Like most, if not all, professional fields, business management requires learning from the best in order to excel. When personal apprenticeship in practice is not feasible, the next best option to learn from successful managers in order to implement these lessons in the future is through the books they wrote for this purpose. Being a man who had served as a CEO of General Electric for 20 years from 1981 to 2001, Jack Welch certainly qualifies as a successful business executive worthy of emulation. His book Winning concerns numerous aspects of doing business successfully, efficiently, and with a consistent focus on one’s goals. The author offers his vision of doing business in as simple and straightforward terms as possible. By utilizing this approach, he aims to make business practices readily assessable for the audience and debunk its image of the sacred knowledge only accessible for the few and burdened by unnecessary complexity and theorization. Welch argues that management is about winning, and his elaboration supports major learning outcomes concerning mission, vision, strategy, and the role of the Human Resources department and makes a powerful impact on a future manager.
As suggested by the title, the central thesis of Welch’s book and the cornerstone it rests upon is the idea that, at the end of the day, business is always about winning. The author himself formulates the main question that permeated his many Q & A sessions as “what it takes to win?” Although one might think that such a notion requires little if any advocacy, Welch elaborates on this idea of winning in some detail to avoid any possible misconceptions. First and foremost, he points out that he is not talking about winning at any cost and stresses that any business enterprise should strive for success while playing by the rules. Secondly, he explains that he cares so much about winning because it is not merely good but great –Welch insists on the latter term specifically – as it provides opportunities, ensures positive developments, and promotes optimism. Thus, at its core, Welch’s book revolves around the idea that business is all about winning, and management is mainly about getting the essential technicalities of winning right.
While the book covers too many topics to cover in a short review, some of its points serve as central pillars of the argument related to major learning outcomes, such as understanding mission and values. Welch posits that many people tend to make these concepts too abstract while they are meant to be real, tangible, and specific. He actively denounces broad and vague mission and value statements – for example, stating that the company is customer-driven or that its values include integrity, quality of service, and respect. According to him, mission and values statements should be as specific and concrete as possible and avoid broad generalizations and agreeable truisms that sound good yet do little to foster success. From Welch’s perspective, the mission statement should answer the question of how the company intends to win in its business – in other words, it should provide a clear direction for its effort. When it comes to values, the author interprets them as specific action patterns meant to facilitate the vision – he even argues for substituting “values” with “behaviors.” Thus, the book teaches to be specific when formulating wither mission of values.
Another of the pillars of Welch’s arguments directly related to essential learning outcomes for a manager is his outlook of business strategy. True to his intent to deliver management advice in a straightforward manner relieved of extensive theorization and vague language, he sets to describe the role of strategy in simple terms. According to him, business strategy is not about choosing the correct theoretical approach and should not be treated as a high-brain scientific methodology only assessable for the most refined minds. Instead, Welch opines that strategy is a dynamic and ever-changing game – and with fairly simple rules to boot. In Welch’s words, strategy is all about choosing the direction and implementing vigorously. It should consist of identifying the factor that can give the company a competitive advantage, putting the right people in the right places to facilitate this advantage, and then consistently improve the practices related to it. In other words, the strategy should define what the company is all about – and then management has to implicate its strategy relentlessly and consistently. In this respect, Welch’s book is definitely useful for the understanding of strategy as a learning outcome.
The third major learning outcome in management that the book touches upon is understanding the role, function, and place of the Human Resources (HR) department. As in other matters, Welch’s stand on the role of HR manager in an organization is simple, straightforward, and unapologetic. He insists that, despite the prevalence of the opposite approach, the head of HR is at least as important as a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and should be treated as such. Welch even goes as far as saying that the HR director should be the second most important person in any company rights after the CEO him- or herself. He further explains his point by noting that it is people who actually make things happen and secure that the company runs – and, thus, there can hardly be more important positions save for CEO. His advice to ensure a proper role for HR in an organization includes understanding that HR’s impact is harder to quantify, not overburdening HR director with benefits management, and stamping out palace intrigue. This perspective on the role of HR is certainly conducive to a better understanding of its role.
Even when the points Welch make do not directly correspond to major learning outcomes, they can still have a considerable impact on a future manager, as in his discussion of the hiring process. While not claiming to be the last instance on the matter, Welch offers a fairly detailed description of the hiring process he had developed during his time as a manager. While his advice on screening candidates for integrity, intelligence, and maturity is rather general, the description of the core one needs to identify in a potential leader is definitely useful. These qualities include the abilities to thrive in action and energize others, the courage to make yes-or-no decisions, the ability to press with a task until it is done, and passion for the job. Welch stresses specifically that this framework applies to any hiring decision, no matter how high or how low, although hiring high-level executives requires looking for some additional qualities as well. This concise yet comprehensive description can impact the future manager’s approach to screening, evaluating, and hiring candidates for a wide range of positions.
Another aspect in which the book can affect a future manager is Welch’s approach to crisis management. First of all, Welch advises accepting that crises can and will happen, and there is no use denying that when they do. Granted, he also notes that a manager in a crisis situation should carry on as if the organization is working as usual, which looks like a contradiction. Yet what Welch refers to is maintaining composure while recognizing the crisis and acting vigorously to counter its effects and address its causes. When dealing with a crisis, Welch advises assuming the worst-case scenario as something given. It includes assuming that the problem is as bad as it can be, that everyone will find out about it, and that they will portray crisis management in the worst light. At the same time, the manager should still assume that the organization will survive to become even stronger. Admittedly, these are broad recommendations, but, given the variety of crises, providing these would be nigh impossible. Instead of a roadmap for every conceivable scenario, Welch teaches the mindset necessary to deal with the crises successfully.
Finally, the book also offers recommendations about maintaining work-life balance, which is also an aspect in which it can also leave an impact on a future manager. Importantly, Welch approaches the matte from personal and leadership perspectives at the same time, true to his earlier statement that mature leaders recognize that their actions have consequences for those around them. He applies this principle to work-life balance to emphasize that a good leader and competent manager will recognize the demands of having two full lives – as a professional and as a family member – in subordinates. He notes that, from a managerial perspective, it makes sense to accommodate a given employee’s work-life challenge with performance. From a personal perspective, he reminds that work-life balance is always a personal challenge to solve. It depends on a specific person’s situation to decide how much time should be devoted to working as opposed to other essential activities. While admittedly generalist, this line of reasoning can impact the future manager by instilling him or her with a sense of personal responsibility for managing one’s priorities when it comes to work and other needs.
Overall, Winning is an impactful reading that comments and advises on many aspects of management, including its core essentials that correspond to major learning outcomes. Beginning with the statement that business is, first and foremost, about winning and creating success that influences the company itself and those around it positively, Welch continues on this premise. His direct and specific approach is certainly useful for ant reader who seeks to clearly understand mission and values. The reading is also useful for providing a clear-cut definition of strategy and its role in organizational development and performance. Apart from that, Welch also makes an unapologetic stand on the role the HR should play in an organization. The book can also impact a future manager in a number of other ways related to the hiring process, crisis management, or work-life balance. Overall, the book is a valuable take on management backed up by immense professional experience, and the author’s simple language and straightforward manner make it a doubly useful and educational reading.