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Twelve Questions from Jim Collins

You remember Jim Collins’ inspiring presentation on what makes great organizations tick delivered at the Alliance’s 2012 Annual Meeting, right? I get as fired up as the next guy by a terrific motivational speaker, but Collins didn’t just deliver a rousing “Yes, You Can!” speech to fraternal executives, he followed it up with the all-important “and here’s how” component based on his lifelong research on successful – and not so successful – businesses.


Last month, Jim sent a note to his business network with the latest tool to help them engage their teams and build a truly great enterprise. “I believe that disciplined engagement with the right questions yields the best insights, understanding, and results,” said Collins. And in that spirit, Jim’s team created a series of 12 questions that can serve as a catalyst for activating the greatness in each of our organizations.

Before tackling the 12 questions, I think it’s worth refreshing our collective memories about how Collins characterizes “greatness” – including both great companies, great social enterprises, or (in the case of fraternals) the combination of both business and community service components. Collins defines these as the three tests:  Superior Results, Distinctive Impact, and Lasting Endurance, and adds a caution flag about achieving greatness.

Superior Results

In business, performance is defined by financial results – return on invested capital – and achievement of corporate purposes. In the social sector, performance is defined by results and efficiency in delivering on the social mission. But whether business or social (or the fraternal combination of both), you must achieve top-flight results.

Distinctive Impact

A truly great enterprise makes such a unique contribution to the communities it touches, and does it with such unadulterated excellence that, if it were to disappear, it would leave a gaping hole that could not be easily filled by any other institution. If your society went away, who would miss it, and why? This does not require being big; think of a small but fabulous local restaurant that would be terribly missed if it disappeared. Big does not equal great, and great does not equal big.

Lasting Endurance

A truly great organization prospers over a long period of time, beyond any great idea, marketing opportunity, technology cycle, or well-funded program. When clobbered by setbacks, it finds a way to bounce back stronger than before. A great enterprise transcends dependence on any single extraordinary leader; if your organization cannot be great without you, then it is not yet a truly great organization.

Great Is Never Done

To be built to last means embracing the idea that no matter how far we have gone, or how much we have achieved, we are merely good relative to what we can do next. Greatness is a dynamic process, not an end point. The moment you think of yourself as great, your slide toward mediocrity has already begun.

The 12 Questions

You can access the 12 questions and a variety of helpful study guides to help you use them with your executive management team and board on Jim’s web site – www.jimcollins.com. All of the material is free and I encourage you to take a look at it and see how you might employ the tools of one of the nation’s great business teachers – and a fan of fraternals – in your organization. I know we’ll be using the 12 Questions as a building block for the Alliance’s 2016 Strategic Plan.

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