Tuesday, February 13

The wisdom of Jack Welch

I’m not a great believer in leadership training, even though it’s very much the trend. But the fact that such training exists means that there is a problem to be solved. I notice that some of the manuals like to quote the 10 leadership principles of Jack Welch. I’ve copied below the first five:

1. There is only one way - the straight way. It sets the tone of the organisation.

2. Be open to the best of what everyone, everywhere, has to offer; transfer learning across your organisation.

3. Get the right people in the right jobs - it is more important than developing a strategy.

4. An informal atmosphere is a competitive advantage.

5. Make sure everybody counts and everybody knows they count.

Three of them I find vitally interesting for the rethinking of learning. Forget the first, which is there as a kind of shocker, asserting the authority of the leader (what better way to say “I’m Jack Welch, shut up and listen”?). If I wanted to quibble, I’d say that just as there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there’s no such thing as a straight way. All viable ways follow the relief of the land and are therefore not straight, but rather as straight as possible or as straight as management can make them… which means that professional life doesn’t end up looking like a series of right angles.

It starts getting interesting with number 2. Learning is as close to the top as you can get (once you get the phantom straight line out of the way). And notice what it says: learning is everywhere. It doesn’t come from trainers and SMEs. Everyone’s involved. And the need is to transfer, not to teach.

Skip to point 4. What do we find? A celebration of informality, not as a method of learning (who in the organization really cares about learning besides Jack Welch?*) but as a factor of competitive advantage! Put 2 and 4 together and we begin to see how learning organizations may develop.

Point 5 is equally important. How do people show they count and know they count for others? I don’t think Welch is talking about pay packages and brownie points. It’s rather that their voice is heard because they have something to contribute and a forum for making it heard. That forum is the ongoing informal dialogue of an organization where “everyone, everywhere” has something “to offer”. Maybe we should be concentrating on giving shape to that forum by encouraging communities where the dialogue is real and authentic, not polluted by too many "learning points".

Anyway, it's a great honor to welcome Jack Welch to the exclusive club of promoters of informal learning. He deserves to be one of us!

* To answer my own question, I’d say “nobody except the CEO” because everyone else, including the CLO, has a job to do and they all know the criteria on which they will be judged. And it ain’t learning – which is oriented towards the future -- but keeping the machinery going with as few hiccups as possible – which means having one's eye fixed on the present and quarterly results. Having worked closely with a direct disciple of Jack Welch, I know how focused those objectives are.


jay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jay said...

In the course of researching my book, I spoke with Tom Stewart, who coined the term intellectual capital while a reporter at Fortune. An early catalyst in his thinking was a story he did on GE. "They all knew each other," he told me. The rotation of assignments and shared Crotonville experiences forged a social network before it was called that.

Jack once said, "We soon discovered how essential it is for a multibusiness company to become an open, learning organization. The ultimate competitive advantage lies in an organization's ability to learn and to rapidly transform that learning into action.And, in GE's boundaryless learning culture, the operative assumption is that someone, somewhere, has a better idea; and the operative compulsion is to find out who has that better idea, learn it, and put it into action fast."

Anonymous said...

Welch did spend a lot of time trying to overcome organizational inertia at GE. At the same time, the management and executive training programs included many structured experiences -- lectures, case studies, group projects, workshops -- collectively referred to as "Crotonville courses," as well as planned job rotations. Welch also ordered that every GE salaried employee complete Six Sigma training and a green-belt project in order to be even considered for promotion.

(Opinions within GE varied about the real value as opposed to the alleged value of some of those projects.)

At odds with the "everyone counts" nostrum was forced ranking for employee evaluations (the 20-70-10 system, with the bottom 10% to be "managed out"). A dilemma for managers with high-performing groups.

Ethics and Transparency In Politics said...

I like those points... point 5 in particular. I could go on about this... but suspect most people can relate to the feeling of being lost in an organization that really doesnt care for their opinion, nor reward them for trying making things better.

Sad really.

Anonymous said...

Nice post with interesting points... Isackson,

You must illustrate patience in order to become a leader. In today’s struggling society, it is very difficult to be patient. As a leader, you must be able to carry a heavy load without literally going out of your mind.

You have to know that not everything is always going to go your way. You will have people that don’t do what you say, and you get upset but you can’t let them see you sweat.
You have to be able to suppress all the things around you that may trigger your emotions, causing you to act out of leadership qualities.

Patience means that you are going to have to put up with some things that are going to make you feel annoyed, angry, etc.


Self help zone

Anonymous said...

Jack Welch is a great SEO, i like reading his books, especially "Winning".

PS: you can download this book and some of his writings here:

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