My Specialist Series blog today is provided by my friend Dr. Joseph A. Michelli, PhD Joseph has studied what makes companies great. He is an in-demand speaker and the author of the best-selling book The Starbucks Experience, as well as The New Gold Standard about service excellence at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and When Fish Fly which was co-authored with the owner of the “World Famous” Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. He is currently working on a new book about enhancing the healthcare experience the UCLA Medical Center way. You can find additional information at www.themichelliexperience.com.
You’re studied some of the great companies and brands—Stabrucks and the Ritz Carlton in particular. What are the elements that make a company or organization great?
It’s fairly simple, at least on paper. It’s a matter of having visionary leaders who define a course consistent with the company’s strengths, a passion for operational excellence through consistent execution, a solid commitment toward employees and a constant willingness to evolve in the direction of customer needs.
Is it harder to be great today, and if so, why?
I think it is natural for us to forget history and think that “the now” poses the greatest challenges of all time. I think today’s challenges are significant and very different from those that came before us. Unlike previous generations that lacked business infrastructure, high-tech solutions, supply-chain sophistication, and world-wide markets, we are faced with a cluttered mine-field of competitors and information technology that both aids and overwhelms our efforts to consistently deliver excellence. I’ve always been a fan of your work, Mark, and I endorse the concept that great leadership principles, like you write about, lead to the same greatness today that they always have.
What are the most common mistakes companies pursuing greatness make?
They forget that “greatness” requires discipline. To be great one must resist doing things that fall out of one’s core competencies. In essence, these misguided leaders overreach (often spurred on my fear or an attempt to “keep up with the competition) and move into areas where they compete less favorably. By contrast, a number of great businesses fall from favor for an almost antithetical reason – they fail to change in accord with the evolving wants, needs, and desires of their customers. Unlike businesses that overreach, these company leaders become risk-averse dinosaurs basking in past successes. I strongly believe it is easier to become great than it is to stay that way.
Who are the best leaders you’ve observed and what has made them effective?
“Observed” is the tricky part of this question. It removes from consideration many leaders who inspire me from Jesus to Mother Theresa. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with plenty of opportunities to directly experience phenomenal leadership. My father was my teacher on quiet leadership committed to serving communities without keeping score of what you get in return. One boss named Dale Mann, taught me how to represent a team at meetings with senior leaders and effectively inspire his troops even when the decisions of senior leadership varied from the position he advocated. Johnny Yokoyama of the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market’s effectiveness is linked to his “big vision” and his willingness to “love” his people. Howard Schultz has shown me that all business, no matter how large or small, is personal. No matter how good your product is, it has to connect with people. I could go on and on with this…fortunately for your reader this is a blog and not a book.
Will the great company of the future look different than the great company today? How?
Maybe I’m not a forward enough looking thinker but I don’t think they will. The technologies will change, the names on the “best of” lists will likely be different but the leading companies will continue to operationally excellent, provide relevant products that serve real human needs, have employees who are proud to come to work, customer expectations will be exceeded, CEO’s will provide a compelling vision and people like you and I will be extrapolating business principles from those companies and sharing them with aspirational leader’s interested in learning how to execute on timeless greatness.