Excerpt from Winning by Jack Welch, Suzy Welch, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Winning
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2005, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2006, 272 pages

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Getting more participation really makes a difference, giving you more insights and more ideas, and at the end of the process, most importantly, much more extensive buy-in.

The actual process of creating values, incidentally, has to be iterative. The executive team may come up with a first version, but it should be just that, a first version. Such a document should go out to be poked and probed by people all over an organization, over and over again. And the executive team has to go out of their way to be sure they’ve created an atmosphere where people feel it is their obligation to contribute.

Now, if you’re in a company where speaking up gets you whacked, this method of developing values just isn’t going to work. I understand that, and as long as you stay, you’re going to have to live with that generic plaque in the front hall.

But if you’re at a company that does welcome debate—and many do—shame on you if you don’t contribute to the process. If you want values and behaviors that you understand and can live with yourself, you have to make the case for them.


It’s in the Nitty-Gritty Details

When I first became CEO, I was certainly guilty of endorsing vague, too cryptic values. For instance, in 1981, I wrote in the annual report that GE leaders “face reality” and “live excellence” and “feel ownership.” These platitudes sure sounded good, but they had a long way to go toward describing real behaviors.

By 1991, we had made a lot of progress. Over the course of the previous three years, more than five thousand employees spent some portion of their time participating in the development of our values. The result was much more concrete. We printed them on laminated wallet cards. The text included imperatives such as “Act in a boundaryless fashion—always search for and apply the best ideas regardless of their source” and “Be intolerant of bureaucracy” and “See change for the growth opportunity it brings.”

Of course, some of these behaviors required further explanation and interpretation. And we did that all the time, at meetings, during appraisals, and at the watercooler.

Since leaving GE, I’ve realized how much further still we might have been able to push the discussion about values and behaviors. In 2004, I watched Jamie Dimon and Bill Harrison work together to develop values and behaviors for the new company created by the merger of Bank One and JP Morgan Chase. The document they used to open the dialogue came from Bank One, and it listed values and their corresponding behaviors with a level of detail I had never seen before.

Take the value “We treat customers the way we would want to be treated.” That’s pretty tangible, but Bank One had literally identified the ten or twelve behaviors that made that value come to life. Here are some of them:

  • Never let profit center conflicts get in the way of doing what is right for the customer.
  • 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.
  • Always look for ways to make it easier to do business with us.
  • Communicate daily with your customers. If they are talking to you, they can’t be talking to a competitor.
  • Don’t forget to say thank you.
  • Another value Bank One had was: “We strive to be the low-cost provider through efficient and great operations.”

Some of the prescribed behaviors included:

  • Leaner is better.
  • Eliminate bureaucracy.
  • Cut waste relentlessly.
  • Operations should be fast and simple.
  • Value each other’s time.
  • Invest in infrastructure.
  • We should know our business best. We don’t need consultants to tell us what to do.

If this level of detail feels overwhelming and even doctrinaire to you, I can sympathize. When I first saw Jamie’s single-spaced, five-page values-and-behaviors document, I nearly fell over. But as I read it, I saw its power.

The foregoing is excerpted from Winning by Jack Welch and Suzy Welch. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY.

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