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Applying Ten Lessons for Business Greatness to Older Workers' Careers

Posted by Chip Block on December 31, 2019 12:30 PM EST
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Since we have posted a series of blogs about career wellbeing for older workers, I thought it would be fun and informational to apply some interesting information from a blog I read recently that pointed out the ten key concepts in Jim Collins' series of books....

....which include "Built to Last", "Good to Great" and "How the Mighty Fall", among others.  My spin on this is to try to draw parallel applications of these enduring success concepts from Collins' research and books to the idea of older people reinventing their careers.  By the way, the blog that I read which is the context for this blog is from Caitlin Schiller (details below).  You will note that in my blog I borrow liberally from Ms. Schiller's blog, setting excerpts in quotation marks ("" ""). :)

The 10 Commandments of Business from Jim Collins

by Caitlin Schiller | Jun 21, 2015
Read more at: 

In her words, Ms.Schiller began her blog and its list of key lessons thusly:
"In each of these books, Collins exhaustively explores what makes great companies great, visionary companies visionary, and 10X companies so productive. And lest you believe he shuns the world and spends all of his time working on books, think again: Collins also heads a research laboratory that studies leadership, then teaches what he’s learned in the classroom. If there’s anyone who knows a thing or two about greatness, it’s this guy.  So, we scoured Collins’s books and put together a primer of his most useful concepts and best advice. These are the 10 Commandments for getting to greatness from a guy who knows".

1. Find your Hedgehog concept. — “Good to Great”

" According to Collins, good-to-great companies find their own Hedgehog concept—something simple, clear, and fail-proof—by asking themselves three key questions: What can we be the best in the world at? What can we be passionate about? What is the key economic indicator we should concentrate on?" 

Application to Older workers who want to rebuild their careers:

Focus on what you care a lot about, have a natural talent for and can be great at doing and make sure there's a way it can bring economic gain to someone or some organization so you can be paid fairly for it.

2. Find your level 5 leaders. — “Good to Great”

"Here’s a quick profile: Level 5 leaders: Are excellent team members and managers Are single-mindedly ambitious on behalf of the company Are personally modest yet fanatically driven toward results; they share credit for their company’s achievements, downplaying their own role, but are quick to take responsibility for shortcomings Want their company to continue performing even after they leave." 

Application to Older workers looking to rebuild their careers:

Don't be too quick to pat yourself on the back.  Enlist the help of others, go out of your way to help them and put their needs first and reap rewards in terms of better cooperation, collaboration and respect.

3. Before anything, put the right people in the right place.— “Good to Great”

"Collins’s lab found that the transformation from good to great always began with getting the right people into the company and the wrong people out of it, even before defining a clear path forward. Great companies realize that the right people can always be trained and educated. Furthermore, great leaders know that having the right people around them gives the entire business the best shot at success".

Application to Older workers looking to rebuild their careers:

Look to be a part of a great team...pick your team members carefully, and hold them accountable for getting things done on time, on budget and with a minimum of conflict.  Make sure you integrate your skills, experience and talents into the team so it's clear you're one of the right people in the right place.

4. Maintain strong core values but never stop improving. —"Built to Last”

"In his research Collins found that at that the heart of a truly great company is a core ideology, but the manifestations of that core ideology are always open for change and progress.  This flexibility demonstrates how visionary companies shuck what Collins calls the Tyranny of the OR, whereby a company must choose between staying true to its core ideology or stimulating progress. Instead, visionary companies use the Genius of the AND—experimenting and developing—while still adhering to the core ideology". 

Application to Older workers looking to rebuild their careers:

Don't limit your thinking and actions to such a degree that you become one dimensional.  Try to find ways to not only get your job tasks done, but to add value in other ways while doing it.  For example, if given a deadline to get a task done with a specific quality, why not get it done ahead of time with even better quality or results than was expected?

5. Use BHAGS (big hairy audacious goals) to drive progress. — “Built to Last

"To drive progress, visionary companies set themselves extremely bold objectives— so-called Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs)—to which they commit utterly and completely. BHAGs are as formidable as they sound: often, they’re so ambitious that they seem unrealistic, especially to outsiders". 

