on April 7, 2005
There are two ways to look at this book and at Jack's management philosophies. One can focus on Jack Welch the person, or Jack Welch the business leader. For those who choose to focus on Jack Welch as a person and how he lived his personal life, then I suggest he is not the man to follow. However, if you want some simple, powerful and proven management practices, then he is arguably one of the best ever.
I continue to be amazed at the simple clarity of his message: empower others, ask questions, tap into the potential of all of your associates, choose integrity and candor over charts, graphs, and politics, and spend more time in action instead of planning and posturing budgets. I cannot read his words, or hear him speak without feeling again as I did as a member of his team at GE. Without fail, I was inspired and honored to be at a company which really believed that bureaucracy was to be avoided, and those who could look at reality without the politics and act accordingly were highly regarded. The one aspect I did not count on was that after leaving GE due to geographical and travel demands, those simple truths which engage and inspire people to reach stretch goals would be so rare. In fact the most basic aspects of candor and open honest dialog about the business are punished in some organizations.
The book itself is written in a conversational tone. It is easy to read, and feels as though you are in a dialog with him over a cup of coffee. Several key themes emerge which may be surprising to others who know him by reputation only.
One, Jack holds no malice and actually celebrates those whose careers involved leaving GE for roles elsewhere. This is a rather unique view, as many organizations have a misguided loyalty requirement that actually stifles the very performance potential they seek. Second, Jack seems to be more reflective of how he missed the boat on the whole work/life balance concept. Third, his willingness to openly admit mistakes is refreshing and contrary to his criticisms by others of his ego.
I found the sections on developing people, and setting business strategy to be most helpful. He understands, where few others do, that huge PowerPoint decks and consultants will not meet the need of your clients, nor will the usual political tactics help your business move forward.
I recommend this book highly, it is much more real than anything he has written before, and his passion and energy jump off every page.
on April 6, 2005
It appears that (after a couple of misfires) Jack Welch has finally written a book to match his legend. It probably also helps that his new wife Suzy (and co-author), a former editor at HBR, knows a thing or two about writing. No matter what you think of either Welch, this book is worth the price of admission.
Put "Winning" on the top shelf next to "Good to Great" and "Built to Last." In fact, Welch's "Winning" is the perfect complement to Collins' two-some. Collins' work is dramatically research-based, Welch's is utterly life-based. In particular, I enjoyed his 8 leadership principles that balance soft skills (communicating vision, building trust, motivating others) and character attributes (making the tough call, being positive, being nurturing to the core). I also enjoyed how Welch answers his critics on the infamous 20-70-10 rule and his hiring frameworks.
One strength of "Winning" is in the breadth of topics covered - both in the realm of organizational leadership as well as career development. Lots of books do one well, but Welch manages to excel in both without being superficial or glossying-over (though most other books aren't 350+ pages!).
Make no mistake about it - the ideas presented are not new. For example, two of Welch's leadership principles: "exude positive energy" and "push and probe with a curiousity that borders on skepticism" sound a lot like Collin's "confront the brutal facts, yet never lose faith" principle. But it's Welch's down-to-earth writing style that helps you understand these timeless principles in a fresh way. As you're reading, you can almost picture him speaking the words in some business school auditorium or some Fortune 100 management retreat. The words are deceptively simplistic, but it's Welch's wisdom at its best - boiled down to the very essence from four decades of rough-and-tumble managerial experience.
If you're still unsure, I found this excerpt in Newsweek (google "jack welch newsweek excerpt 2005") to be helpful and informative.
on August 10, 2005
Winning by Jack Welch is a must read for anyone who wants to succeed in business. The book is informative and readable, and offers specific actions I can take to win in the marketplace.
The parts of the book which I found interesting were creating a company's mission statement, documenting its values and coming up with a strategy. I also found Jack Welch's explanation of the value of candor convincing, and his discussion of work-life balance provocative.
His comments on differentiation (using Six Sigma to rank employees), and on the value of the business press were instructive.
In Winning, Jack Welch writes that a mission statement must answer the question, "How do we intend to win in this business?" Otherwise, he suggests that a mission statement can turn into "a set of generic platitudes that do nothing but leave employees directionless or cynical," such as "XYZ Company values quality and service" or "Such-and-Such Company is customer driven."
