the tyranny of meetings. When you glance at your weekly calendar, you see, what, maybe a dozen meetings? Sales, marketing, finance, personnel, etc. They occur every week. And that's the problem: They occur every week. You make plans, set goals and, of course, schedule more meetings. Because the cycle is regular, no one feels compelled to make a decision; they can always defer to next week. Well, try this: Meet only when necessary and never for more than 30 minutes. No matter the agenda, number or diversity of constituents, it's 30 minutes or else. If additional time is required--think legal--then those with an interest in whatever is an outstanding issue can convene offline.

Another meeting rule: Latecomers lose 1 percent of their budgets for every minute they are late. And they get no vote on any issue. Also, PowerPoints are a perfectly acceptable means of communication so long as they are limited to two slides each. That's it--two. Not five, 11 or 70, as some vendors have tried to foist upon me on occasion. Hollywood directors with A-list actors don't dare to be so indulgent, so why should one of your peers?

• Step Three: Get to know your employer. If you don't know the following about your company, even if you're the guy who signs the paychecks, you have no business representing it: When was your company founded? What was its first big hit? How many employees does your company have? What were last year's sales? What is your company's single biggest challenge? Who are your top competitors? What amazes me is the number of people in Corporate America who know more about navigating their way through medical-claims reimbursement forms than they do about their employer's top priorities. At some companies, management routinely quizzes workers about their company's inner workings.

• Step Four: Move on. That e-mail you've been saving since February 2004? Delete it. That scrap of paper with Connie from Toshiba scribbled on it without a date? Toss it. Wait...No, toss it. In fact, any action item you haven't attended to in two weeks has come and gone. Move on. The amount of pain--there will be some--that you endure after dropping something before its time will be more than offset by the joy of moving on with your career, steadfast and strong, with nothing holding you down. Better is better, and it can lead to great.