Jack Welch's book Winning (Welch, J., Welch, S. Winning: The Ultimate Business How-To Book. New York, NY: HarperCollins, last printed in 2009) is definitely one of the most inspiring books about business and success based on a really great success story. The 20-year period of J. Welch's leadership in the position of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of General Electric exhibited a bright example of excellent performance and living up to the high standards of integrity and fairness in business.

This book is, in fact, about how to get business right. Jack Welch clearly and in the most sincere and honest manner shows what you need to win, to make it happen. He offers no ready-made recipes or formulas leading to the victory. Instead, he gives you "guidelines to follow, rules to consider, assumptions to adopt, and mistakes to avoid" (p. 7). In other words, in his book, he outlines a road map to success. The book's targeted audience is by no way limited to corporations' top managers: the author first and foremost strives to help any people who have ambitions and passion for achieving goals. At the same time, it is also a great book for those who are skeptical about their ability to win and about the possibility to understand the art of winning from a handful of chapters. The author's message to those people is simple and clear: winning is possible. You may take it or leave it, of course. You may think of a thousand reasons why exactly you are bound to lose and close the book after flipping through the first few pages. If, however, you decide to go on reading, you will get an exciting experience of learning from the story of achievements and insights of a legendary leader, of acquiring the mindset of a winner. First of all, Jack Welch shows us the importance of such features as a positive attitude, the ability to act without "overbraining things," and not forgetting the taste of having fun.

The book is organized into four parts. The first one, called "Underneath It All," presents the author's perception of the philosophy of business. The second part, "Your Company," deals with the organization's inner driving forces. The next section, "Your Competition," depicts the ways of achieving competitive advantages in the tough real world surrounding your organization. The last big part of the book is "Your Career," and it is mainly about how to find the right job and how to do it right.

The first lesson that a reader can learn from the book is the significance of well-honed mission and values for the success of a firm. We all know many examples of too generic, too vague and too broadly defined missions, like "value quality," "serve customers" and so on. Jack Welch demystifies the often misunderstood notions of mission and values and shows what exactly one needs to do to make them the solid base for the organization/s success. A company needs a very specific, real and, ideally, measurable mission that answers the question: "How do we intend to win in this business?" (p.14). A good example of a well formulated mission was that of General Electric in 1981 - 1995 targeting the position of the world's most competitive enterprise, which should be No. 1 or at least No. 2 in any market where the company is present. As for the values, Jack Welch sees them as sets of behaviors needed to realize and reinforce the company's mission. A contradiction between the mission and factual values in an organization might destroy the whole business.

Business is done by people and, therefore, "people are everything when it comes to winning" (p, 6). Leadership is a key factor of success. According to the author, it begins when a person has grown oneself enough to be able to make others grow. Welch defines the rules of leadership as ways to success that always work. He lists eight rules of leadership that proved to work across the decades of his management experience. The first Welch's leadership rule is the devotion to constant upgrading of one's team. Every chance should be used to evaluate people, help them grow and get more self-confident. To win, you need to have the right people in the right jobs. When you get it, you need to be sure they do their work right. To achieve that, the HR function should be elevated to a powerful position within any organization. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Hiring and firing people are parts of any business. Welch presents his detailed, very practical and very sincere approach to these processes. People differentiation based on the rule 20-70-10 proved to be a very efficient way to create a great organization. Top 20 percent performers must be most generously rewarded. People should see that the stars are noticed and valued. At the same time, the middle 70 percent should be well engaged and motivated. Welch's way to ensure that is based on training, positive feedback and right goal-setting. As for the 10 percent poor performers, they should go and better sooner than later. In the end, most often it is good for them: they will get a chance to find an occupation that might do them happier and more successful.

A great team headed by a great leader can make mountains move. Changes are absolutely necessary for the success of any business. Welch lists a handful of efficient practices to be followed to make a necessary change. First of all, any changes for the sake of change should absolutely be avoided. No new practices should be introduced just because it is a new trend, fashion or general mood. All changes are to be linked to the goals and purposes that are very clearly set. Changes must be orderly arranged and well communicated throughout the company. It is extremely important to hire the right people, true change agents, when it comes to a major change. It is equally important to be able to get rid of active resisters, even if they are good performers. In order to see a good opportunity for a change, it is most useful to look closely at the events that happen around and sometimes may seem to have strictly negative meaning. "Look at car wrecks," as Jack Welch puts it (p. 143). Nobody wants disasters to come, however if they happen, sometimes it is a chance to win.

Of course, one cannot embrace all insights of this great book in a short review. Each reader will easily find in it his or her own favorite places and inspiring ideas.

Winning by Jack Welch is a book that must be read by anyone considering a management career. A future manager will find in it there both deep philosophy of business and abundance of detailed practical advice. To take but a few ways, in which it can impact people already in business or just thinking to start it:

  • Inspiring positive thinking,
  • Help in capturing best human resource management practices,
  • Developing the mindset of a winner,
  • Showing how to manage changes and crises
  • Giving understanding of ways to make business a real fun.

Related essays