Using GE as an example, Jack describes an effective mission statement: "To be the most competitive enterprise in the world by being No. 1 or No. 2 in every market - fixing, selling, or closing every underperforming business that couldn't get there."
To me, this mission statement and the way he describes creating it makes sense.
Related to the mission statement are values, specific and concrete behaviors which give employees a roadmap to follow to achieve the mission statement.
Using Bank One as an example, Jack Welch describes values that are explained well.
"Never let profit center conflicts get in the way of doing what is right for the customer."
"Always look for ways to make it easier to do business with us."
"Give customers a good, fair deal. Great customer relationships take time. Do not try to maximize short-term profits at the expense of building those enduring relationships."
In my opinion, Jack Welch does a good job describing how a company should create and document its values.
Moving on to strategy, I also felt Jack described an effective way to develop a company's strategy. He describes 5 areas in which to focus when developing a strategy (in his book, he drills down into detail under each focus area):
What the Playing Field Looks Like Now
What the Competition Has Been Up To
What We've Been Up To
What's Around the Corner
What's Our Winning Move
The way he describes creating a strategy makes sense to me.
Jack also makes a compelling case on the value of candor - frank, open and direct talk - in business. In his experience, candor generates more ideas, speeds decision making and cuts costs.
In my opinion, what Jack Welch fails to address is the difference between candor and being a non-team player. If I disagree with my boss, am I being candid or a non-team player?
Relatedly, Jack also fails to address how to be candid. If I criticize my boss, perhaps I am being candid but I may make her defensive, causing her to feel she has to be candid and criticize me back. This can quickly turn into a slugfest with no winners.
These issues aside, I was helped and reminded of the importance of candor by Jack Welch's discussion of this topic.
Jack Welch spends chapter writing about work-life balance, perhaps trying to show that he has a soft side.
However, he makes so many harsh statements on this topic that I find it hard to believe that he values work-life balance. For instance, he writes, "Your boss's top priority is competitiveness. Of course, he wants you to be happy, but only inasmuch as it helps the company win."
He also writes that "the Korean grocer who just opened his shop in New York doesn't worry about whether he has time to get to the gym" and "99 per cent of the entrepreneurs in China's huge emerging competitive workforce don't wring their hands about working late at night."
He also showcases a woman named Susan whom he quotes as saying, "When I went to Japan and China, my daughter was about seven - old enough to lay a real guilt trip on me. I cried my eyes out all the way over. But I had made a conscious decision about work-life balance, and part of that decision was to travel for my career."
Susan goes on to say, "I knew I'd always have flexibility in my job when I needed it. I had earned it with commitment and performance over the years."
What I concluded from reading this chapter on work-life balance is that Jack Welch believes in work-life balance provided I have earned the right to work-life balance by superlative performance beforehand which came from working late, traveling on demand, and so on.
Thus, work-life balance is something I can earn after working for a number of years with no work-life balance.
Differentiation and Introversion
Differentiation is the topic which Jack Welch is perhaps best known for, dividing employees into the top 20% performers, middle 70%, and bottom 10%, who are let go.
What I found interesting was his almost tangential comment in discussing this topic that "the world generally favors people who are energetic and extroverted.... in business, energetic and extroverted people generally do better."
Having been in business for many years, it is obvious to me that introverts do worse in business. But this observation flies in the face of the interpretation of the Myers-Briggs test, where introverts are told that they are no worse off, "just different." In business, introverts are a lot worse off, and I am glad that Jack Welch followed his own advice on candor and stated the obvious.
Mentors and the Business Media
Jack lists many mentors in his career, from "the executive education teacher" who helped him learn to speak publicly when he was 26, to the PR woman who taught him the Internet at age 60.
A mentor which surprisingly he puts on par with the others is the business media. According to Jack, he "learned mountains about business just by reading every financial newspaper and magazine" he could get his hands on.
He goes on to say that he believes that "the business media is such a good teacher..." and that he is amazed when he meets "a young person who doesn't just consume it. Don't let that happen, this mentor is right there for the taking."
