Scaling Up Excellence | Book Review

Robert Sutton & Huggy Rao ponder, analyze, and describe how organizations may successfully grow without losing their founding values and purpose. Chapters 3-7, called the Scaling Principles, form the core of the book, with individual Chapters 3 and 7 the most powerful of the five. This review will focus on the introduction and these two best chapters.

Four Lessons & Seven Mantras

Sutton and Rao straddle research findings and practical applications, leaning heavily on their Silicon Valley connections. Four lessons learned are common scaling challenges are more important than differences, scaling requires an attitude of both “more and better,” success requires embracing chaos, and finally scaling requires individual commitment at all organizational levels. These findings suggest leaders growing organizations focus on common challenges, and carefully select their team with flexible professionals possessing positive attitudes able to influence and span the growing enterprise.

Page 8 summarizes seven Scaling Mantras:

1.   Spread a mindset, not just a footprint
2.   Engage all the senses
3.   Link short-term realities to long-term dreams
4.   Accelerate accountability
5.   Fear the clusterfug
6.   Scaling requires both addition and subtraction
7.   Slow down to scale faster – and better – down the road

Which should be bookmarked for reference as well as considered inclusion into a growth-oriented Personal Leadership Philosophy.

Hot Causes and Cool Solutions: Stoking the Scaling Engine

Chapter 3 focuses on finding the “hot cause,” or overarching purpose that must be driven through an organization. Not just put on paper or a poster, but relentlessly demonstrated as the core mission. Examples such as Ford Motor Company (Name the Problem & “Create One Ford”) and Steve Jobs (Name the Enemy) further stimulate additional ideas and causes. On pages 91-94, Lean on People Who Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone, the authors describe four characteristics (routine seekers, strong negative reaction to change, short-term thinkers, those prone to cognitive rigidity) of “changes resisters” leaders should beware when scaling. Rather, leaders should seek those most eager to change, stoke, and live the new mindset. The Fiat/Chrysler and Ogilvy & Mather examples drive the point home.

Bad is Stronger Than Good: Clearing the Way for Excellence

“Felps found that if just one deadbeat or asshole joins a small group, performance drops by 30 percent to 40 percent”

Starting with Disney as a paragon of commitment to the mindset “the Happiest Place on Earth,” Chapter 7 towers above the others with examples, including several powerful life and death stories, worth re-reading and reflection. A you get what you measure caution (pages 227-8) relating the Atlanta public school system cheating scandal reminds us metrics alone are not everything.

Eight methods to reduce bad behaviors (Breaking Bad) are provided on pages 230-251:

1.   Nip It in the Bud
2.   Get Rid of the Bad Apples
3.   Plumbing Before Poetry (think Herzberg or Maslow)
4.   Adequacy before Excellence
5.   Use the Cool Kids (and Adults) to Define and Squelch Bad Behavior
6.   Kill the Thrill
7.   Time Shifting: From Current to Future Selves (excellent for goal setting)
8.   Focus on the Best Times, the Worst Times, and the End

Followed by Five Dangerous Feelings or Warning Signs leaders and their teams should watch out for and implement during continuous coaching.

Other Nuggets

Strategic subtraction (Mantra 7), page 29, correlates with our High Payoff Activity exercise, suggesting periodic re-examination, focus and pruning.

Slowing down (Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow) to strategic or “System 2” thinking, fosters a vigilance habit while scaling an organization.

In summary, a valuable book for anyone growing an organization and their leadership team, as well as those coaching leaders along a scaling path.

JE | July 2014