The Greatness Maintenance Manual

The Greatness Maintenance Manual


Built to Last”, 10th by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras, 1994 

Published Random House Business Books, 2005


“Built to Last” can be considered the natural extension of Jim Collin’s “Good to Great” (which forms the subject matter of a previous blogpost on this site. “Good to Great” talks about how you take a company from average to outstanding performance. “Built to Last” talks about how to ensure that the outstanding company keeps on track. Despite the fact that “Built to Last” was published before “Good to Great”, I recommend reading “Good to Great” first before moving on to “Built to Last”.

Our company has achieved its breakthrough, things are going swimmingly. How to ensure that we can remain in the Greatness territory for years and years to come even with the seemingly ever-increasing speed of changes we face? Collins and Porras offer some sound principles based on years of research into companies that have stood the test of time over many decades and have remained overall successful.

Legacy in mind

Staking all on one very big idea or on a specific individual holding the leadership reins would seem to be a recipe for the company’s coming exit from the Greatness league. Ideas have a limited moment and are all too soon overtaken by new trends and ideas. The pace of development does not stop in honour of anybody’s great idea. Further, Leaders are people and though they may hold long tenures at a company, one day the leader will be gone. Combined, this could leave us without a current business concept and without adequate leadership. Not a nice place to end up.

To remain on top, focus needs to be on building sound company structures. These structures allow you to continually generate input for the best ways your company can provide value according to your defined company purpose. Part of this setup also concerns ensuring that we have an appropriate leadership pipeline in our company. In this way we ensure access to candidates who subscribe to company purpose and values and will continue the company on its route of greatness. The leader’s view does not stop at his own tenure; he looks to his predecessors while ensuring that his successors will carry on the torch.

Innovation and Conservation

We need to be clear about the company’s core ideology; what are we really here for (purpose other than money) and what do we really believe (values). That core ideology is what all our structures and our activities must be in alignment with. Anything that is misaligned must be corrected or removed. Misalignments will be noticed and will cause decrease in employee motivation internally and loss of confidence in the company externally.

The important thing is that our core ideology stays put, but the ways in which it manifests itself in activities, products, services, processes, etc. change as our situation changes. Innovation comes in the creation of these manifestations.

Collins and Porras talk about Great companies having cult-like characteristics. The cult is around the core ideology, not any individual leader/founder. To be able to thrive in such a company we need to believe and live the core ideology with absolute commitment. Anything less, and we may not feel very comfortable or even feel unwelcome. The cult-like feel aids in ensuring that the core ideology is what is being practiced and that the right people are on the bus. However, it will be interesting to see how this particular characteristic plays with the ongoing shift to free agency and temp work. Will Great companies still be able to attract the best people while keeping up the requirement of total ideological conversion?

Drive and Goals

What is our company’s big hairy goal (BHAG amongst friends)? Is well enough never left alone in our company? Which experiments have we planned in order to move us towards our BHAG? Probably the biggest danger in becoming a Great company lies in falling victim to our own success. Growing complacent, taking a good long nap on our laurels, maybe even developing a good dose of hybris that we have arrived.

Working with BHAGs ensures that we maintain momentum, that we are always chasing our next big achievement. The current situation is never our destination, there is always room to do better than before, better than our competitors. Always remember, though, to have the next BHAG ready in the wings, so as not to fall into  the complacency trap once we reach the current BHAG.

BHAGs can be great way to create enthusiasm and motivation amongst employees. It gives them something to unite behind and fight for. BHAGs can be used to engage everyone in the company to come up with ideas for how to reach the BHAG. These ideas can be implemented as small-scale experiments. Those experiments that work can be implemented full scale and those that fail can be scrapped immediately without great cost. Each round of experimentation incrementally moves the  company towards reaching the BHAG.


Remaining great builds on principles which are quite similar to what our company needs to do to break through to greatness in the first place: The right people and leaders with the right mind set, a defined core ideology (core purpose and core values), consistency to core ideology and a relentless drive to change, improve and reach new heights. The key is sticking with these long-term disciplines despite all the external pressures to react to short-term expectations.

Feel inspired? Have ideas? Need to launch initiatives? Get in touch with NT Management Consulting today. Please use the contact form on our homepage.