Jack Welch is the former Chairman and CEO of General Electric and a best-selling author. He is sought after for his business and leadership insights, so it’s easy to understand why Bill Hybels wanted him to speak at Leadership Summit.
In a pre-recorded piece, Bill interviewed Jack for this session. This was probably a good thing since Jack was censored at one point for cursing. It caused everyone to laugh.
Here’s my recap of the session.
Q: There are four big words when you think of Jack Welch: authenticity, energy, candor and differentiation. You say leaders have to be authentic.
A: You have to be yourself, be comfortable in your shoes. Not portray yourself as something other than you are. People can see a phoney and see through it. You need to be someone people can count on for truth, can count on in times of sorrow. In business, people take on a persona that is not themselves.
Q: Why do that?
A: They are coroporate stiffs, they think that. They feel they have to behave a certain way with their role.
Q: Do you look for that when hiring?
A: Yeah, but you don’t always see through it in the hiring process. You wish you had someone on your shoulder telling you.
Q: Energy. You talk a lot about energy.
A: I use energy and energize. Anyone can be whirling dervish, but you have to energize people. Energize those around you. If you’re jumping around, it doesn’t do much for aneyone. But if you can energize people around you, that makes a difference.
Q: My job to energize people. How do you do it?
A: Two weeks ago I went to a call center in Phoenix and talked to them for ten hours. I wanted to connect with them about the vision. I had to engage them, and help them to see the greater impact of their work. There job is not to hustle people to join but to tell the story of the company. We stayed there until we all got on the same page. Age difference was fifty years but we had a great time.
Q: Energize is not hyping them or a cheerleading session.
A: Getting them to feel the vision, they know where you are going.
Q: That assumes you feel it.
A: Why the hell would you do it then?
Q: Saying the obvious, unless the leader feels the fire it’s hard to pass it on to someone.
A: They (call center) make lots of calls a day and its mundane unless you can excite them about how lives can change with the story. Get them excited about the journey. Energize them.
Q: Went into room at call center, did you have it mapped out how you were going to talk to them?
A: No idea. Never met with a call center group before. But I knew I had to get them to tell their stories. No plan whatsoever. Most meetings that are any good…time wasted on powerpoint slides rather than engagement. The job of the leader is to raise the intellectual content of the conversation. Every day you get smarter. The problem is people hire dopes. Crazy thing!
Q: At certain points during that day you read in people’s eyes, “We’re on to something here”. We leaders make this connection, do you ride it?
A: When you see people buying in, you get more to buy in. The way it worked in that setting was to let them role model. What worked, what didn’t work. They want to share each other’s experiences. They didn’t know product, mission.
Q: How did you end day?
A: What did you get out of session? Asked them all and they could articulate the intellectual content they gained and could use.
Q: Authenticity and energy. You have a whole chapter about candor, speaking the truth, not mincing words. You speak more about candor.
A: Speed. Less bureaucracy, meetings, paperwork. Say what we believe and think.
Q: Nothing hotly debated as concept of differentiation. At GE, a ranking of staff as top 20%, vital 70%, then backend 10% that were lowest performers. Felt something needed to be done with 10%. Invoked culture of differentiating workers and identifying them and rewarding them accordingly. Some say heartless way to treat them differently.
A: Do you think sports teams differentiate? Teams with best players, who work as team best, win. Is winning good? Business is a game too. You are competing against other people for a share of pie. Can’t have differentiated organization unless you have candor. You need appraisal system that isn’t phony. Everyone is allegedly highly qualified and satisfied. They don’t learn anything from experience. If you get candor that encourages conversation, that lets you know where you stand. Any leader can’t go to work and have people working for them and not know where they stand. If people know where they stand… Any organization has it. How do you handle it? People spend more time trying to fix the bottom 10%. They can’t get better! Get them out of your company! Give them a soft landing. If they can’t flourish in your company they need to get out of there. It’s not a surpise to them if you have candor.
Q: Top 20, which you call A’s. Describe attitude and behavior of A’s in a company.
A: Filled with energy, energize people, likeable, good values, good people, and have something else. Have a gene that says I love to see people grow, I love to reward people, kick out of giving bonus and raises and seeing people promoted. They celebrate their people.
Q: They have generosity of spirit. Distinguishing characteristic.
A: And they hire great people around them and want to see them promoted. They don’t hide good people from promotions.
Q: Becomes attractive dynamic in work.
A: Don’t’ have a lot of envy. Celebrate success with people.
Q: B’s or vital 70%. These are very important people. What is a B?