I am glad I read Winning by Jack Welch. I got useful information out of it on how to succeed or win in business. I value Jack Welch's insights about mission, values and strategy. His comments about candor are a good reminder of the importance of frankness in business. He writes that work-life balance is available but only if I earn it through good performance.
He believes that extroverts are more successful in business and he places the value he gets out of business media on par with his other mentors.
on April 15, 2005
Any time you pick up a book with a title like "Winning" you should know you are getting yourself into an exercise in self-congratulation. Glib titles like Welch's previous "Jack: Straight from the Gut" are quickly becoming the hallmark of Welch's books. For some reason I gave this one a chance, hoping it would be better than the aforementioned "Jack." No such luck.
Welch is an extremely talented leader and businessman, but only a few nuggets of his wisdom fall out of this doorstop of a book. The rest really comes across as Jack writing for Jack and his new wife (For whom he dumped his old wife after praising her effusively in the aforementioned "Jack").
There are far better books out there on managment and business. Try "Good to Great;" it's a whole different format, but you'll get a lot more ideas on making yourself and your company better.
on April 9, 2006
I wish Jack Welch a long life, but he may be the first to show that a person on his deathbed can wish that he had spent more time at the office. Work was, and still is, his great passion, and being a successful businessman is the only thing he ever wanted in life. Other than playing some golf and cheering for the Red Sox, he developed no hobbies or outside interests. "My kids were raised, largely alone, by their mother," he admits.
Of course he was a successful businessman, spectacularly successful in fact, and learning from that success is the whole point of the book. He is a bright man, and both from his career at GE and his business contacts elsewhere, he knows a lot about what works and what doesn't in the corporate world. His basic views on hiring, firing, and motivating employees are already widely emulated in the business world, and he explains them well here, with lots of examples. His emphasis on candor in the workplace, instead of people withholding information or criticism as the organization heads for a false and potentially disastrous consensus, was my favorite chapter. And for someone who never left the fast track to success, Welch has excellent advice on handling setbacks and dealing with bad bosses.
Considering that the book is for highly educated professionals, the style of the writing is surprisingly light and simple. Sentences are short and often end with exclamation points. Chapters are broken up into sections that are only a few pages long. I'm not complaining, mind you. I read much of the book in a noisy cafeteria during my lunch break, and it would be nice if all authors realized that reading usually isn't done in monastery-like conditions. However, some of the subjects Welch tries to address, like Six Sigma and corporate mergers, require more intellectual heft than this format is able to provide. The book's front cover blurb, "No other management book will ever be needed," is an unkept promise.
Learn from Jack Welch; there's certainly a lot of wisdom in the book. But don't be exactly like him. Pursue a hobby, volunteer in your community, and raise your children.
on October 7, 2005
Jack Welch's CEO memoir, "Jack: Straight from the Gut," came out in 2001. Since then he got and then married a former editor at the Harvard Business Review who's the co-author of this book. He's also spent a lot of time giving speeches and answering questions from audiences.
The book is based his answers to those questions. But we don't get the answers raw, or even straight from the gut.
Jack got to deliver many of the same answers over and over, giving him time to reflect and clarify his own expression. Then, Jack's wife Suzy crafted, shaped, and sharpened the answers still further.
The knowledge you get from this book is like the ingredients in a great soup. Quality ingredients are critical if you want a great soup. But the cooking, the interaction with other ingredients and the ministrations of a good cook make the final product better than the sum of the parts.
There are four key ingredients in Welch's soup. People are the most important thing. Candor is essential. The business race is more like a marathon than a sprint. To win the race you need the minimum amount of planning and the maximum amount of running.
Just like in a soup, the ingredients interact and intertwine. They show up in every section and almost every chapter. They make this a very rich soup indeed. But it is not a perfect soup.
Welch was the CEO of a very big company for more than two decades and spent his entire working life there. Those facts make a difference in how much of this book will be valuable for you.
This book is written with a big company perspective. If you're in a smaller company, especially a micro-business, you will probably find whole sections of this book, such as the one on Mergers and Acquisitions, entirely irrelevant.
