084: Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less | with Bob Sutton

by Joe Sherwood on April 10, 2014

Scaling-Up-ExcellenceIf you’ve created a great little coffeeshop, how do you expand and put your coffeeshops in cities around the world without watering down what makes your coffeeshop great? That’s a question that Starbucks certainly struggled to answer.

Or, if you have a key practice or mindset — for example, lean manufacturing — how do you spread it throughout your organization?

It’s a question of scaling up … taking a pocket of excellence and expanding it. But it’s really hard. There are countless example of organizations who try to scale up but end up just spreading mediocrity — or worse, their efforts to expand actually ruin the organization.

Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao, researchers and professors from Stanford University, spent seven years studying this question. And now they’re sharing their findings in their new book Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less.

In this episode, Jesse interviews Bob Sutton, whose previous six management books include New York Times bestsellers The No A**hole Rule and Good Boss, Bad Boss.

Jesse and Bob discuss several take-aways from Scaling Up Excellence:

  • It’s a ground war, not just an air war: bombarding people with a training session or quick communication campaign doesn’t work; it requires pressing each person, division, and group to make one small change after another in what they believe, feel, or do.
  • Starting with a full working prototype (rather than theory) that your people can see
  • Connect-and-cascade process: going beyond the usual “cascading through the management ranks” by using social bonds to spread the right mindset
  • Guardrail strategy: specifying as few constraints as you possibly can—picking those precious few that matter most and pack the biggest wallop, and then leaving people to steer between and around them as they see fit.
  • Striking the right balance between Catholicism (replication) and Buddhism (customization) for your organization and goals
  • Once is not enough, and One is not enough: the best leaders find themselves saying things over and over, in a variety of ways and through a variety of methods
  • Team size: creating a team that’s too large is the biggest mistake leaders make

Case study: Kaiser Permanente shifting mindset from hospital-as-hub to home-as-hub model of health care

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