I’m a big fan of Jim Collins. Not only because he is one of those rare beasts, a rigorous academic who writes in an engaging style. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I have seen many, many times how effective his concepts are as I work with clients to apply them in their organisations.
Referring back to “Good to Great” for my previous post on Level 5 Leadership, I enjoyed flipping through the rest of the book. One chapter that leapt out of the pages at me was the one entitled “Confront the Brutal Facts.”
All of the 11 good to great companies had a culture and a discipline of continuously confronting the brutal facts about their industry, the market, and their position in relation to these external factors. This allowed them to identify the moves they needed to make to become a great company and achieve their vision, while their comparison companies ignored the brutal facts and floundered. Rather than being depressed by their current situation, the successful companies derived impetus from gaining the confidence that they knew what they had to do.
To be honest, I sometimes see this done quite poorly by organisations coming to work with me. Mostly, this is down to two main causes:
- A belief that, having worked in their industry for many years, executives already know everything about it, and devoting resources to a genuine confrontation of the brutal facts is wasteful.
- The leader’s single-minded drive for the pursuit of his/her vision, regardless of the current circumstances. As discussed in my previous post, an iron-willed determination to do whatever it takes to become great, is a good thing. But “whatever it takes” always includes a rigorous approach to understanding the status quo, as a means to identifying the best pathway to greatness.
If you feel like you might need to confront your brutal facts a bit more, here are some suggestions:
- Change the mindset. Make a conscious decision that acquiring and confronting the brutal facts relevant to your business is mandatory. Commit to doing it. Get someone to hold you accountable for doing it.
- Welcome awkward questions and challenges from your people. If necessary, change your reputation, accessibility, availability and demeanour to make sure that all your people believe that you welcome them.
- Start with the assumption that every piece of feedback is a) motivated by a desire to be constructive, and b) worth serious consideration.
- Survey your customers regularly. Monitor trends, pay attention to comments, and insist that any corrective actions required are executed as a top priority. Make sure you include customer feedback in your regular review (see below) of brutal facts. (I recommend Chris Pescott at Perceptive for insightful customer surveys.)
- As part of your networking, regularly talk to people outside your industry and ask them for comments. It’s amazing how often a “dumb question” from an outsider can yield great insights!
- Insert a “confront the brutal facts” item on the agenda of your quarterly review of strategic execution. Don’t let it be taken off. Insist on a meaningful discussion, and lead by example by not dismissing or glossing over facts that are unpleasantly or inconveniently brutal. That way lies mediocrity.
Collins J., “Good to Great,” Collins Business, USA, 2001.