Taking your Drawing Office from good to great

When my good friend George found out about my new job, he recommended a few pertinent books to read.

My good friend George is unusual, in that – as well as being a time served wood worker, he also holds a degree in accountancy. In short, when George gives me some advice I listen.

Reading: ‘Good to great’ by Jim Collins

‘Good to Great’:  Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t

Is a culmination of five years of research by a 21 strong team the University of Colorado at led by Jim Collins. In ‘Good to Great’, Jim and his team set out to answer why some good companies bump along in comfortable, but mediocre, complacency, while some good companies suddenly undergo a sustained meteoric rise to greatness.

Jim’s team examined one and a half thousand American publicly owned companies who had had a sudden rise in their stock values, far above the normal rise in share prices, who had been able to sustain this continued trend for more than 15 years.

For comparison, Jim’s team also sought to find companies of sizes in similar industries who had had some success, but who hadn’t been able to sustain it.

Finally, Jim’s team found a third group of companies of similar sizes in similar industries who where successful, but who hadn’t grown at a rate ahead of the general stock market.

What followed was a painstaking analysis of internal strategy documents, analyst reports, articles and Interviews. Jim’s team studied financial metrics, executive compensation and management turnover along with company restructuring and the effects of acquisitions and mergers.

From Good to Great concept diagram

The final result was displayed in the book ‘Good to Great’ as a framework of concepts broken down into three key stages. In this post we will examine each stage and see how it could be applied in the drawing office.

Stage one: Disciplined people

Jim’s team found that trying to instil discipline into an undisciplined company is fighting a loosing battle. Really great companies go out of their way find staff who are naturally disciplined and proactive.

‘Level 5’ Executive Leadership

Leaders of great companies aren’t often high profile leaders with big personalities. Leaders of great companies are often self effacing or even shy. However they have two traits in common; they have a strong professional will and they have the humility to put the company ahead of their personal goals.

The comparison companies had  Ego driven leaders who hired highly capable ‘Helpers’ to make their vision happen. This model quickly fails when the Genius departs. Great leaders set their successors up early and empower them for even greater success in the next generation of the business.

Level five Vs Level four Leadership

Great leaders attribute success to where it is deserved, but take personal responsibility for failure. Great leaders are ambitious, but they are ambitious for the company – not for themselves.

What kind of CAD manager are you?

Does your department fall apart without you?

Do you give credit where credit is due, and accept the blame when your department is struggling?


First who – then what

Great companies don’t create a position and then look for someone to fill it. Great companies hire great staff whenever they find them, and work out what to do with them later. Great companies make sure that the people they have hold positions in the company where they can be most effective, and they are prepared to get rid of the baggage.

We expected that great leaders would begin by setting a new vision and strategy. We found instead that they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats – and then they figured out where to drive it.

The old adage ‘people are our most important asset’ isn’t quite true – the right people are. Whether someone is the ‘right person’ has more to do with their character traits and innate abilities, than their training or skills.

Interestingly, Jim and his team did not find that Executives at the Great companies had significantly higher compensation that their competitors. The purpose of compensation is not to ‘Motivate’ the right behaviours from your people, but to get the right people in the first place.

Jim’s team discovered three practical disciplines for rigorous people decisions.

  • When in doubt – don’t hire. Keep looking. A company should limit it’s growth based on it’s ability to attract enough of the right kind of people.
  • When you know you need to make a people change – act. This could mean moving someone to the right position within the company, rather than letting them go.
  • Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems.


Are you able to hire and fire your drafters at will? Are you involved in the process?

Is your company paying rates that allow you to attract and keep your best Drafters?

Are you aware of who is available in the market, or who might be becoming available?

Are you prepared to explain to management that it might be better to pay off a disruptive member of your department, rather than to keep them on?


Stage two: Disciplined thought

When you start with with an honest and diligent effort to determine the truth of the situation, the right decisions often become self evident.

Confront the brutal facts (yet never loose faith)

Great companies have unwavering faith that they will prevail in the end, whilst at the same time having the discipline to confront the brutal facts about their situation.

A primary task in going from good to great is creating a company culture where the truth can be heard, and problems dealt with. Creating a climate where the truth can be heard involves four basic practices:

  1. lead with questions – not answers.
  2. Engage in dialogue and debate – not coercion.
  3. Conduct autopsies – without blame.
  4. Build mechanisms where risks cannot be ignored.
Charisma can be as much a liability as an asset, if it deters people from telling you the truth. Spending time and energy trying to motivate people is a waste of effort. If you have the right people, they won’t need motivating. You just have to be careful not to de-motivate them by ignoring their concerns.
People who build great companies are motivated by a deep urge for sheer unadulterated excellence for it’s on sake.
Are you prepared to confront the brutal facts of your situation – your successes and failures?
Are you prepared to listen to your Drafters when they bring you unwelcome news?
Are you prepared to find out what went wrong, and fix it, without proportioning blame?