Application to Older workers looking to rebuild their careers:

For many workers, the objective is to simply do a job and do it in an acceptable way without causing stress or friction.  Older workers who want to stand apart from others will want to set a goal or objective that is far larger than what they are being paid for and then hit the goal and then some.

6. Skip the inspirational talk and take action on company values. — “Built to Last

"When Collins studied visionary companies, one thing he found that they all had in common was that they did more than make empty claims: they managed to translate their values into reality through concrete mechanisms that affected employees’ work reality, whether that meant creating new technologies, training and developing their staff, or supporting research and development". 

Application to Older workers looking to rebuild their careers:

If the organization that you are working for in the latter part of your career has a certain rhythm or set of expectations, or processes for getting things done, then be creative and find ways to adapt organizational mores and philosophies in the day to day work you do.  If the organization wants to see collaboration and teamwork, then always be the first to ask for more or to volunteer to help others before being asked to do so.

7. Chase innovation—but be prudent. —"How the Mighty Fall”

"Collins is adamant that pushing for innovation is critical to greatness—but be careful not to push too hard. Collins found that most promising companies fail not because they’re lazy, but because they attempt to advance too quickly and do not maintain good business practices". 

Application to Older workers looking to rebuild their careers:

Always try to think of better ways to do your work, and offer suggestions to others.  Try to be very creative and adapt methods from other companies or that you have used in the past successfully.  Do little experiments so that you don't go too far and overstep or create unintended consequences before your creative idea produces results.

8. In the face of catastrophe, don’t try these things. —"How the Mighty Fall”

"Collins identifies two tactics companies use to combat calamity that ultimately lead to failure".

"Response 1: The Silver Bullet What: A sweeping solution that will solve all problems, like implementing an unproven technology, changing business culture entirely, or looking for a new market. Result: At best, a short-lived boost, at worst—deeper failure". .

"Response 2: Throwing in the Towel What: A more drastic approach than the Silver Bullet in which a company simply gives up. Result: The company gets shut down or sold off." 

Application to Older workers looking to rebuild their careers:

Don't be afraid to make mistakes, but don't make such bold changes that the results of the improvement are not worth the effort, costs and risks of making the improvements.  Make bold, large strides in work results by taking lots of little steps along the way so that you can pivot and make adjustments along the way without suffering calamity.

9. Tap into Productive Paranoia. —"How the Mighty Fall”

"What’s the common trait of the successful businesses? A healthy a dram of paranoia: it tends to breed discipline, evidence-based innovation, and preparedness":

"First, fanatical discipline. Discipline in this context does not mean everybody in the organization obeys orders, but rather consistency in action".

"Second, empirical creativity when making decisions. They perform experiments, collect evidence, and only then move forward with innovation".

"Third,  Rather than getting comfortable, 10X leaders are always wary of what might go wrong and channel their fears into creating policies that prepare their companies for difficult times."

.Application to Older workers looking to rebuild their careers:

Never rest on your laurels or on the perception that what is working now will be good enough for success along the way.  Always the one who suggests improvements, and track progress and make changes along the way.  Accept that today's results will require new approaches to sustain those same results or better ones in the future.

10. Forget luck and chance. It’s hard work and ambition that assure greatness. —"How the Mighty Fall”

"In How the Mighty Fall, Collins asserts that for great companies and leaders alike, what separates them from the crowd is making the most of an opportunity presented through hard work and ambition". 

Application to Older workers looking to rebuild their careers:

While it is often said that good fortune follows the well-prepared, it is also true the persistence, perspiration, preparation and prioritization are other words that produce good fortune.  It's also said that those who work harder, prepare better, exert great effort and set clear priorities on what is important to get done and when  often have more luck than others.

Hope that in the new year ahead, you will be able to put some of these principles to work whether you're at the end of your career and striving to finish well or at the beginning and hoping to set a course for long-term, consistent success.  Happy 2020!

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