Preserve the Core: Five Lessons & Six Questions

Jim Collins quote  truly great companies understand what should never change.Great Leadership Lessons, Note 05:
Jim Collins and St. Augustine have something in common. They both understand the crucial difference between what is core/essential and what is secondary and not-core.

Augustine said, "In essentials - unity. In non-essentials - diversity. In all things - charity."

Collins says, "Preserve the Core. Stimulate progress (in everything else).

This is the LINCHPIN idea in Built to Last. A linchpin is a "thing" that holds together all the other elements of a complex system.

I have identified about twenty main ideas in Built to Last. Colllins has twelve chapters where each chapter is a MAIN IDEA, but within each chapter, there are other key main ideas.

Collins will say that no one idea is sufficient. It is when all the ideas are held together that you have organizational greatness. Still, over and over, in every chapter, he reinforces this LINCHPIN Idea:

Preserve the Core
Stimulate Progress

I will focus mostly on the CORE in this post. Greatness only happens and remains when an organization clearly knows the CORE and does everything necessary to preserve that CORE.

It doesn't matter so much what your CORE is. What matters is that you have a clearly identified CORE and that you are rigorous and even ruthless about preserving that CORE.

The CORE always includes the essential purpose of your organization. Why does the organization exist? What is the heart of passion throbbing in the organization that is highly movtivational and inspirational for the team? The CORE also includes that small list of vital values that define the essence of the organization. The values, or culture, or DNA describe the most essential nature of the organization. This is who we are. We drive these stakes in the ground. We will not negotiate or compromise on being these things.

When PURPOSE and VITAL VALUES come together - that is the CORE. It must be preserved at all costs... and only changed if there are outstanding reasons to change. It is risky busines to change your CORE.

For an example of the LCI CORE, see this page about our Distinctives.
You can see more of our CORE by checking out Mission and Values.

The CORE must be communicated and taught over and over and over and over. The CORE must be integrated into everything else in the organization. Strategies, hiring decisions, markets (new and old), products & services, human resources, marketing and sales, team work - literally everything - must be done and assessed in light of how does it advance the CORE of the organization.

Rigor on this one issue alone will make for huge advancements in being a high quality organization. Of course, much more will be needed, but without the CORE that is clearly known, widely promoted and rigorously adhered to - greatness will not be possible.

This leads to a few questions.

1.  Right now, pull out a piece of paper and see how clearly you can write down the CORE of your organization or team or community. 

2.  How often do you talk about the core? Who did you talk to yesterday about the CORE... or today if you are reading this later in the day?

3.  How intentionally are you making decisions, planning the future, leading change, empowering others using the CORE as your guiding light?

4.  How many people in your organization would you feel completely comfortable sending them to fully represent to a "customer" your CORE? This person gets it, lives it, loves it, and leads out of it?

Tom Watson quote preserve core beliefs change everything else5.  If you have people who don't get, live, love and lead out of the CORE - why are they still with your organization?

6.  I suppose I should have asked this one earlier... I am assuming the answer, but perhaps I assume too much. How consistently and creatively are you living, loving and leading out of the CORE?

Tomorrow - Preserve the core AND Stimulate Everything Else.

Tom Watson, the outstanding CEO of IBM ((1914-1956) suggests this in the quote to the right.

Tomorrow is all about changing everything else that needs changed.  And there is a lot that needs changed!

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International