What does Jack Welch believe is the ultimate competitive business advantage?
“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage,” former GE CEO Jack Welch tells us.
Ultimate. Competitive. Advantage.
Spoken by one of the most successful CEO’s in history.
But how does an organization become a learning organization?
At PCI, we focus on two specific strategies.
First, we look outside for new ideas that will make us better. We are big believers in reading and discussion groups. Over the course of each year, we select several books to read and discuss and invite all 450 of our associates to participate. Anyone who is interested can join in. It’s a simple agreement: we buy the book, the person who volunteers agrees to read and discuss it.
Note: I make this offer for any book one of our associates wants to read that will make them better. Same agreement as above: we buy it. They agree to read it.
In recent years, we’ve read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey), Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Carol Dweck), The Happiness Advantage (Shawn Achor), Well Being (Tom Rath and Jim Harter), and The Miracle Morning (Hal Elrod). Last summer, as part of our social justice initiative, we read and discussed White Fragility (Robin Diangelo). This summer we’re continuing our exploration of these issues with the reading of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Once every five years, we conduct a five week, company-wide reading and discussion of The Servant as Leader by Robert Greenleaf. Participation is required for all PCI associates (vs. all other all-company book clubs which are voluntary). While this commitment represents a significant investment of time and money, we believe the ROI is tremendous as it creates a servant-leadership mindset as well as a common vocabulary across our organization.
In addition to company-wide book clubs, many of our teams and departments are involved in reading-discussion groups specific to their area throughout the year.
Reading, learning, and applying new ideas from books and thought leaders is smart. There is, however, an even more powerful strategy to becoming a learning organization. In addition to searching for ideas outside the organization, we create a mindset internally where we are constantly experimenting. In every department. In every area of the company. Then, we pay careful attention to the results.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a popular expression.
It’s also not wise.
Instead, we commit to a path of continuous improvement. With this approach, mistakes and setbacks are expected.
This concept is captured in our “Unlock Human Potential” value: “If you make a mistake, own up to it so together we can fix it, learn from it, and get better next time.”
We iterate. We pay attention. We stay nimble. We modify. We learn. We improve as we go.
The goal isn’t to be “right.” The goal isn’t to “look smart.” The goal is to learn, grow and get better at getting better.
It starts at the top.
Reflection: How do I show up? Is my goal to learn? Or, to look smart?
Action: Discuss with my spouse or a colleague who knows me well.