The Hedgehog concept

This is a silly name, but it sticks in your mind – so as a meme it works! Hedgehogs only have one trick, but they do it well. Hedgehogs reduce all challenges to a simple organizing idea or concept. Anything that does not relate the this guiding principle holds no relevance.

Great companies are the best in their industry, or they pick a different industry. The question isn’t what do we do – but what can we do better than anyone else? Or to put it another way, if we can’t be the best at it – maybe we shouldn’t be doing it at all.

It isn’t a question of what you want to be the best at. Instead it is an honest appraisal of what you can be the best at.

It’s often about passion. You can’t motivate those around you to become passionate, you can only find the things that they are passionate about and drive those things forward.

It’s also very important to decide what you are not going to do. If it doesn’t fit within the companies Hedgehog concept- don’t do it. Period.

The final element of the Hedgehog concept is to identify the one key economic denominator that will drive your companies profit and establish the key metrics that you will use to measure the financial success of your company.

Do you understand the strengths, weaknesses and passions of your team?

Do you understand what your company needs from your team?

Can you deliver? – Can you exceed expectations?

Are you spreading your time, or the time of your team, too thinly on tasks that don’t support your companies needs?

What key Metrics will you use to demonstrate your teams success?


Stage three: Disciplined action

The purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline – a problem that largely goes away if you have the right people in the first place.


Culture of discipline

All companies have a ‘Culture’. Many companies have discipline. but few companies have a culture of discipline. When you have disciplined people, you don’t need hierarchy. When you have disciplined thought, you don’t need bureaucracy. When you have disciplined action, you don’t need controls.

Disciplined action without self disciplined people is impossible to sustain. Great companies hire self disciplined employees and give them freedom to achieve the companies goals as they wish, within a framework that holds them accountable for their decisions. They hire people who don’t need to be managed, and then manage the system – not the people.

Do you find yourself micro-managing your Drafters?

Do you spend hours on CAD standards, training and check lists that seem to be ineffective?

Do you have a system of identifying and measuring success that doesn’t impact on your Drafters productivity?

Do you need to start a ‘Stop doing it’ list!


Technology accelerators

Great companies think differently about technology. They almost never use technology as there primary means of transformation. Paradoxically, they are often pioneers in the application of carefully selected technology.

Technology by itself won’t make you great. Defining your goals and then optimizing and automating your process with technology will.

When used right, technology becomes an accelerator of momentum, not a creator of it. You cannot make good use of technology until you know which technologies are relevant. The relevant technologies are only those that will advance the companies Hedgehog concept.

Does the technology available suit the Hedgehog concept? If yes, then you need to become a pioneer in the application of that technology. If no, then ask if you even need this technology at all? If the answer is yes, then all you need is parity. If the answer is no then the technology is irrelevant, and safe to ignore.

Are you tech’ junkie? Do you find yourself dreaming of ways to justify buying an iPad for work?

Do you immediately install every new version of your CAD software as soon as it is available?

Do you immediately install every product title in your suite of software, and then look for reasons to use it?


The Flywheel

Great companies never became great overnight. Companies who launch revolutions, dramatic changes and wrenching restructuring are often doomed to failure (They just don’t know it yet!).

There is no single defining action, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Instead, the process is akin to relentlessly pushing a heavy  flywheel, turn upon turn , building momentum until a breakthrough is reached and then beyond.

 Great companies had no name for their transformations, no tag line and no launch event. Some executives said that they weren’t even aware that a transformation was under way. It was more obvious after the fact than at the time.

Success in the drawing office isn’t something that you can create over night. It is something that you need to work at everyday.

Don’t be alarmed if success isn’t obvious straight away. You will succeed eventually. Keep your hedgehog concept in the front of your mind, and monitor those KPI’s! 


The Book Review

From good to great by Jim collinsDespite having been written in 2001 (before the Dot.com boom and he banking crisis) ‘Good to great’ is so well researched that it’s findings still read as being relevant and useful in today’s business world.

The book itself is easy (Almost enjoyable!) to read, without being patronizing. It’s obsession with Hedgehogs is a bit odd – but apart from that I can highly recommend it.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t is available on Amazon.com

Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t and Amazon.co.uk


Please note that these are affiliate links. If you click this link and subsequently decide to buy ‘From good to great’, I will earn a small commission. If you are just curious – click here for a non-affiliate link.


2 Responses to “Taking your Drawing Office from good to great

  • WOW Paul, This is a GREAT share. I’ve been hearing things along this line and been trying to wrap my head around the concept. Couldn’t quite get it all in place. Your breakdown simplifies it. I’ll buy the book.

    • Great stuff Tony! I must say – it’s helped me with my frame of reference.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post :D