Good to Great

How To Make The BIG LEAP From Good To Great

Do you work for a great company?

If so, what makes it great? If no, what prevents it from being so?

Do its other stakeholders feel the same as you (employees, customers, suppliers)?

As an independent contractor, I get to choose the organizations I work for.

The truth is, I’ve worked for many organizations – some great, some not.

As OD Change Practitioner, I provide coaching, facilitation or consultation depending on the development need of the organization that hires me (OD = Organizational Development).

The needs, issues and objectives of every client are always different.  However, one thing is always the same: The desire to improve something (e.g. leadership).  In essence, every ambitious individual, team and organization wants to “be great”.

If the company were as good as it could be or thought it could be, it wouldn’t reach out.

The most important thing to communicate at the start of a working relationship is my primary objective:  To help raise their awareness about where they are, how they got there, and how they wish to move forward.

Through increased awareness, I believe people can make better decisions and take deliberate action.  What happens after that is up to them, not me.

With gained experience, I’ve also learned to see organizations at different levels of development or “greatness”.

Furthermore, even if I could apply this label (only they can!) that’s not my job.

But if I could choose my ideal company, here’s what it WOULD DO:

  • Treat its employees well (fair pay, good benefits, etc.)
  • Provide superior quality products and/or services
  • Invest in its employees/community/planet, i.e. “give back”

More importantly, here’s what it WOULD NOT DO:

  • Treat employees unfairly (low pay, no benefits, etc.)
  • Exploit its market position (e.g. squeeze suppliers for lowest prices)
  • Provide subpar quality products and/or services

Bottom line – I want to work for organizations that strive to create the greatest value over the longest term for all stakeholders, including, but not only, the shareholders.



I’m not naïve. I realize this company may not yet exist.

However, I do recognize that some organizations try harder than others.

Reacting to the news that media giant Amazon had just acquired Whole Foods, Douglas Rushkoff highlights what can happen when a company sees an existing market as a means to another end:

“Amazon treated the book industry the same way companies like Walmart once treated the territories into which they expanded: Use a war chest of capital to undercut prices, put competitors out of business, become the sole employer in the community, turn employees into part-time shift workers, lobby for deregulation, and effectively extract all the value from a given region before closing up shop and moving to the next one.”

I don’t know about you, but Rushkoff has made me re-think my heretofore “one-click shopping”.

Reading “It’s Time to Break Up Amazon”, I became acutely aware of my positive feelings for companies that are trying to do the right thing, and my disdain for the ones exploiting resources (people, planet, etc.)

In this article, I’d like to trigger your thoughts like Rushkoff triggered mine.


Around the same time, I came across an article that made a strong business case for doing the right thing.

In “Truly Great Companies Add More Than They Extract”, Tony Schwarz argues that:

“…a company’s greatness is grounded in doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people, and the least harm.  It is neither first nor foremost about maximizing short-term return for shareholders.  Rather, it is about investing in and valuing all stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, the community and the planet to generate the greatest value over the longest term for all parties, including the shareholders”.

Sound familiar?

So again, the question: What makes your company great and why/why not?

BTW, what does your criteria look like?

To trigger your thoughts, let’s look at some best-selling research about what makes an attractive workplace in the early 21st century…

Here are six key organizational attributes as compiled by leadership sages Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones in Why Should Anyone Work Here?: What It Takes to Create an Authentic Organization:

  1. Let people be themselves.
  2. Practice radical honesty.
  3. Magnify people’s strengths.
  4. Stand for authenticity (more than shareholder value).
  5. Make work meaningful.
  6. Make simple rules.

Some of these may resonate with you, others not.

However,  I think we can all agree that if you’re a leader and want your company to survive and thrive in the 21st century, you’ve got to attract the right people, keep them, and inspire them to do their best work: “New Challenge in a New Landscape“.



Mr. Schwarz doesn’t stop with the workplace or its people:

“Greatness also requires a company to treat its customers with the same care and respect, in part through an unwavering commitment to excellence in the products it produces, and fairness in the prices it charges for them.  A great company must also take seriously its continuing responsibility to the communities in which it operates, and to the planet, on whose resources it depends.  Above all else, great companies must add more value to the world than they extract.”

And if altruism isn’t a strong enough argument for you, consider his observation that there are a few Fortune 500 companies out there doing the right thing and outperforming their peers.

In fact, a comparison of several organizations featured in the business best sellers Good to Great and Firms of Endearment prove his point:

“Over a 15-year period, the Firms of Endearment companies outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index by 10.5 to 1. They returned a cumulative 21 percent, while the Good to Great companies earned an annualized return of just 7 percent during the same period, barely outpacing the broader market.”

Incidentally, both Amazon and Whole Foods are one the “Endearment” list.  Perhaps we needn’t worry too much about the merger?

Whereas Good to Great features “fiscally successful” companies like Phliip Morris and Wells Fargo, Firms of Endearment features ones that pay and treat employees well, provide high value to customers and other stakeholders, invest in their local communities and minimize their environmental impact –  no scandals in sight!

“When a company truly seeks to take care of all its constituencies, it serves not just the collective good, but also its own long-term best interest.” – his conclusion.

A New Value Proposition, indeed.


