Monday, December 31, 2007

5 Minute Book Review - Winning by Jack Welch

I'm not normally a business biography reader. I enjoy business books and, in particular, marketing books, but not necessarily books by business leaders on what they do well and why. It simply isn't normally particularly relevant to me. However, I was wandering through a Jakarta book store trying to find my next English read the other day and decided to try to find something by Jack Welch, the former Chairman and CEO of GE. I've always respected his opinions and commentary that I've read in magazines, he seems to be very down to earth and straight forward, and he got into his position the old fashioned way, rising through the ranks, which I thought might give him a different perspective than a lot of other business leaders. I couldn't find any books by him in the bookstore, but I did find one the next day in a tiny little bookstand in the Jakarta airport. Karma.

In short, I found this book to be exactly as I expected / wanted. It was full of straight talk and simple business advice. One of the reasons why I avoid a lot of business books is that they don't seem to deal with the reality of everyday work. Welch's book is very grounded, down to earth, and is about creating action. His advice will be helpful to me whenever I take on my next role.

Welch is also a very interesting guy due in no small part to his overriding philosophy of candor. Everything he does seems to be driven by the need to be upfront, honest and decisive about matters. And while that may seem simplistic, in my experience I have found that that is one of the biggest things missing in so many work environments. A lack of candor is also one of the things that I have always found somewhat frustrating in the ad agency environment, where far too much time is spent not getting right to the point. I believe that clients could be better served if they got a more straightforward treatment, after all they're paying for the agency's services/time. That said, the clients need to be willing to take the frank discussion and not blame the agency when they hear things they don't want to hear. Of course, that's easier said than done, and really comes down to a relationship built on respect and trust.

But back to the book; This reliance on frank talk and candor probably also makes Welch not seem like the nicest guy at times. His belief in a performance ranking system, with actionables tied to it, certainly creates a lot of angst. But I believe that he likely does far more good than harm in being honest and clear with people. And there's no doubt that his management style worked for GE over the two decades that he managed the company.

On a personal note, it was interesting to read this book after my recent work experience at Coastal Contacts. Welch's philosophy forces me to look internally for reasons why things didn't work out as well as to look at the external factors.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone curious about how to become a better manager, leader or employee.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Thanks Hawes,

Happy New Year

Let's talk about performance management when you get back. I would love to pick your brain.

All the best,

Jef

PS - is Colleen's shirt stinky yet or does she wash it every night?