Remembering Jack Welch: Logos, Talent and a Disdain for Mediocrity

Remembering Jack Welch: Logos, Talent and a Disdain for Mediocrity

Categories: Front-line Managers

I was at the airport when I learned about the death of Jack Welch. The former Chairman and CEO of GE died Monday at the age of 84. As I boarded my plane that was taking me to meetings for my own company, I reflected on the impact his books Straight from the Gut and Winning had on my early business thinking.

Welch was the son of a railroad conductor who over a period of 20 years grew GE’s market value from $12 billion to a staggering $410 billion. His management philosophy can best be described as “Betting on the Right People”. His ideas encouraged me to spend a large portion of my leadership energy on people. I am often sending our content team blogs on talent and the importance of it when it comes to a sales team. I talk about it frequently.

Welch himself said, “I think strategy, execution and people all go together, and if you don’t get the people right, the strategy doesn’t matter. And if you don’t get the people right, you won’t get the execution.” I couldn't agree more.

When Force Management started in 2002, we used the tag line "Where Strategy Meets Execution". It was on our logo then, and even now it's still a cornerstone to how we operate our business. This slogan was influenced by Jack Welch and his good friend, Larry Bossidy. We describe what we do as enabling your growth strategy at the point of sale. It's such a critical aspect of growth. A strategy is great, but without execution, all you've got is a plan. You've got a map, but no way to travel. Still, it was Welch's mindset on people that provides the best lesson for me as a revenue leader.

Train Your Managers and Find the Right Fit

Welch invented the “vitality curve” which ranked people into three groups.

  • The Top 20% - A Group
  • The Vital 70% - B Group
  • The Bottom 10% - C Group

The A’s are passionate employees committed to making things happen. The B’s are essential to the company and are encouraged to move to A’s. The C’s are under-performers who are not projected to be B’s or A’s. They're the ones on your team who aren't going to make it. A lot of people took offense to this curve and the outcomes it had on C employees. I must admit, it took a lot of soul searching for me as a young manager to rank my team into these three categories and take appropriate actions. However, the challenge was often in how many companies executed this curve. They'd hastily lump people into Cs without training managers on how to recruit, develop and retain talent. As we often say, managers need to be trained in how to coach and lead.

In the end, I learned not to make this curve personal. In fact, I found that letting go of a C on my team was not only good for the company and the team, it was also, almost always, good for the person who was a C. Cs are often in the wrong position and we can help them, by letting them pursue something that plays to their strengths. No matter where anyone is on this curve, you should always treat them with dignity and respect. Just because someone is a C does not make them a bad person. They just might not be a good fit.

The struggle to attract, on-board and retain top talent is apparent in the high-tech industry. You need to make sure you are equipping your As and Bs with the ability to execute. If not, you'll never reach the growth goals. You'll have one-off successes of people who figured out a way to be successful, but you won't have the sustainable processes that create repeatable execution.

A Commitment to Be Elite

Another thing I learned from Welch was a disdain for mediocrity. A New York Times editorial published in September of 2001, described Welch’s career at GE as “championing radical change and smashing complacency of the established order.” Welch wanted GE to be world-class in everything it did. If it wasn't a “Market Leader” at a GE Division, you were told to “Fix it. Close it or sell it.”

Welch never settled for good enough. He demanded elite behavior. You don't go from $12B to $410B by settling. I think the mantra of "Fix it. Close it. Sell it." is a good reminder for leaders, as they work through their own decisions on sales, strategy and growth. Be proactive. Don’t settle and don’t wait for problems to correct themselves. Strive to be elite.

Final Thoughts

If I was to sum up my favorite lessons learned from Jack Welch and apply them to our industry right now, here's how I'd boil them down:

  • Recruit, develop and retain top talent NOW.
  • If you are not world-class, “Fix it, close it or sell it”.
  • Mediocrity is not an option!

And as I always say -- Who's Doing This!?


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