This book is written with a CEO's perspective. If your position is closer to the middle or the bottom of the organizational chart, you will probably find whole sections of this book frustrating because they offer ways to change processes that you experience, but don't command. You'll probably find the discussions of changing the performance appraisal and budgeting processes interesting and stimulating, but unable to offer you anything concrete you can achieve.
Pick up a copy of the book and look through it. Or, use the "Look Inside the Book" feature on Amazon. Check out sections that interest you to see if they offer value you can use. Even if you find whole sections that won't help you, though, I think you'll find several things in this book that are worth the cover price all by themselves.
In general, the section on leadership is excellent, with rich advice on hiring and firing. No matter what business or organizational position you're in, you'll find value here.
The section on handling a crisis is written from that big company perspective. But it's also chock-full of wisdom for anyone who's going to face a crisis, which is everyone.
If you're looking for "how-to" advice, you may find it here, but check out the book before buying to be sure. If you're looking for insights and opinions that will stretch your own business thinking, you'll find bucketsful in this book.
on January 17, 2006
I felt as if Jack Welch was speaking directly to me, over a cup of coffee. His common sense approach to frequently occurring issues in the workplace is both liberating and inspiring. I always knew work can be fun and I often refer to my job as a paid vacation! Nonetheless, all jobs have their down sides and Welch offers some brass tacks advice on the management of difficult bosses, ineffective colleagues, bad hires, and the role of positive corporate values. It is a must-read for anyone looking to win.
on July 24, 2005
This book is fabulous. Jack writes about what it takes to make intelligent choices and gives some great examples. Years ago, I heard Jack ask the question, "How do we identify the best?" and it struck me that this man doesn't settle for second best. From business decisions such as acquisitions and human resources, Jack shows himself as an optimizer. So if you want to win in business, read this book from cover to cover. I highly recommend Optimal Thinking (Wiley) to be read in tandem to minimize downtime and make the most of any situation.
on June 5, 2005
GE is a true corporate success story, and Jack Welch clearly deserves the credit for developing the dynamic and goal focused culture that made GE what it is. As a CEO, Jack Welch was a "tough guy" who played by the rules, and that's something to be admired. Still, Welch's first book "Straight From The Gut" also revealed that Jack is all about Jack. Not surprising, therefore, to see that this book is more about reinventing Jack (and Suzy) than anything else. Both took quite a hit to their reputations over the last few years, due to incredibly bad judgment and self-serving ethical lapses while in leadership positions. What better way to turn this around than to claim to be gurus on the topic of winning with integrity...the ultimate self spin-doctoring. For those who worship Jack for being Jack, I'm sure this book will have appeal. But for a book on true winning leadership styles, read Andy Grove's "Only The Paranoid Survive", and leave this one on the shelf.
on December 1, 2005
The book Winning is a story on Jack Welch's career. Jack was the CEO of General Electric for many years and knew many business leaders. While it is a fascinating tale, this book is not for the average manager but is geared toward the future CEO or someone sitting on the board of directors of a major company.
The book is divided into 5 major sections; Underneath it all, Your company, Your competition, Your career, and Tying up all the loose ends. Each section looks at what was done at GE and divided into smaller chapters within the section.
Underneath it all looks at what happens behind the scenes within a major company. It discusses mission and value statements, the effective use of candor, differentiation, and getting everyone to work together toward a common goal.
Your company looks at certain leadership styles, hiring and change, and tells a fascinating story of crisis management about a seemingly insignificant time card scandal at GE. Jack believes in using a model that says that 20% of management are outstanding and should be promoted, 70% are average, and 10% are underpeformers who should be placed on probation. He also believes that most employee assessment processes do not do justice to the employee by not assessing true performance.
Your competition looks at the strategy of competition and how to be competitive. Either you have great service or a great product. It further examines mergers and acquisitions and an improvement process known as "six sigma".
Your career examines how Jack recruited for certain positions. He looked at how to get promoted and how to deal with a difficult boss. This is also where he examines how to manage your work-life balance and where he admits that this is one area he did not handle well.
Finally the book tries to tie up all the loose ends with a hodgepodge of questions that Jack was unable to categorize.
The book is fairly easy to read but was not very helpful or informative. The stories were interesting and pertained to the chapter topic. While the author tried to write it for every level of manager, after reading the book, that did not seem to be the case.