A: Smart and valuable but not always there in the clutch. Hard working but not as gifted as others. We did 20-70-10, tough to be top of 70 and the resentment that can come with those. You run risk of losing those people, need to work with them to inspire and encourage them to make the leap. Big difference between top and bottom of 70. 3-4 times a year I say what I like and don’t like about their job. Get a red pen and write over the last appraisal.
Q: Bottom 10. What characterizes them?
A: Not a team player, Low low energy. Cynic. Pain in the “arm”. Nothing is worse than negative energy in an organization. The person who poo-poos ideas.
Q: Called disruptors and boss haters. They manifest this constantly.
A: Boss hater might say something that challenges you. Has guts to do it. Have to tolerate them a bit in your organization. Some brains there in boss haters. Different than wet blanket types. You can’t shut down the noise from someone who is going to be noisy. It’s candor. It’s the person who whispers behind the scenes. The cynic isn’t a loud mouth disruptor.
Q:The hallway whisperer is dangerous.
Q: Happens in a church. Won’t say publicly but whisper to coworkers in the hallway.
A: Make the meeting after the meeting an unacceptable event. Why not bring it up in the meeting? “I’m too nice to do that.” That’s a bunch of nonsense.
Q: Differentiation idea. Brought this into culture. Had frank and honest evaluations so no one was surprised where they were. You compensate differently where they are on scale.
A: If in top 20 you can’t give them enough. The irony is, “Who are you to tell me where I should be?” Maybe, but I can’t think of a better way to get a better team. I’m sure there are biases and unfairness in 20-70-10, on the other hand how do you get an organization to know where you stand? How do you acknowledge it? No winning teams ignore it.
Q: Could you build GE had you not been able to pay six figure salaries and bonuses to top people?
A: Hell of a lot harder…Let’s not kid ourselves. This is part of the system. Wall Street is more extreme. If you don’t, you’ll lose your best people.
Q: I’m left having to retain and inspire people without major compensation card like some of you…guys.
A: People don’t join Google, Microsoft, GE, IBM because of some burning belief since childhood. They join your place for spiritual sense of satisifaction, serving the Lord. It gives you an advantage in leading them. People who join your line of work, they come with a heart that is soft that wants to serve the Lord.
Q: But they want to put kids through college.
A: But they made a choice. Just as someone who made a choice who went to GE.
Q: You’d say you’d have to figure out a different way.
A: Sometimes nonprofit means nonperformance. You choose nonprofit you better deliver.
Q: Find different currency to motivate. What is your biggest failure?
A: I moved too slowly when I started at GE. You never move fast enough. Go. Act. Do it. We’re victims of it.
Q: We know decisions have great consequences. Jobs and dollars are on the line.
A: Let’s say you wait. Fallout happens anyway. It builds confidence for the next time when you do it. Constantly be giving more self-confidence to people.
Q: Many people think you had a great baton pass in succession. Pastors now wonder how to do this baton pass after doing great ministry run. How did you do it?
A: Eight years before I retired we had 22 candidates. Obvious choices (4), Possibles (15-16), Longshots were the rest. The final three candidates were the longshots. The Jay-Conan fiasco was made in advance five years when they arbitrarily decided. Look at all the changes that can happen. Fallibility of the whole thing. I don’t think you ever know how someone is going to behave at the next level. Hiring is hard, succession is brutal. If you do a rigorous process and have a lot of people in the pot. Don’t be surprised by the longshots. Don’t wait late on it.
Q: Celebrations. Leaders should do celebrations even for small things.
A: Ridiculous compensation tools. Hard for low level managers celebrating small victories, but it reenergizes the group.
Q: Would you advise to bill into the budget?
A: Yes. It’s slush.
Q: Health scare in last year. In the hospital 104 days.
A: Went for Cortizone shot so I can play golf for summer. Ended up with staph infection.
Q: During that time you started calling me Rev Bill and I called you Parishoner Jack. Remember getting email from you saying “toss one north for me”. I said, “Will do”. I wondered, “What does that mean?” Realized it was for prayer. Didn’t know that side of you. (JACK: I’m sure I don’t either.) Did hospital stay open you up to God?
A: Maybe, but I give this church (his home church where interview was) here credit. I like the pastor and team here.
Q: I sense an openness to next leg of journey.
A: Yes, who knows why I met the people at this church and like the pastor. I go to service by myself and I think I’m here all by myself.
Q: I think this final run of your life will be most impactful. Can’t wait to see it.
A: Thanks. You couldn’t be nicer.