What does a ”great organization” look like?

Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, has been making the rounds in corporate America and in the social sector…defining the factors that differentiate competant organizations and leaders from exceptional ones. It’s about focus, discipline, people, and the long view, as you might expect.

Good to Great and the Social SectorsOf particular relevance to nonprofit managers, however, is the available monograph addendum to the book, focusing on the social sector (excerpts are available here, and TCG’s Ben Cameron muses on some of the ideas here). It’s a compelling read (and a quick one, at 35 pages long). Collins captures many of the core challenges of the sector and its structure, and offers specific steps for any leader or organization to move forward despite those challenges.

Within the text, he describes what ”greatness” looks like for a social sector organization. And he uses language that I love. In his view, a great organization:

Delivers Superior Performance
In business, performance is defined by financial returns and achievement of corporate purpose. In the social sectors, performance is defined by results and efficiency in delivering on the social mission.

Makes a Distinctive Impact
The organization makes such a unique contribution to the communities it touches and does its work with such unadulterated excellence that if it were to disappear, it would leave a hole that could not be easily filled by any other institution on the planet.

Achieves Lasting Endurance
The organization can deliver exceptional results over a long period of time, beyond any single leader, great idea, market cycle, or well-funded program. When hit with setbacks, it bounces back even stronger than before.

Aspirational, I’ll admit…even a bit sappy. But compared to the dry and distant language in most mission statements, it’s downright poetic.

NOTE: You don’t need to read Good to Great to benefit from the monograph. But you’ll likely want to refer to the larger book for depth and detail on the key principals. So, spend the $8 on the monograph and then decide whether or not to buy the book.


  1. tom reel says

    Is there a discount for large orders?
    The Virginia Symphony is an organization with a huge debt AND an Executive Director (Carla Johnson) who is implementing meaningful changes so that the community recognizes the intellectual and spiritual capital a resident professional orchestra brings. She owns the book and lends it to key people in leadership positions. (I have it at the moment). Among our greatest challenges here is changing inertia to momentum, opening minds and creating a positive & rewarding work environment. KNOWLEDGE is the key and change is painfully slow, although we are beginning a trend toward better health (on the bottom line and in our quality and in our collective psyche).
    We have applied many important principles already (for example a carefully constructed Strategic Plan with input from Musicians, Staff and Board that is useful as a guide in decision making at all levels).
    We could probably use a large batch of Monographs. As a musician in the orchestra, I cannot personally write a check for monographs for our Orchestra (70+), Staff (25+) and Board (30+) but depending on the cost (discount?) we may be able to marshall forces to collect enough money to help ourselves with such a purchase.
    We should consider copies to be shared by all and required reading for those in leadership positions.
    Can you help?

  2. says

    Please make a short visit our web site @ Road2Great.com – we may be of some help. Our mission is to assist those who are working to understand and implement Collin’s ideas from Good to Great. We just launched our site, but have been working to make improvements to organizations since I defined a new “constituency” model in 1968 at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
    Today we are a small team of 4 who are totally dedicated to helping organizations improve their performance. We have completed engagements with community service organizations like the KC Philharmonic, KCMO Public School District, KCMO Museum of Natural History and Science and many other non-profits in the area. Not certain what we might be able to do for your group, but we are willing to communicate and discuss the potentials. Most of all – we may be able to serve as a link to others who are able to help.
    Merlin Spencer, President, Sustained Advantage, Inc., author of Road2Great, and creator of Lanuage of Value, a system designed to move organizations from current levels to +2 levels higher in performance, leading to Great.