As an OD Practitioner, I’m often brought in to help make an organization’s individuals, teams or business units better.

Here’s the thing – if you’re a permanent member of the organization I’m working with, you’re in a much better position to influence this outcome than me.

Yes, we’re both stakeholders in your company. But, I guarantee that your vote counts more than mine.

And if I ruffle the wrong feathers, I’m gone. You’ll probably get off with a warning – in some counties, less.

Ironically, it’s my job to challenge others and feed back my honest observations – even when critical.  Understandably, not always received with open arms.

I’m OK with this. I recognize that people and organizations are not always in a place to receive my observations.  I also recognize that my observations can be biased and may not always be accurate.

However, I believe I can best serve others by openly sharing my thoughts, feelings, questions, suggestions, etc.

Would you like to play a larger role in making your organization great? Or even greater?

Be an OD Practitioner, i.e. a force for positive development and lasting change.

No, you don’t need to quit your job!

Leadership and OD Professor Gervase R. Bushe extends this label to anyone at any level “who is passionate about creating great organizations that are good for people, good for performance and good for the planet.”

Does this include you?

In “Wither Organization Development?” Mr. Bushe lays out three defining qualities of OD Practitioners (paraphrased): An OD practitioner works to create great organizations in their everyday professional life.

Granted, all of our everyday professional lives look very different.  The good news according to Bushe is that:

“OD can be practiced from just about any role in an organization. We can be in an authoritative role, a consultative role, and/or a team member role and apply a mindset and processes that are congruent with, and move the system in the direction of, a great organization.”

What constitutes a great organization for you is what this article aims to help you answer.

  1. An OD practitioner promotes engagement and inquiry both as characteristics of great organizations, and as required for an OD change process.

When approaching change, he argues that the best way to change depends on what you are trying to change and who has to do the changing.

“OD practitioners are not interested in change for change sake. OD practitioners are interested in using the “presenting problem” to increase organizational greatness…If you are any good you’ve realized that your change processes have to be congruent with your goals because means create ends, so your methods utilize engagement and inquiry.”

I’m fairly sure you do this with your direct reports already – if you didn’t, you’d be up to your neck in poor performance issues. 

To learn how to utilize these two must-have motivators even better, check out:

“How To Ask Powerful Questions For Better Results”

  1. An OD practitioner is interested in “development” as the process by which individuals, groups and organizations become great, and values theories of development that not only tell us what the journey looks like, but describes the destination as well.

Using teams as an example, Bushe stresses the need to distinguish between “development” and “effectiveness”:

“Allowing a team to go through a period of disorganization and ineffectiveness makes sense from a developmental frame because we see it as a necessary step in a team’s movement past its dependency on authority to being able to manage itself. With only an effectiveness framework, it makes little sense to let a group flounder when the leader could step in and get it working.”

He points out that this focus on development is what differentiates OD Practitioners from others interested in creating a great organization.  However, I would argue that the focus should depend on the specific situation and person/s involved.

Perhaps an individual or team needs to be more effective in order have some success…leading to the confidence to develop into “greatness”?

You see where I’m going with this.


In conclusion, I’d like to paint a picture of my ideal company –

Its dedication to quality is second to none; its service is equally as good. It pays its employees well and provides development opportunities for those who request it. It also treats its wider stakeholders fairly, giving back from time to time (suppliers/customers/community/planet).  

Above all, it puts stakeholder value above shareholder value.

What does your picture look like?

  • there was much in your post, Tim, that I would struggle to disagree with. What I was left wondering, given that agreement and that we both seem to value e.g. fairness, justice, paying attention to the health of the organisational system and other systems and stakeholders that interact with it, is how that contrasts with the values and leadership that seems to be finding such common currency in society more broadly?…

    What is deemded ‘fair’ and ‘not fair, by whose standards and to what end can look like two very different things from opposig ends of the telescope (if that is not too much of a contorted metaphor).

    Picking up your idae of the picture of an ideal company, I struggle with that. Partly because my ideal may not be yours and vice versa, so I am left with a clumsy hope for a company that can hold difference and mess and still deliver. T

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Steve! Indeed, a thought-provoking question about fairness, justice, etc. BTW, yours is not a “clumsy” hope in my book!

  • There certainly is a lot to be said for an enterprise that can truly involve all its stakeholders in a shared sense of positivity (as opposed to the multitudes that attempt to falsely create this perception through clever martketing). It’s an elusive goal but one that all companies, large and small, should strive for.

    Great article Tim.

    • Thanks, Greg. BTW, what enterprise (in your eyes) “walks the talk”, i.e. goes beyond marketing their values, ethics, etc.?

  • Tim

    Really loved the article, some excellent points and interesting observation. I concur with much of what you say, and clearly what you feel. Your comparison of the ‘firms of endearment’ to ‘good to great’ is the highlight of the article for me. I’m working on an OD project at a firm who’s direction was heavily influenced by ‘good to great’, they are paying a dear price for it. Staff are disengaged and feel undervalued, while competitors who have taken a different course are thriving at their expense.

    Excellent work.



    • Hi Steve, thanks for your comment! Out of curiosity, how are they “paying the price for it”? Would love to hear your thoughts on what they did/didn’t do and the consequences on the current state?