Companies that go from good to great have a culture of discipline. This is not a top-down system that micromanages its employees’ actions through a nit-picking bureaucracy. Bureaucracies emerge when people are incapable of doing good work without supervision--or doing good work at all. This reveals a more basic problem of having the wrong people. Kick these people out, bring the right people aboard, and you will not need bureaucracy.
The primary motivation for workers in good-to-great companies is not a fear of a tyrant boss or bureaucratic repercussions. When workers are self-motivated, they are capable of working within a system, exercising both freedom and responsibility. Neurologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl rightly observed that freedom doesn’t mean much without responsibility. He thought that the United States’ Statue of Liberty should be replaced with a Statue of Responsibility. The companies that moved from good to great all had frameworks where employees had both.
Good-to-great companies have disciplined workers that can muster disciplined thought leading to disciplined action. No tyrant or bureaucracy is necessary where such a culture exists.
Part of the culture of discipline means not simply jumping at every opportunity. If an opportunity seems once-in-a-lifetime, it is important to remember that there will be plenty of other once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Even on a daily basis, it is easy to accrue items for a growing to-do list. It’s important to determine what needs doing, but deciding what is unnecessary is even more vital. Restricting efforts to those that activities at the intersection of passion, high profit per unit, and best-in-sector ability requires disciplined thinking and action on the part of employers and employees.
In interview transcripts and articles about the good-to-great companies, words like determined, dogged, persistent, tenacious, detail-oriented, attentive, conscientious, systematic, and meticulous abounded. These same words were glaringly absent in interviews and articles regarding comparison companies.