Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: Good to Great and the Social Sectors

I'm having a hard time figuring out Jim Collins.  I thought his book "Good to Great" was all right.  It had good points, but was overdone and full of awkward parables.
Now he's published a 35 page addition to his book called "Good to Great and the Social Sectors"

He says he was going to add it as a chapter in his next edition of "Good to Great" but he didn't want to force people to buy an entire new book, so he published it as a tiny little paperback by itself.

It costs $12!  (34 cents per page)

I can buy his original book: new, online, for $6.  I can buy it from the publisher for $18.
I feel like this was another money grab - not a "help the people" move.
Things like this make me really dislike him.

Then my coworkers tell me that he is one of the best speakers they've ever heard.  When others come and give their canned stump speeches, Jim Collins instead learns about his audience ahead of time and completely tailors his words to the people listening.  He sounds engaging, smart, funny, and very helpful.  He has done tons of research, and written six best-selling books.

When I reviewed "Good to Great" (here) my brother called me and laughed at me.  He said "you gave it a bad review because you didn't like his writing style.  His ideas have changed entire business models and helped innumerable companies.  You've never run a business in your life and yet your reading a reviewing one of the great business books."

My brother is right - which is why I thought I'd be better at reviewing THIS BOOK about greatness in social sectors.  This correlates with my line of work.  I work in both the State and VA health care systems.  I spend my evenings and weekends volunteering with the Boy Scouts and with my church. 

So - now that you've read this long diatribe about what led up to this review, here it is:

This book is good with a few moments of genius.  It gives about 4 examples of how business models don't work in the social sector.  Collins points out that the key isn't the business model, it's the greatness model.

The best insight he had was about the nature of leadership in the social sector:

"There are two types of leadership skill: executive and legislative." - p. 11
"Legislative leadership relies more upon persuasion, political currency, and shared interests to create the conditions for the right decisions to happen." - p. 11
"True leadership only exists if people follow when they have the freedom not to." - p. 13

I work daily with people who I don't employ. I may even be their "leader" at times but they are not paid, or they are underpaid. I could tell them all to do what I want,  but they could choose to ignore me and go on with their lives. I have no executive power. The only real power I have is legislative. I can help create the right environment where everyone will come to and agree with the best decision.

This is where Jim Collins nailed the difference in the social sector.  We work with volunteers.  We work within a system we don't control.  We often can't fire anyone.  We can't choose "who is on the bus."  We have influence, and that is all.

So when he says: "Those that failed to become great - placed greater emphasis on using incentives to 'motivate' otherwise unmotivated or undisciplined people. The great companies, in contrast, focused on getting an hanging on to the right people in the first place" - He is speaking the truth, but it's difficult to apply.

His words were much more applicable when he said: "It might take decades to change the entire system, and you might be dead or retired by the time those changes come. In the meantime, what are you going to do now?"

I work in health care and most everyone believes the system is broken.  While I do plan on working to fix the system, I'm also not going to sit back and just complain about it until it's fixed.  I'm going to figure out a way to make my little portion BETTER.  I can influence those around me.  I can change my little section of the health care world, and make it better for patients, providers, everyone.

The last line of the book is common knowledge - but it's great nonetheless:
"Greatness is not a matter of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline."

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