Management and business go hand in hand. To succeed in the modern era of economic challenges and competition, managers must also be leaders, and constantly seek to better themselves and others around them. To improve, they need to borrow not only from their own experience and knowledge but also from the knowledge of others. Jack Welch, the author of the book called “Winning,” is one such manager. He has a lifetime of experience, having worked in General Electric (GE) for more than 40 years. His book earned praise from many famous and authoritative publishers, such as Fortune and Businessweek. Warren Buffet, a famous investor, even stated that no other book on management would ever be needed. This paper will test that claim by identifying and offering a critical analysis of the main arguments and ideas proposed by the author.
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The key idea that justifies the creation of this book, according to Welch, is winning. He describes winning and success as a key driving factor behind a healthy economy, as successful companies create new jobs, pay taxes to the government, donate to charity, and improve the locality around them. Losing companies, on the other hand, are sources of stress. People are afraid to lose their jobs, incomes are low, the quality of service plummets, and everything goes down the drain. However, the concept of winning in business is very complex and multi-faceted, so there is not just one key argument to this book – Welch offers a lot of arguments and thoughts backed up by his own experience, to make a point. The author does not offer a succinct formula to success. Rather, the book is a set of guidelines, rules, assumptions, common mistakes, good signs, and warning signals.
In his book, Welch covers everything that involves the management process. Although the book is aimed at managers and business people, some of the lessons are universal. The book is comprised Out of 5 sections, each dedicated to a particular area in management. These sections are:
– Underneath it, All – this section deals with management concepts and theory.
– Your Company – describes the main mechanisms of HR management, Change management, and Crisis management.
– Your Competition – is dedicated to marketing strategy, budgeting, and growth
– Your Career – addresses the issues of personal satisfaction, career growth, and work-life balance
– Tying up Loose Ends – a section for questions that did not fit either category.
The author’s main arguments and ideas are evenly spread around these sections. To see how they support the book’s idea of succeeding in a business environment, it is required to single out the main takeaways from the rest of the text. Welch begins with a statement of company mission and values. He emphasizes this to be of paramount importance, as it is the plan of winning at a particular business. The company’s mission and values have the power to motivate employees. A lackluster statement will leave the employees confused or turn them cynical.
Next, Welch addresses the values of directness and candor in a business environment. He claims that candor makes things in a company run smoother, as people do not hide information under false smiles and pretenses. The author acknowledges that candor can unnerve people and that demanding, to tell the truth, all the time is against human nature, but he claims that the pros outweigh the cons.
In his book, Welch establishes himself as a firm proponent of differentiation in business, where great performance is rewarded, and bad workers are eventually fired. Although it can seem cruel from a certain perspective, the author defends his position that it is better both for business and for the employees themselves, as nobody wants to work in a place they do not like.
The author acknowledges the importance of innovation within a company. To have every member and employee contribute to the think-tank of the company, he proposes an interesting practice, called a “Work-out.” The employees are split into groups with a facilitator in each and are tasked with coming up with solutions and recommendations for the company. According to Welch, this leads to a creative boom within the company.
From here, Welch moves on to leadership. He states 8 simple leadership goals which the managers are ought to strive to be successful. These rules are innovation, inspiration, energy and optimism, directness and transparency, risk-taking, making unpopular decisions when it is needed, pushing forward, and celebrating. The author argues that celebrating successes is an important part of corporate culture, as it builds team spirit and fosters connections between employees and superiors.
The author stresses out the importance of human resources. After all, the employees are what makes a company great. Welch outlines three paramount qualities in a potential employee: integrity, maturity, and intelligence. After that, come passion, energy, and the ability to make hard decisions. The most important qualities for managers and leaders are authenticity, vision, and heavy-duty resilience. Welch emphasizes the ability to recover from failure above all else.
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Continuing the topic of human resources, Welch addresses the problem of leadership within a company. He lays out the staples of a successful HR strategy, which includes giving the HR department a wide birth, motivating employees through recognition, training, and payments, and reducing the number of layers in an organization. The author argues that the HR policy should be focused on the 70 percent – the average employees, to make them shine. On firing and layoffs, Welch states that the process must be as swift as possible. He stresses the importance of avoiding humiliation, as it would hurt the company in the long run and tarnish its reputation. The author suggests being helpful and supportive of their former employees, and offer assistance in finding a new workplace. In accordance with the previous idea of directness, the employee must be informed of why they are being fired, so it does not strike them as a surprise.
Change is an important part of any organizational process. Every company has to constantly evolve and adapt to the shifting tendencies and adopt new strategies to succeed in the competitive market. Welch’s strategy towards change is ruthless – explain to everyone why change is necessary, promote those who adopt change and remove those who do not. On investment, he suggests using the opportunity that recession brings by buying real estate and undervalued companies. His argument promotes strong and willful decision-making.
The argument Welch offers for dealing with the crisis is not really an argument and more of a list of an assumption that the manager has to take to survive through it. The manager must assume that the situation will be even worse than it actually is right now, and be ready to make hard decisions and radical changes to survive. The ability to make hard and gutsy decisions runs like a red line throughout the entire book.
When it comes to strategy and goal achievement, Welch simplifies the matter to several core arguments. He states that to achieve a goal, one must ponder less and do more. The thought process is involved only when the company is deciding on a goal – the rest is about building a team to achieve it. The author argues that too much time spent on pondering is not worth it when that time can be spent to make dreams come true.
The last part of the book deals not so much with management and business, but with personal satisfaction and enjoyment of work. Welch’s suggestions and ideas he tries to promote do not differ much from the standard advice given by many business gurus and coaches – find the job you love, be prepared to work overtime and put the company ahead of yourself if you want to be promoted, do not ignore company values, and deal with your boss personally, one-on-one, to get constructive feedback and improve relations. If the boss is not responsive to honesty and directness – maybe it is time to look for another job. Welch emphasizes personal happiness as a core factor in the motivation of both managers and employees – people that do not enjoy their work are not productive at it.
As it is possible to see, the book offers the reader a myriad of arguments and theses that they can either accept or reject. The book is written in a lively language, and most of the points offered by Welch are well-illustrated and backed up by facts and evidence. However, like any other book, this one is not perfect, and thus subjective to criticism. I will not be questioning Welch’s vast amounts of experience on the matter. Instead, I will question his entire management model.
The model Welch described tries to portray itself as tough but fair. It prioritizes certain personal qualities over others. In GE, these qualities are drive, ambition, tenacity, grit, and the will to succeed. As he stated in his passage about change, those who accept change are rewarded, those who are not being driven out. GE does not hire the brightest because they do not fit this bulldozer style of leadership.
This style was appropriate in the 1970-1990s, where the American economy was dominated by manufacturers, and when growth was stable and consistent. That time did not need much innovation, which could be replaced with enough hustle, drive, and tenacity. Right now, the USA is in its post-industrial period, which focuses on innovation and financial services. Even GE, under the leadership of Jeff Immelt, is currently focusing on wind energy and healthcare technology, which require significant intelligence resources.
A paradigm shift has happened, and the rigid management style proposed by Welch is no longer applicable to the realities of modern business. Nowadays, it is all about the use of nimble and responsive units within the organization, adoption and promotion of innovation, and adaptation to the ever-changing marketing dynamics. I do not claim the entire book to be wrong – Welch managed to underline the core basics behind management strategies, and nobody disputes that. The information provided by this book can be used as an inside view of the management systems popular around 20 years ago. Some of its arguments and ideas can still be applied in modern management.